November 9, 1965: The Great Northeastern Blackout

On November 9, 1965, at 5:26 p.m. and during the height of rush hour, a power failure originating near Niagara Falls caused a catastrophic blackout and left much of the Northeastern states and portions of Canada in darkness.

This unprecedented peacetime emergency occurred when a 230-kV line near Ontario, Canada, tripped. The resulting power surge cascaded down lines, disrupting the delicate balance of supply and demand. The blackout impacted 30 million people in eight states, including New York and portions of eastern Canada. Initially, government officials were concerned that the outage resulted from sabotage. Further investigation revealed that a faulty relay was the culprit.

Chicago Tribune: November 10, 1965

In New York City, trains screeched to a halt, and subway tunnels were plunged into darkness, leaving 800,000 trapped underground. Passengers walked along the tracks and relied on the dim light from matches to return to a platform.

Chicago Tribune: November 10, 1965

The darkness left eight million New York residents on edge. Many were caught in elevators, including at least 100 inside the Empire State Building. One man recalled being stuck on an elevator near the 21st floor with ten strangers for over six hours. Though the pitch-blackness was initially frightening, he said they began talking and playing word games to pass the time. Eventually, rescuers broke through a wall and guided them down the stairs to street level. They were hungry and tired but relieved to be free.

Businesses also felt the impact of the blackout. When the ovens stopped working at a New York bakery, employees were forced to throw out 10,000 pounds of dough – enough to make 120,000 loaves of bread. Despite the outage, city officials praised New Yorkers for keeping a cool head. Criminal activity was unusually low, and residents stepped up to help each other make the best of a terrible situation.

Boston Globe: November 10, 1965

The civility continued in other affected cities, including Boston, where the Boston Globe reported that a “universal spark of graciousness glowed throughout the whole sorry mess.” One exception was a prison riot about 26 miles outside the city. More than 300 inmates used chairs and tables to ram through locked cell gates when the lights went out at the Walpole State Prison. The riot raged for four hours until police subdued prisoners with tear gas and engineers restored backup auxiliary power.

Following the Great Northeastern Blackout, power officials formed a coordinating council and developed new metering and monitoring equipment to prevent a similar occurrence. Despite best efforts, other blackouts have occurred, including a 2003 Northeast Blackout that affected 45 million people.

If you would like to learn more about the 1965 Great Northeastern Blackout and see additional news reports from the time, search™ today.

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36 thoughts on “November 9, 1965: The Great Northeastern Blackout

  1. 77WABC’s airchecks on their website has the complete recording of Dan Ingram’s reaction to it as he played ‘Everyone’s Gone To The Moon’ in a much slower then usual format due to a brownout gradually occurring at his studio. He mentions the lights dimming in the studio.

  2. A vivid childhood memory in our Boston suburb. Mom just started cooking supper when the power went out, so we ended up just eating sandwiches by candlelight. We walked up and down the block to see if it was just our house – seems humorous in retrospect. My dad was trapped at work in Boston. It’s bad enough now at rush hour, but with traffic and street lights out, the city was in instant gridlock. He called a few times (remember how phone lines seemed to always work when the power went out?) to keep my mom up to date on rumors of sabotage, as he was in naval intelligence. He finally got home toward morning. It was cold, too, and without a wood fireplace, things got pretty chilly in our house. Not a very dramatic story, I guess, but still a memorable snapshot in my aging brain!

    1. I have a similar memory. It was my birthday and my parents were overseas so my grandparents were taking care of us in CT. Instead of steak we settled for sandwiches and cake! Memorable birthday for sure.

      1. Happy Birthday, Sarah (on the 9th).
        It was my birthday, as well. Just turned 7!
        We lived in Long Island. If my now much older memory serves me right, I remember, we (my sister and I) were walking to the store to buy candles for the cake.
        Don’t remember if we got those candles or not; but, I do remember walking to the store when it got dark!

    2. Luckily it was November and NOT December and early November at that!. November isn’t usually super cold.


        1. @Jennie
          I think you may have misunderstood Kevin’s reply.

          He wasn’t calling the blackout a legend. He was replying about the rumored baby boom that happened 9 months later.

