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Friday, November 4, 2016

Blame it on Ben ~by Rose Anderson



We've all noticed our mornings are darker as one season turns to the next. I rise before the sun most mornings, a habit left over from my busy young mom days.This coming Sunday has us setting our clocks back again. As a rural dweller whose bedroom window faces east, I have a decent circadian rhythm. Because of this I'm not a big fan of time changes. It takes me a week to get into a new time groove.

A while back I learned something interesting about this time change and I was floored to discover it. Many years ago while immersed in the history of lamps and lighting in America, I discovered I'd been saying the name of this time change wrong for decades. You see, I grew up in Chicago where vernacular speech is rife with curious liberty taking. (You may have noticed lol) We have our own way of talking and you can honestly tell what Chicago region a person is from by their distinctive Chicagoese. Because Chicago is plugged into my DNA, it was my long understanding that the bi-annual clock reset was called Daylight Savings Time. It's not! It's actually Daylight Saving Time. In this case Saving is a participle because it modifies Time and informs us of its nature --literally the activity of saving daylight. Drop that s on the floor and kick it out of sight. 
 
Who started all this stuff that's been confusing Chicagoans for 180 years and causing this city-dweller turned country émigré to feel like a dummy? Ben Franklin.

While visiting Paris in 1784, Ben wrote an essay entitled An Economical Project -- just one of many of his discourses on thrift. Remember, he's the penny saved is a penny earned guy. In this essay he was talking about conserving candles by setting the clocks in favor of natural daylight. It all came about after an experience he had one particular morning. You see, most Parisians of his acquaintance didn't rise before noon. Parisians were hard partyers who started their soirees late, partied hardy all night long, then went to bed just before dawn.

Apparently, one such morning he woke hours ahead of time and for a moment was confused by the light of pre-dawn in his room. Perhaps
gentlemen who normally rise at noon might be thrown off by the sunrise. This is an actual account-- the story in his own words:

"I looked at my watch, which goes very well, and found that it was but six o clock; and still thinking it something extraordinary that the sun should rise so early, I looked into the almanac, where I found it to be the hour given for his rising on that day. I looked forward too, and found he was to rise still earlier every day towards the end of June; and that no time during the year he retarded his rising so long as till eight o clock. Your readers, who with me have never seen any sign of sunshine before noon, and seldom regard the astronomical part of the almanac, will be as much astonished as I was, when they hear of his rising so early; and especially when I assure them, that he gives light as soon as he rises. I am convinced of this."

Ever the master of wit, Franklin claimed that a noted philosopher assured him that he was mistaken. It was well known that there could be no light abroad at that hour. "His windows had not let the light in, but being open, had let the darkness out." he later said, "This event has given rise in my mind to several serious and important reflections."

This is basically what he is saying: Had he slept until noon, he would have missed six hours of daylight. And, as usual, he'd live six hours the following night by candlelight. It dawned on him just how expensive this lifestyle was. Ever frugal, he began calculating the cost of 100,000 Parisian families burning a pound of candles every two hours for an average of seven hours each evening between dusk and the late hour Parisians finally turned in. This is what he found:

183 nights between 20 March and 20 September times 7 hours per night of candle usage equals 1,281 hours for a half year of candle usage. Multiplying by 100,000 families gives 128,100,000 hours by candlelight. Each candle requires half a pound of tallow and wax, thus a total of 64,050,000 pounds. At a price of thirty sols per pounds of tallow and wax (two hundred sols make one livre tournois), the total sum comes to 96,075,000 livre tournois-- an immense sum that the city of Paris could save every year

Ben's revelation returned with him to America. He wrote it up with witty humor in Poor Richard's Almanac and people listened. Even the Parisian lamp makers got on board. Soon everyone was talking about this novel idea. In his autobiography, Franklin wrote of this thrifty concept in his travels to England:

"For in walking thro' the Strand and Fleet Street one morning at seven o clock, I observed there was not one shop open tho it had been daylight and the sun up above. "three hours -- the inhabitants of London choosing voluntarily to live much by candlelight and sleep by sunshine, and yet often complaining a little absurdly of the duty on candles and the high price of tallow."

