On the night of July 13, 1977, a system operator sat in New York City's ConEdison electric facility, probably reading a comic book and wishing the internet had been invented.
Then, lightning struck. Three times. It nearly crippled the facility. To make things worse, neighboring facilities then opened their connections to the ConEd system to keep their own from overloading. The details are technical, but let's just say at that point, the system was going to be fucked unless somebody took action.
But no worries, our trusty system operator was on duty. And all he needed to do was flip a few switches and disaster would be averted. What could go wrong?
Did we mention those switches needed to be flipped quickly? And in the proper order? Someone should have mentioned it to the system operator. One switch flipped out of order and within a few minutes, a 230,000 volt connection with New Jersey closed and the system began to overload. At 9:36 PM, the entire ConEdison system shut down.
Really, What's the Worst That Could Happen?
New York City was suddenly plunged into 25 hours of electricity-free mayhem. With mid-July temperatures sweltering, a deranged serial killer who took his orders from his neighbor's dog on the loose, and 1977's New York City just being a generally unhappy place to be, people lost their shit.
In short order, the raucous, block party-like atmosphere in the streets turned into violent looting. Fires were started, store windows were smashed, electronics were stolen (albeit not used for some time) and the fucking Yankees were well on their way to another World Series title. Son of a bitch.
Above: Why we love New York
After all was said and done, 1,616 stores were damaged, 1,037 fires were set, and 3,776 arrests were made. A Congressional study estimated the total damage to the New York City area at $300 million. Also, as a bizarre side effect: hip-hop was born. Seriously. The looting apparently resulted in the first access to DJ equipment for poor inner city youths, launching the movement.
In the aftermath of the blackout, ConEdison implemented changes to make sure the same problem never happened again (which it totally did in 2003). We're assuming this involved something along the lines of a few sequentially ordered labels above those switches.