William Willett in 1909, photographed by Sir John Benjamin Stone
|Born||10 August 1856
|Died||4 March 1915 (Age 58)|
|Known for||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 and Hove, including Derwent 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 Franklin 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 four incremental steps during April and reversed the same way during September. 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 a Member of Parliament (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 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 honour and the road Willett Way. His house in the London Borough of Bromley is marked with a blue plaque. He is buried in St Nicholas' churchyard, Chislehurst, although a memorial to his family stands in the churchyard at St Wulfran's Church, Ovingdean, in the city of Brighton and Hove. He is the great great grandfather of Chris Martin, the vocalist of the British alternative rock band Coldplay.
- Prerau. Seize the Daylight. p. 3.
- David Prout (1989). "Willett built". Victorian Society Annual: 21–46.
- B.L. Ullman (1918-03). "Daylight saving in ancient Rome". The Classical Journal 13 (6): 450–451. JSTOR 3288163.
- Benjamin Franklin, writing anonymously (1784-04-26). "Aux auteurs du Journal". Journal de Paris (in French) (117). The revised English version is commonly called "An Economical Project".
- "New Zealand time". N Z Geog 4 (1): 104. 1948. doi:10.1111/j.1745-7939.1948.tb01515.x.
- William Willett (1907-07). The waste of daylight. 1st edition. | William Willett (1914-03). The waste of daylight. 19th edition.
- Rose Wild "The battle for British Summer Time", The Times, 6 May 2010
- Winston S. Churchill (1934-04-28). "A silent toast to William Willett". Pictorial Weekly.
- Dale, Antony (1989) . Brighton Churches. London EC4: Routledge. p. 207. ISBN 0-415-00863-8.
Further reading 
- Maria Box (1968). Encyclopædia Britannica.
- Donald De Carle (1947). British Time. London: Crosby Lockwood & Son Ltd.
- David Prerau (2005). Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time. Thunder’s Mouth Press. ISBN 1-56025-655-9. The British version, focusing on the UK, is David Prerau. (2005). Saving the Daylight: Why We Put the Clocks Forward. Granta Books. ISBN 1-86207-796-7.
- Andrew Saint (2004-09). "Willett, William (1856–1915)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
- "Willett, William". Encyclopædia Britannica (12th ed.). 1922.