William Willett

William Willett

Infobox Person

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caption =William Willett in 1909
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birth_date = 10 August 1856
birth_place = Farnham, Surrey
death_date = 4 March 1915
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nationality = United Kingdom
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known_for = daylight saving time
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occupation = inventor
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William Willett (10 August 1856 – 4 March 1915), is the inventor of daylight saving time.


Willett was born in Farnham, Surrey, in the United Kingdom, and educated at the Philological School. After some commercial experience, he entered his father's building business, Willett Building Services. Between them they created a reputation for "Willett built" quality houses in choice parts of London and the south, including Chelsea [cite journal|author=David Prout|title=Willett built|journal=Victorian Society Annual|date=1989|pages=21–46] and Hove. He lived most of his life in Chislehurst, Kent, where, it is said, after riding his horse in Petts Wood near his home early one summer morning and noticing how many blinds were still down, the idea for daylight saving time first occurred to him.

This was not the first time that the idea of adapting to daylight hours had been mooted, however. It was common practice in the ancient world, [cite journal|title=Daylight saving in ancient Rome|author=B.L. Ullman|journal=The Classical Journal|volume=13|issue=6|pages=450–451|url=http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0009-8353%28191803%2913%3A6%3C450%3ADSIAR%3E2.0.CO%3B2-Z|date=1918-03] and Benjamin Franklin resurrected the idea in a light-hearted 1784 satire. [cite journal|author=Benjamin Franklin, writing anonymously|title=Aux auteurs du Journal|journal=Journal de Paris|date=1784-04-26|issue=117|language=French The [http://webexhibits.org/daylightsaving/franklin3.html revised English version] is commonly called "An Economical Project".] Although Franklin's facetious suggestion was simply that people should get up earlier in summer, he is often erroneously attributed as the inventor of DST while Willett is often ignored.

Using his own financial resources, in 1907 William published a pamphlet "The Waste of Daylight" [cite paper|author=William Willett|title=The waste of daylight|date=1907-07|version=1st edition|url=http://webexhibits.org/daylightsaving/willett.html | cite paper|author=William Willett|title=The waste of daylight|date=1914-03|version=19th edition|url=http://www.pettswoodvillage.co.uk/Daylight_Savings_William_Willett.pdf] In it he proposed that the clocks should be advanced by 80 minutes in the summer. The evenings would then remain light for longer, increasing daylight recreation time and also saving ₤2.5 million in lighting costs. He suggested that the clocks should be advanced by 20 minutes at a time at 2 am on successive Sundays in April and be retarded by the same amount on Sundays in September.

Through vigorous campaigning, by 1908 Willett had managed to gain the support of an MP, Robert Pearce, who made several unsuccessful attempts to get it passed into law. A young Winston Churchill promoted it for a time, [cite journal|author=Winston S. Churchill|title=A silent toast to William Willett|url=http://www.winstonchurchill.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=266|journal=Pictorial Weekly|date=1934-04-28] and the idea was examined again by a parliamentary select committee in 1909 but again nothing was done. The outbreak of the First World War made the issue more important primarily because of the need to save coal. Germany had already introduced the scheme when the bill was finally passed in Britain on 17 May 1916 and the clocks were advanced by an hour on the following Sunday, 21 May, enacted as a wartime production-boosting device under the Defense of the Realm Act. It was subsequently adopted in many other countries.

William Willett did not live to see daylight saving become law, as he died of influenza in 1915 at the age of 58. He is commemorated in Petts Wood by a memorial sundial, set permanently to daylight saving time. The "Daylight Inn" in Petts Wood is also named in his honor and the road Willet Way. His house in the London Borough of Bromley is marked with a blue plaque. He is buried in the churchyard at St Wulfran's Church, Ovingdean, in the city of Brighton and Hove.cite book |last=Dale |first=Antony |title=Brighton Churches |origyear=1989 |publisher=Routledge |location=London EC4 |isbn=0-415-00863-8 |pages=p207 ]

Willett is the great-great-grandfather of Coldplay frontman Chris Martin and the great-great-uncle of British television and radio presenter and voiceover artist Myma Seldon.


Further reading

* The British version, focusing on the UK, is cite book|url=http://savingthedaylight.com/|title=Saving the Daylight: Why We Put the Clocks Forward|publisher=Granta Books|isbn=1-86207-796-7

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