The story of Robert Garland: “Father of daylight saving time” and Pittsburgh City Council member

His legacy remains palpable here and nationwide. You’ll see it firsthand Sunday.

“Robert Garland: In Defense of Daylight Saving Time” by artist Ilene Winn-Lederer is part of the Heinz History Center's Art of Facts exhibition.

“Robert Garland: In Defense of Daylight Saving Time” by artist Ilene Winn-Lederer is part of the Heinz History Center's Art of Facts exhibition.


Updated: 12:17 p.m., March 9

When you lose an hour of sleep this weekend and are looking for someone to blame, you needn’t look far.

That’s because in addition to being home to the polio vaccine, the Ferris wheel and an arguably outlandish number of bridges, Pittsburgh can also claim “the father of daylight saving time,” Robert Garland, as its own.

Garland was an industrialist, Squirrel Hill resident and a Republican City Council member here from 1911 to 1939. During his time on council, his passion for municipal infrastructure — namely the city’s water and road systems (he championed Mount Washington’s P.J. McArdle Road project, for example) — paled only in comparison to his passion for time-related regulations.

Garland is credited with devising the nation’s first daylight saving plan in 1917 and drumming up congressional support for the measure, according to the New York Times. That same year, with the U.S. entering World War I, President Woodrow Wilson signed the DST measure into law. When he did, it was Garland who received a copy of the pen.

“Robert Garland: In Defense of Daylight Saving Time” by artist Ilene Winn-Lederer is part of the Heinz History Center's Art of Facts exhibition.

“Robert Garland: In Defense of Daylight Saving Time” by artist Ilene Winn-Lederer is part of the Heinz History Center's Art of Facts exhibition.


Garland also received a copy of the pen used by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to enact a DST measure years later, that time during World War II. (Wilson’s DST measure had been repealed only months after taking effect amid a backlash from farmers and the ag industry.)

“What’s interesting about [Garland] is that as a member of City Council and also as an industrialist himself, he kind of studies this cause. He sees it in action during wartime in England, and in his role as manager of the wartime resources committee for western Pennsylvania, sees that it could be valuable as an industrial construct,” explained Anne Madarasz, director of the curatorial division and chief historian with the Heinz History Center.

During the wars, the overriding motives for DST adoption were industrial productivity and the conservation of precious wartime resources like fuel and electricity.

But both Wilson’s DST law and FDR’s ended soon after they began.

Garland was undeterred.

In the interim, he continued to push for local-level measures in the absence of federal ones, even traveling state by state to tout the benefits daylight saving time offered.

“[Garland] argued before any group that would invite him that a permanent daylight saving time would improve industrial efficiency and add an hour so Americans could enjoy more outdoor activities such as golf, tennis and baseball,” the Great Falls Tribune reports. “He even enlisted the support of the motion-picture industry, arguing that daylight saving would increase attendance at theaters.” (During this period, Garland would also write advocacy-laden books on the subject.)

Some municipalities agreed with him, and Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Boston and New York were among those to adopt the time switch after Wilson’s DST measure was repealed.

The individualization of DST continued — or arguably worsened — from there.

When FDR’s DST measure eventually ended on Sept. 30, 1945, weeks after the end of World War II, it allowed each state and even some counties to revert to setting their clocks to whatever “standard” they chose to follow within their jurisdictions, Politico reports.


The result was chaotic. According to LiveScience, one 35-mile bus ride from Moundsville, W.Va., to Steubenville, Ohio, took riders through no less than seven different time changes, and at one point, the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul were on different clocks, “creating confusion for workers who lived in one city and commuted to the other.”

This trend continued in a handful of U.S. cities until Congress passed the Uniform Time Act in 1966, instituting a consistent daylight saving time plan nationwide. But even today, inconsistencies and surrounding debates continue in places.

Of course, not everyone shared Garland’s enthusiasm for such measures.

Farmers hated the idea, believing they should be regulated by the sun, not politicians. And as Quartz points out, it was corporate lobbyists, not farmers, who ultimately championed the regulation.

Somewhat bizarrely, Quartz reports that when President Ronald Reagan lengthened daylight saving from six months to seven in 1986, it was the candy lobby that fought to see it extended even further, “convinced an extra hour of evening light on Halloween would make kids collect more candy, and in turn get adults to buy more of it in anticipation.” They got their wish in 2005, when President George W. Bush signed a bill extending DST to eight months in total. “Halloween, at last, was covered,” Quartz adds.

But while Garland is credited with the rise of DST in America, the idea was far from a new one. Forms of it can be traced back to ancient societies, Ben Franklin in the 18th Century, Canada in the 19th and Europe in the 20th.

And the controversy created by daylight saving time has never really left us. Even today, long after Garland’s death in 1949 at the age of 86, efforts to end the practice continue. And it’s not just farmers opposed. An article in The Atlantic calls daylight saving time “America’s Great Shame,” and “the greatest continuing fraud ever perpetrated on the American people.” The article proceeds to question the beneficial impacts on productivity, energy saving or really any of the tenets espoused by advocates like Garland.

The U.S. Department of Transportation, which oversees time zones and daylight saving time, disagrees, saying the energy savings under DST are real, and that the practice also reduces traffic fatalities and crime. The current DST configuration — second Sunday in March to first Sunday in November — was established in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 under George W. Bush.

VIDEO: Daylight Saving Time – How Is This Still A Thing?

Garland died before DST became the permanent American fixture that it has been for decades now. But he’d almost certainly be pleased with the outcome.

An immigrant from northern Ireland, Garland was born in 1862 and at the age of 15 came to the U.S., Madarasz explained.

“He comes to Pittsburgh where I guess he had family. He was pretty much self-educated and works at The Oliver Iron and Steel Corporation and then he and his brother founded a chain company to make chain and then conduit for electrical wires. He’s an industrialist himself and he’s very involved in the episcopal church here as an Irish protestant.”

Garland was eventually appointed to replace a Pittsburgh City Council member and went on to retain the seat. He spent the bulk of his two-plus decades on Pittsburgh City Council as chair of the finance committee and was, according to Madarasz, “a fairly popular city councilman until he gets ousted from office in 1939 with the Democrats coming in and sweeping out last of the Republicans in city government.”

Madarasz added, “When he was finally swept out of office by the Democrats, he was the last remaining Republican on City Council. That’s when the city really transitions from a stronghold of the GOP to a stronghold of the Democrats during the Great Depression.”

And while Madarasz is aware of no sites or plaques commemorating Garland in Pittsburgh, just know that his legacy remains palpable both here and nationwide. Just wait till Sunday.