Curse You or Bless You, Robert Garland

This Pittsburgh city councilman helped initiate the shifting of time in America.

Get ready. At 2 in the morning on March 8, we will lose an hour of sleep when daylight-saving time (DST) starts again. Not everybody loves it when we spring forward, waking somewhat groggily on a Sunday morning that’s too early and too bright. Some people, especially farmers (with animals that don’t have clocks) and others (like drive-in theater operators) who want darkness early, hate the annual change. Most of us, however, appreciate the long, leisurely light of summer evenings.

This year the change will be the earliest it’s ever been. According to the federal Energy Policy Act of 2005, which gave new, earlier starting and later ending days for DST, we now begin saving daylight on the second Sunday in March, and that Sunday can obviously never be earlier than the 8th. We switch back on the first Sunday in November, which is the 1st this year, also the earliest that the current end day can be.

There was no DST in America till 1918, when President Woodrow Wilson signed it into law to help increase productivity during World War I. England had then recently initiated a similar shift in time, and the idea was at least as old as 1784, when the aging Benjamin Franklin wrote to a Paris newspaper with his proposals about taking advantage of sunlight in summer rather than wasting candles to make artificial light.

With daylight-saving time, as with most odd 20th-century ideas and innovations that have a lasting impact on modern life, there’s a significant Pittsburgh connection to its start. An Irishman who immigrated here in the 1880s, a certain Mr. Robert Garland, became a passionate advocate for turning American clocks forward in the summer months to increase industrial productivity and to give people more time for activities (golf! tennis! baseball!) on summer evenings. (Something tells me that the productivity reasoning had more persuasive power than the recreational opportunities.)
Often called the “Father of Daylight Saving,” Garland was an industrialist who ran a factory here, Garland Nuts and Rivets, and he served on Pittsburgh City Council for 28 years from 1911 to 1939. Among his many civic activities, he was president of the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, and because of his work with the United States Chamber of Commerce, he was appointed chairman of the national Special Committee on Daylight Saving. He and his committee convinced the powers in Washington to create a law instituting daylight saving.

Although DST, or “fast time,” as it was sometimes called, was repealed just seven months later in 1919, many cities, including Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Boston and New York City, kept observing it. And it became a legal guideline again during WWII, when FDR signed legislation in 1942 making it a national legal guideline, sometimes called “war time,” until 1945. Congress eventually made it permanent in 1966. Both presidents Wilson and Roosevelt presented Robert Garland with the pens that were used to sign DST into law.

And Garland took pride in his role of extending the summer evening. He was apparently a strong-willed Irishman who also helped create the Boulevard of the Allies out of what was once Monongahela Boulevard, and he campaigned for the construction of McArdle Roadway. He died in 1949 at age 86. There’s no local statue or monument to him, but there is a PAT bus with his name all over it, honoring a great local leader.

And you can blame him when the night seems short on March 8. And thank him in June, when the Pittsburgh twilight lasts till 9 or 9:30.

Categories: Sebak’s Secrets of the City