On This Day

Ralph Morse/LIFE Magazine
View of the Empire State Building during the blackout of 1965.

On This Day: Blackout of 1965 Leaves Northeast in Dark

November 06, 2011 05:04 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Nov. 9, 1965, a power station failure caused a blackout in much of the northeastern U.S. and parts of Ontario.

The Great Northeast Blackout of 1965

The blackout began at about 5:15 p.m. on a Tuesday evening. It spread to seven northeastern states (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Vermont) and southeastern Ontario, covering 80,000 miles and leaving more than 30 million people in the dark for as long as 13 and a half hours in some places.

The power outage hit New York City at 5:27 p.m. “Striking at the evening rush hour, the power failure trapped 800,000 riders on New York City’s subways,” wrote The New York Times. “Railroads halted. Traffic was jammed. Airplanes found themselves circling, unable to land.”

Despite the confusion and disarray,” says George Mason University’s Blackout History Project, “New Yorkers spent the night in peace. There were no riots or widespread looting. Instead, New Yorkers helped each other. Some directed traffic. Others assisted the New York fire department as they rescued stranded subway passengers. In many cases, New Yorkers just shared extra candles and flashlights with neighbors, reveling in the opportunity to get to know the people who lived across the hall.”

There were initially fears, heightened by Cold War tension, that the blackout had been caused by sabotage, but the Times reported that utility officials had soon “pretty well agreed upon the belief that there is substantially no chance of sabotage.”

The Cause of the Blackout

The blackout was determined to have been caused by a faulty relay at Sir Adam Beck Station on the Ontario side of Niagara Falls. It sent a surge of power south, causing power overloads and automatic system shutdowns.

The cause of the power failure is explained in depth by the Suburban Emergency Management Project.

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