        2. My story’s very similar to yours – I too arrived at the subway station with my work friend and when a packed subway pulled into the station my friend took it coz she had a date that night – She spent almost 12 hours in the tunnel. I on the other hand took the next subway, an emptier train, and i got stuck at the 14th street station. When I eventually made it to street level I had no idea where I was, yet kids with flashlights were helping us women who were wearing 3-inch stiletto heels maneuver around the potholes and cracks in the pavements. At the 1st intersection I came upon, a police officer who was commandeering cars and directing those drivers to take groups of us to a decided-upon mutual intersection uptown. NEW YORKERS WERE AND ARE WONDERFUL !!!!!

      2. I read a party-pooper article that said the statistics don’t bear that out (post blackout baby boom). But I still want to believe it.

    1. Indeed there was! I was working in NYC as an au pair in late summer 1966, and the newspapers of the day were full of it. Numerous hospitals confirmed the situation, and the father of the family for whom I was working was a medical man who came home each day with stories of the chaotic situation in obstetrics!

  3. This is still a very vivid memory. I was a first year nursing student at a large hospital in Manhattan. A police officer entered our dorm building and instructed the staff to keep the doors locked. We had to report to the hospital units at 4:30 in the morning to assist staff after only two months of mostly classroom training. I remember a group of us climbing to the top of the 14th story dorm building to look out at the dark city.

    1. Still a vivid memory for me as well. I was on my way from the Bronx to Brooklyn. As luck would have it, the power failure came just as my subway train was coming to a stop at 125th St and Broadway. So we were able to get out on the platform and start making our way on foot. I was with a group of 4 or 5 guys, and we saw a group of four girls who seemed terrified. We were all in our 20s at the time, and we volunteered to escort them home. They were really grateful, but for some reason we never thought to exchange names or numbers.
      It was a long, hard walk through Manhattan, but very cool to see lots of people standing in intersections with flashlights to direct traffic. There was some looting of stores, but not a lot.

    2. I was in my first year of nursing school in the Bronx. The dormitory was about 20 stories high. Freshmen were on the upper floors. The firefighters walked up 20 floors with hoses attached to their shoulders. A few of them got off at our floor and told us to get in a line as we would be descending the stairs to the first-floor cafeteria. The stairwell was pitch black and the lighting provided by the firefighters was not really giving us much security.

      The descent was made more difficult because we all carried our A & P books with us. We crammed into the cafeteria and tried to find enough light to study. It was after 10 p.m. when the professor announced the mid-term would be postponed. We spoke words about the professor that were not kind. I apologize if he is reading this!

  4. I remember it well. I was home with my 3 year old twins waiting for my husband to get home from work when the lights went out. Since we lived in an apartment building all the neighbors came out into the hallway. Our 9 year old neighbor had a battery operated movie projector and he entered my twins with cartoon movies. When my husband finally got home he told us how he had to get off the train and walk through the tunnel to the street where he was able to board a bus going to Queens. From there he walked the rest of the way home. He was exhausted, but the neighbors and I had a fun evening socializing in the hall.

  5. Still love the BeeGees song….”And the lights all went out in Massachusetts…..”

  6. Still a vivid memory! I was stuck on the NYC subway train for hours before having to walk home from 72nd St to 106th St. In the dark, in the cold. All the buses and cabs were full and would not stop. Got home safely, walked up 19 stories to my apartment, and stayed put!

  7. Still a vivid memory for me. We lived in a suburb of Manhattan. I was 8 and taking a bath when the lights went out. My brother was a freshman in college, in Massachusetts, and my father was on business in India. Mom let me sleep in her room that night. I think she was a bit scared herself. We did have the telephone which we used.

  8. Returned home from play rehearsal, stepped out of elevator on 6th floor, put key in the door of my studio and the hall lights went out. No lights in apt. or in buildings out back windows. Felt my way down 6 fleights intending to buy candles but the corner bodega was locked up tight. Soon heard rumors that the whole city was blacked out.
    A kind neighbor gave me a candle. Afraid of hot wax, I felt my way back up to 6th floor, called relatives and read my latest library book til the candle was a nub. The following days we heard stories that UFOs had been seen over an upstate power plant and many people reported seeing them fly over the Hudson from NY to Jersey.

  9. My dad, who was working for JP Morgan in NYC at the time, was stuck at his job and ended up spending the night there. He recalled years later sleeping on his work desk. At the time my parents were living in Baldwin Long Island. My mom was home because it was a Tuesday and that was her day off from her job at a supermarket a few towns away.

