Shortly after contact, there wasn’t always agreement about what time or date it actually was … time-keeping practices varied in the 18th century, depending on circumstances.
In the 1880s, changes were being made in timekeeping practices. Several large nations still recognized prime meridians other than the one through Greenwich, and some continued to differ on the definition of a “day.”
In 1883, the US railroad industry divided the continental US into five (later four) time zones, establishing official time zones with a set standard time within each zone. (National Geographic)
The civil population nevertheless adopted ‘Railroad Time’ almost spontaneously; 85% of US towns of over ten-thousand inhabitants had done so by October 1884.
Hawaiʻi did not adopt standard time until 1896, with various notices published in the papers: “Hawaiian standard time will be ten and one-half hours slow of Greenwich.”
“The half hour is chosen for the reason that the Hawaiian group, while limited in area, is almost centrally on the line between the ten-hour and eleven-hour belt, and the inconvenience of a wide difference between standard and local time is thus avoided.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, January 9, 1896)
“The meridian adopted, 157 deg 30 min, is not far from central to the group. The Kauai people will be expected to set their local time ahead 8-minutes and Niihau 10-minutes; the Maui people will set back local time on an average four minutes.”
“The Hilo people, if they fall into line, will set back ten minutes, and Kona from 7 to 8 minutes.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, January 9, 1896)
It was not until 1918 that an Act of Congress set standard time all over the US, as well as daylight savings time. (Howse)
The 1918 act of Congress, ‘To save daylight and to provide standard time, for the United States’ provided for nationwide daylight saving time from March through October.
Congress also determined “That, for the purpose of establishing the standard time of the United States, the territory of continental United States shall be divided into five zones in the manner hereinafter provided. …”
“That the standard time of the first zone shall be known and designated as United States Standard Eastern Time; that of the second zone shall be known and designated as United States Standard Central Time …”
“…that of the third zone shall be known and designated as United States Standard Mountain Time; that of the fourth zone shall be known and designated as United States Standard Pacific Time; and that of the fifth zone shall be known and designated as United States Standard Alaska Time.” (Public No 106, approved by Congress March 19, 1918)
“Daylight saving plan was again agitated for these islands the early part of this year, and, in April, on official orders from Washington, the navy department here set their clocks forward an hour, but it did not last long. Cutting a foot off the end of Pat’s blanket to add to its head was found to give no greater length or warmth.” (Thrum)
The daylight saving provision was repealed in 1919, leaving intact the standard time system. (Schmitt & Cox)
Notwithstanding this official acceptance of standard time, many plantations persisted in the use of local time, or their own variations on it. The individual plantations had elected to adopt time systems that varied somewhat from the local times pertinent to the meridians at their centers.
The primary determinant of the difference between one of these plantation times and the pertinent local time was the local time of sunrise. Hence the plantation time systems were essentially daylight saving time systems.
There was no requirement that the difference between a plantation time and either the normal local time of the plantation headquarters or standard time, when that was adopted, be an even half-hour or hour, or that there be but one advance and one retardation of time in a year.
The time on a plantation was, indeed, more likely to be something like 11 minutes ahead or 14 minutes behind standard time, and changes of a few minutes might be made at intervals of only a few weeks.
Standard time was kept in Honolulu, in non-plantation towns, and at ports serving more than one plantation; and social events involving people from more than one plantation were scheduled by what was known as “Honolulu time,” “Hilo time,” etc. (Schmitt & Cox)
In 1933, the Hawaiʻi Legislature decreed daylight saving for the period between the last Sunday of each April and last Sunday of each September, but less than a month later repealed the act.
WWII brought daylight saving back to the Islands.
“(T)he standard time of each zone established pursuant to the Act entitled ‘An Act to save daylight and to provide standard time for the United States’, approved March 19, 1918, as amended, shall be advanced one hour.” (Public Law 403, approved January 20, 1942)
Year-round daylight saving time, one hour ahead of Hawaiian Standard Time, was established in the Territory during World War II by General Order No. 66 of the military governor, taking effect on February 9, 1942. The new time quickly became known as “Hawaiian War Time.” (Schmitt & Cox)
“Daylight saving has given us another hour before the nightly blackout, which begins at 7:30 pm and lasts until 7:00 am. The curfew for pedestrians has been changed from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm, but cars are still not allowed on the streets after 7:30 pm. This means no late afternoon or evening meetings of any kind.” (Journal of Nursing, 1942)
With the end of the war and the expiration of War Time on September 30, 1945, Hawai’i reverted (notwithstanding a good deal of debate) to the pre-war standard time; and it was not until 1947 that the change was made to the present system of standard time.
In 1947, the Territorial Legislature permanently returned to the pre-war standard time – however, they also advanced Hawaiian Standard Time by 30 minutes, making it 10 (instead of 10-1/2) hours slower than Greenwich Mean Time, and thus two hours (not 2½) behind Pacific Standard Time. This change became effective the second Sunday of June, 1947. (Schmitt & Cox)
The issue resurfaced in 1966, when the Uniform Time Act of that year mandated daylight saving time during the spring and summer months nationwide unless State legislative bodies specifically exempted their jurisdictions.
Reasoning that Hawai‘i already had year-round partial DST – since 1947, Hawaiian Standard Time had been 31 minutes ahead of sun time in Honolulu – the 1967 Legislature voted to exempt the Islands. (Schmitt & Cox)
In 2005, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005, effective starting in 2007, that declared daylight saving time starts on the second Sunday in March (‘spring forward’) and ends on the first Sunday in November (‘fall back’,) with the time changes taking place at 2 am local time.
Today, most on the continent advance their clocks and watches an hour forward, as daylight savings time kicks in.