In Hawaiʻi’s prior subsistence society, the family farming scale was far different from today’s commercial-purpose agriculture. In ancient time, when families farmed for themselves they observed and adapted; products were produced based on need and season.
Hawaiians divided the year into two seasons – Kau (Summer – when it was dry and hot; beginning in May when Makaliʻi (Pleiades) set at sunrise;) and Hoʻoilo (Winter season when it was rainy and chilly; beginning in October.)
Months were measured not by the number of days, but were based on the phases of the moon – each beginning with the appearance of a new moon and lasting until the appearance of the next new moon.
When the stars fade away and disappear it is ao, daylight, and when the sun rises day has come, it is called la; and when the sun becomes warm, morning is past. When the sun is directly overhead it is awakea, noon; and when the sun inclines to the west in the afternoon the expression is ua aui ka la.
After that comes evening, called ahi-ahi (ahi is fire) and then sunset, napoʻo ka lā, and then comes pō, the night, and the stars shine out. (Malo)
“The days are divided … not into hours but into parts: sunrise, noon, sunset; the time between sunrise and noon is split into two, as is the time between noon and sunset.” (Lisiansky; Schmitt)
It wasn’t until the Westerners arrived that clocks and watches were used to measure passage of time during the day.
However, 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.
Noon marked the beginning of the day in astronomical reckoning, the middle of the day in civil reckoning, and the end of the day in nautical reckoning. Logs were kept on ship’s time but on entering a harbor reverted to civil time.
In addition, determining dates was not always consistent … folks travelling across the Pacific west to east may have differing dates that those travelling east to west. The International Date Line (generally on the 180th meridian) marks changes in days – but some early travelers didn’t make the adjustment.
To further confuse the issue, “The date line as originally drawn had a kink to the westward of the Hawaiian Islands to include Morrell and Byers islands which appeared on nineteenth-century charts at the western end of the Hawaiian chain. It was then proved that they did not exist, so the date line was straightened out.” (Howse)
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. However, it was not until 1918 that an Act of Congress set standard time all over the US. (Howse)
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)
The 1918 act of Congress also provided for nationwide daylight saving time from March through October.
It hit the islands, as well, “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)
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. 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 became known as “Hawaiian War 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)
Later, the federal Uniform Time Act of 1966 was enacted (April 13, 1966) “to promote the adoption and observance of uniform time within the standard time zones” (called for in the 1819 law.) It sought to simplify the official pattern of where and when daylight saving time is applied across US. States/territories could opt out; the 1967 Hawaiʻi Legislature voted to exempt the Islands.
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.
So, today daylight saving time begins in most of the continental US; Hawaiʻi, Arizona (except for the Navajo Nation, which does observe daylight saving time,) Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands and the US Virgin Islands do not observe daylight saving time.
The image shows Ohio Clock in the US Capitol being turned forward for the country’s first daylight saving time in 1918.