While serving as U.S. ambassador to France in 1784, Benjamin Franklin suggested to the Parisians that by rising earlier, they could make use of the morning sunlight to accomplish more of their daily tasks thus saving on candle wax. Way back then, the Parisians were known for sleeping well past noon. Though Ben never actually suggested changing the time on the clocks, he is often credited with inventing daylight saving time as well as the phrase, "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise."
The idea to actually change the clocks was proposed in 1895 by a shift worker in New Zealand named George Vernon Hudson. Because Hudson did shift work, he had extra time in the evenings to pursue insect collecting. George Hudson proposed that the clocks be moved two hours in the summer to allow for additional sunlight time in the evenings so that he could pursue entomology. The clocks could then be returned to 'standard' time in the fall to bring the sunlight back to the morning hours. Though this was never implemented in Hudson's lifetime, he did go on to become a famous entomologist.
In 1905, a builder named William Willett began proposing the idea in England but Daylight Saving Time never became a reality until WWI. It was implemented in 1916 in Manitoba, followed shortly by Germany and its allies and then a little later by Britain and her allies. It was intended as a means to conserve coal (and incandescent lighting) during the war. Russia followed suit and implemented in 1917 with the United States finally coming around in 1918. While it is still practiced today and continues to provide extended sunlight in the summer evenings, it is quite controversial and the debate continues over whether it ever actually helped to conserve any energy. It remains the subject of much lobbying in our nations's capitol.