With rare exception, we've been following this idea since Benjamin Franklin thought it up. I personally think it's a good idea to limit the use of artificial light. Our brains need darkness as this Sleep Foundation article states. What's more, conserving energy helps protect the environment.  Some people intentionally limit their use of artificial light. I have a friend who does this and this habit it appeals to me. Unfortunately, my husband is a lamp person. If there's a light bulb anywhere, he'll turn it on.

Here's one man who tried a no electricity experiment for a month. Very interesting.
http://jdmoyer.com/2010/03/04/sleep-experiment-a-month-with-no-artificial-light/

As a writer, I'd find this very hard to do because I need my laptop plugged in and working when the spark of creativity strikes. Having gone back in time through many living history events, it would be very easy for me to live by candlelight in the evenings. How about you? Have you ever tried low light or candlelight in the evenings?

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COMING SOON!

 



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Rose Anderson is an award-winning author and dilettante who loves great conversation and delights in discovering interesting things to weave into stories. Rose also writes across genres under the pen name Madeline Archer. She lives with her family and small menagerie amid oak groves and prairie in the rolling glacial hills of the upper Midwest.

Stop by my blog for interesting topics all month long.
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11 comments:

Melissa Keir said...

I went and read the gentleman's sleep study. It was interesting and one I've found myself doing at times. When I don't have to work in the am, I'm up at about 7-8ish, naturally. I like to go to bed by 8 most nights and while I'm bringing my computer some nights, I've taken to writing out my chapters long hand with a pen and one light in the room. The light goes off at 10 and then I'm supposedly done. Sometimes I find myself laying in bed and talking with my husband or snuggling or even falling asleep on him. But all in all, I find a closer bond between both of us when we are in bed longer. Might just have to study it and write a book! :)

Jane Leopold Quinn said...

My husband loves clocks and we have 7 chimers in the living room. He always hates this time of year because of all the clock changing. It wouldn't be quite so bad but he sets them once a week to chime all at the same time. Yay, Cubs! ;-)

Cara Marsi said...

I really hate changing the time twice a year. I think we should leave it one way all the time. I've been plagued by insomnia most of my life. I don't like to get up early, and it takes me hours to be ready to face the day. For 43 years when I worked, I got up between 5:30 and 6:00 every morning. Now it's a luxury to sleep until 8 (don't judge). However, I've always been a night owl, and I don't get to sleep until about 1:00 a.m.

Tina Donahue said...

I've often wondered where the time change came from. Interesting stuff.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Ben Franklin was a genius, a true Renaissance man. But I also hate changing the time twice a year and would like to keep it just one way.

vicki batman said...

Hi, Rose! I really dislike changing time. And then it was extended and we are wondering why??? in this modern age. I always heard for the farmers. Not buying that nowadays. And my cats knew exactly what time was breakfast and would start biting, meowing, and smacking my head too early. LOL

Judy Baker said...

Interesting post. I don't like changing time either - just keep it one way, as it's been proven, humans adjust. I love candlelight and have candles throughout the house. When I have a dinner for guest, I always turn down the light and use candles, especially during the holidays. Thanks for sharing such an informative post.

Nicole Morgan said...

I like it when we gain that extra hour of sleep. :P

Paris said...

Interesting post, Rose! My dad once told me that libraries were made possible by electric light. I never really thought about it before that. I read into the wee hours and candlelight just doesn't seem quite as romantic when I have to squint, lol!

Rose Anderson said...

Thanks for stopping by, everyone. Don't forget to turn your clocks back!

Janice Seagraves said...

Interesting post. I saying Daylight savings time. I have a office with good windows that allow in light. I leave the lamps off until it starts to get dark and only then turn on the lights. My bedroom has curtain that block out the light since my husband works at night and sleeps turning the day. I will still wake around 7-8 on my own since that is the time the morning sun will peak through the opening in the curtains. We have to use lights in our hallways since there is no window and very dark. When we first moved in a year ago, I walked straight into a wall and since then I turn the light on in the halls.

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