William Willett (10 August 1856 – 4 March 1915), was an English builder and a tireless promoter of daylight saving time.
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 and Hove, including
House. 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, and Benjamin
resurrected the idea in a light-hearted 1784 satire.
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. Modern DST
was first proposed by New Zealand entomologist George Vernon Hudson
, although many
publications incorrectly credit Willett.
Using his own financial resources, in 1907 William published a
pamphlet "The Waste of Daylight" 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,
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 Defence of the
It was subsequently adopted in many other
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.
in Petts Wood is also named in his honour and the road
Willett 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.
Willett is the great-great-grandfather of Coldplay frontman
and the great-great-uncle
of British television and radio presenter and voiceover artist
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