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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Almanac/Lights Out

Air Date: Week of

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This week, we have facts about the biggest blackout in the history of the United States. On November 9, 1965 much of the northeast was plunged into darkness when one electrical line near Niagara Falls shut down, starting a massive chain reaction.


CURWOOD: Welcome back to Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

[MUSIC: Rolling Stones, “Get Off My Cloud,” HOT ROCKS (London Records)]

CURWOOD: On November 9, 1965 the Rolling Stones were at the top of the charts and more electricity was needed to meet the peak demands of evening rush hour in Toronto.
So engineers responded by routing extra power through a relay switch that was improperly set. The switch failed and touched off a cascade of overloads along the newly established North American power grid. Electricity could travel thousands of miles, but outages could also travel and magnify over those distances.

Within minutes, 30 million people across eastern North America were in darkness. The biggest electrical blackout in history was underway from New Jersey to Quebec, and from Boston to Buffalo. DJ Dan Ingram was on the air just as the lights went out in New York City.

INGRAM: The lights are dipping in the city. You wouldn't believe what's going on at this studio folks. The lights are getting dim. The electricity is slowing down. I didn't know that could happen.

CURWOOD: For New Yorkers, it was a night to remember. Thousands were marooned in stalled subway cars and elevators. Hotels opened their doors to the stranded, if you didn't mind an eight-story walk-up, and people patrolled the streets with flashlights to help neighbors reach home.

When the lights came on eleven hours later, police reported there had been virtually no crime during the blackout. And just how many babies were born in New York exactly nine months after the blackout? No more than usual the records say. The blackout baby boom is just another urban legend.

And that's this week's Living on Earth Almanac.




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