Forty-eight years ago, on November 9, 1965, the biggest power failure in American history occurred at dusk, when all of New York City and New York State, and parts of nine northeastern states and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec fell into darkness.
The blackout began during rush hour, trapping 800,000 New York subway riders, delaying millions of train commuters, and stranding countless others in office buildings and elevators. Some 80,000 square miles, in which about 30 million people work and live, were affected.
The blackout was caused by the tripping of a 230-kilovolt transmission line near Ontario, Canada, at 5:16 p.m., which caused many other heavily loaded lines to fail. This led to a surge of power that overwhelmed the transmission lines in western New York State, causing a cascading tripping of other lines, breaking up the entire northeastern transmission network
The lights and power went out first at 5:17 p.m. along the Niagara frontier of New York State. Automatic switches sent the blackout eastward through the major cities of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Schenectady, Utica, Troy and Albany.
The lights began sputtering in New York City at 5:27 p.m., and within seconds the giant Consolidated Edison system went dark in Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, and most of Brooklyn. The darkness moved into northern New Jersey, Westchester and Rockland counties, and eastward into Long Island.
Overnight, the power was gradually restored--throughout the Northeast by the next morning. When the lights came on in Nassau and Suffolk counties in New York State at 9 p.m., overloads plunged the area into darkness again in 10 minutes.
Some 10,000 National Guardsmen and 5,000 off-duty policemen in New York City were called up to prevent looting. Other militia were alerted in upstate New York. But the Defense Department reported that the Strategic Air Command functioned without a hitch.
President Lyndon Johnson ordered the full resources of the federal government to join in an investigation by the Federal Power Commission. The FBI, Defense Department and other federal agencies were ordered to report "at the earliest possible moment."
Johnson was later advised that utility officials were "pretty well agreed upon the belief that there is substantially no chance of sabotage." One leading theory was that the chief failure was located in the automatic frequency control equipment