  10. I had just turned 9 the day before. I was home with my dad waiting for my mother to come home from work. I remember laying in bed with my dad crying for my mother. She had had to walk the train tracks to get out of the subway so she could walk home. She got home past 10pm. What a relief!

  11. I was a college freshman in the Bronx, taking a nap in my dorm room. I awakened just as the blackout started, the lights in my room started getting dimmer and then died – I thought I had gone blind but then heard lots of commotion in the hall. Somebody said even the Empire State Bldg was out so we all trooped to the south facing windows and it was nothing but darkness. One of the guys from my floor had been in the Village and walked back to the dorm, took him hours. Quite an experience…

  12. I was 16 at the time living in Wayne NJ, just 20 miles west of Manhattan. I had just finished repairing one of those old vacuum tube TVs and showing my buddy how well it worked. Suddenly the screen went blank, I switched through the other 13 channels and saw nothing. I went to the radio and scanned the AM dial. Only a few far off radio stations were on! Said to my friend “must be a power failure in New York!”

  13. I was 17 living with my parents and 3 sisters in Guilderland, Albany County, NY. Fortunately we had a fireplace for warmth and to cook a few things. Water was supplied by a well so we had to severely limit usage. Toilet flushing was curtailed as a result. A battery radio allowed us to hear how the extent of the outage grew. We were a bit fearful as to the cause but managed to live through it.

  14. I remember my aunt saying “ Where were you when the lights went out? Down in the cellar eating sauerkraut”. We lived in PA so I’m not sure where the rhyme originated. But, it was a fun rhyme that I’ve remembered all these years,

  15. I walked from NYU Washington Square to Port Authority, 42nd St and 8th Ave. Many little sandwich shops on 6th Ave had a burning dish towel in a big stainless steel bowl of deep fryer grease providing light from the takeout window. Inside Port Authority there was a mass of emergency lights, just enough light for us to walk up the non-functioning escalators and get to our buses to get to New Jersey.

  16. Happy Birthday, Sarah (on the 9th).
    It was my birthday, as well. Just turned 7!
    We lived in Long Island. If my now much older memory serves me right, I remember, we (my sister and I) were walking to the store to buy candles for the cake.
    Don’t remember if we got those candles or not; but, I do remember walking to the store when it got dark!

  17. I grew up in the South but do remember reading about this in our Weekly Reader paper that we got in school. In the Reader there was an account of a boy who believed he was responsible for the blackout. He was using a stick to whack at a guy wire connected to a power pole. Just as he hit the wire, everything went black and he was terrified that he had caused it. I was nine at the time but have never forgotten it even though I lived far away and was unaffected.

  18. Dan Ingram was a legend keeping everyone calm. He saw the lights dim before they went out causing his stuff to run at a much slower speed! There’s a complete air check on W77ABC dot com if you search on Google for Dan Ingram 1965 Blackout Aircheck it should come up. It starts off playing Everyone’s Gone To The Moon at a slow speed.

  19. I was on a subway as first car entered first stop in NYC from Brooklyn. We were escorted by RR workers with a battery-powered lantern.through the cars to the platform, to the street, to see the entire city in darkness. Traffc already was chaotic, many civilians trying to help direct it.
    I lived in Flushing, across the street from the World’s Fair on 132nd Street. I thought I could get a bus if I got to Queens so headed for the Midtown Tunnel but it was chaotically jammed so I continued to.the Queensborough Bridge, knowing there was a pedestrian lane. That, too, was traffic-at-a-standstill and no buses were running once I got to Queens so I continued my walk along Roosevelt Avenue. About one mile from home, my best friend was driving on Roosevelt Avenue hoping to find his wife who worked in NYC. He drove me the last mile.
    I remember it being a pleasant evening, temperature-wise, and people being very sociable.
    When I finally arrived home, my wife told me she lit candles but my daughter who turned one that year thought it was fun to blow them out as they waited for me. That likely was the only night she didn’t wake up to sit with me on our balcony to watch the 10 pm fireworks at the Fair. Her baby sister was sleeping when I got home.

  20. I was 10 years old, living with my parents in Albany NY. My sister and I were thrilled because we assumed we didn’t have to do homework and we also thought we would get out of school the next day (and maybe more) since the whole thing was so mysterious to us.’

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