By Jody Brumage
While searching for records in our collections for submission to the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress' The Great Society Congress digital exhibit last week, we uncovered documents detailing a unique legislative achievement for West Virginia's Congressman Harley O. Staggers, Sr. The discovery was very timely since the documents record Congressman Staggers' role in securing passage of the Uniform Time Act of 1966, establishing nation-wide standards for the observance of daylight-saving time. The act marked the first effort by Congress to address the complex issue which plagued several major U.S. industries and caused confusion for anyone traveling across the nation's time zones.
Prior to 1966, daylight-saving time in the United States was not regulated by the Federal Government. Though Congress passed legislation in 1918 to recognize time zones, established by the railroad industry in the 1880s, the provision for mandating daylight-saving time was repealed in 1919. Local municipalities, cities, and states could chose whether or not they observed daylight-saving time and if so, when it commenced and concluded. This haphazard approach to managing our country's standard time left transportation industries, including railroads, trucking, and airlines, with complex and constantly-shifting time schedules. By the mid-20th century, the emerging broadcast television industry was also finding it difficult to work within the patchwork time zones and standards.
As the leader of the committee which oversaw interstate commerce, transportation, and the FCC, Congressman Staggers had the opportunity to establish nation-wide standards to help ease the complex time management structure. Earlier in the 89th Congress, the Senate Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee passed a bill to setup national standards for daylight-saving time, however, Congressman Staggers and his supporters considered it too weak and led his committee to draft a stricter measure. On March 16, 1966, Congressman Staggers took the committee's bill to the floor of the House of Representatives, successfully defended it from five proposed amendments that would have weakened its impact, and won approval for the legislation by a vote of 292 to 93. With the Senate's approval of the revised bill, it was sent to President Lyndon Johnson who signed it into law on April 13, 1966.
The Uniform Time Act of 1966 succeeded in mandating national start and end dates for daylight-saving time, The act also established three new time zones, incorporating Alaska and Hawaii which were not covered by the zones established in 1918. However, the bill did not succeed in requiring nationwide observance of daylight-saving time, allowing state's to opt-out if their legislatures passed measures to remain in standard time year-round. The bill was amended in 1972 to allow states which cover multiple time zones not to observe daylight-saving. Today, two U.S. states, Arizona and Hawaii, and several American territories do not observe daylight-saving time.
In addition to its continued impact on the calendar of our country each year, the Uniform Time Act of 1966 bears the distinction of being the first legislation passed under the leadership of Chairman Staggers, who continued to lead the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce for 15 years until his retirement in 1981, the longest uninterrupted tenure for a chairman of that committee.