Sassy cow (copy)

Cows graze the fields at Sassy Cow dairy farm near Sun Prairie. 

Illinois and California have taken the first steps to make daylight saving time permanent.

No more falling back in the fall and springing forward in the spring if the legislators who have sponsored these bills get their way. Florida has already passed a bill to make daylight saving the official year-round time, but Congress needs to give its blessing before it or any state can change.

This all brought back memories of when Wisconsin's urban and rural interests clashed over whether to join the list of states that had opted for daylight saving time years earlier. The whole idea was concocted in 1917 to ostensibly save energy during World War I, but urban areas in the country got used to enjoying an hour of more sunshine in the afternoons and opted to keep it.

Opposition to daylight saving was particularly strong in mainly rural states, particularly in those with dairy farmers. So you can guess where Wisconsin stood in the 1950s when people they considered to be city slickers started agitating for it.

It became a huge political fight. Business and labor, especially the unions that represented factory workers whose shifts ended at 4 p.m. or so, were huge proponents.

Dairy farmers, though, were staunchly opposed. While the urban folks saw more time for recreation like golf and outdoor activities, the farmers saw unfathomable disruption to their milking cows. Those cows, farmers insisted, had to be milked at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m., and to suddenly change the time in the spring and back in the fall would surely cause them to give less milk.

Not only that, farmers would lose time every day in the fields because they'd have to wait an extra hour for the dew to lift.

Bills were introduced in each legislative session the early '50s, only to see them killed by the heavily rural composition of the Legislature. Papers took sides. The Milwaukee Journal sided with the big city guys. The Capital Times took the farmers' position. The issue became nearly as contentious as Wisconsin's legendary fight between butter and oleomargarine.

Finally, in 1957, the legislators decided to put the issue on the ballot and let the majority of the people decide. As a farm kid and a junior in high school, I remember vividly the endless debates, even among us kids in civics class.

Well, the city slickers won, garnering more than 578,000 votes to the opponents' 480,000 — a 54-45 percent margin.

As it turned out, I don't think the cows gave less milk and I can't remember problems with the morning dew, and, besides, I think we farm folk at the time got to like that extra hour of sunshine, too.

The daylight saving time law, with the exception of a couple of changes to the start and end dates, has remained in effect since. A couple of years ago some Republican legislators made noises about ending daylight saving and making standard time permanent year round. The idea was quickly dropped when a flood of opposition hit the legislative offices of Reps. Samantha Kerkman and Michael Schraa.

The more popular option, it seems, is to make daylight saving time permanent. But there will be a push back against that, too. While daylight will last an hour longer even in the middle of winter, darkness will linger in the morning when kids are getting to school.

Maybe the issue will be decided by a phenomenon that isn't well-known. The day after we change from standard time to daylight time each spring, folks suffer more heart attacks than on any other day in the year.

Not even the cows experienced that.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.  

Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to tctvoice@madison.com. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.

Subscribe to our newsletters

* indicates required

View previous campaigns.