Find of the Month

November 2015 - Thanksgiving power outage

Seattle Post-Intelligencer

A headline in the November 27, 1942, edition of the Seattle Times has a tidy summary of the previous day's calamity: "Power Fails; Thanksgiving Cooks Sputter." Overloaded feeder lines created outages in Ballard and in several defense worker housing projects in the South End, in some cases lasting until 8:30 pm. According to the Times, this caused "considerable consternation in the kitchens of housewives preparing Thanksgiving dinners."

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer dug into the human drama of the holiday power outage. Noting that "many turkeys needed only a short time more in the oven and in other homes the birds didn't even have a chance to get warm," the paper painted a picture of sad would-be feasters: "In the late afternoon, while guests lighted candles and stood around bare dinner tables, many families tried to heat their vegetables on oil circulating heaters. In some homes, the pumpkin and mince pies, ordinarily the dessert course, were being eaten by the children while they waited for the main course." At 5:00 in one household, a family and their guests "were still standing in the kitchen, looking hopefully at a half-cooked bird and munching breadsticks."

Seattle City Light took the heat for the outages, but the article did not note the underlying reason why too many turkeys in ovens caused a power failure: wartime conservation restrictions put in place by the federal government. In a December 9 report to the War Production Board, Superintendent E.R. Hoffman analyzed the Thanksgiving fiasco and noted that the limits were too restricted for Seattle's power needs.

Hoffman's report observed that while much of Seattle still used coal and wood to heat their houses, many homes had "electrically operated oil burners or coal stokers," so assumptions about electricity not being needed for heating purposes were not accurate. He also noted that the new housing built for the estimated 100,000 people who had come to Seattle "due to war activities" was largely outfitted with electric ranges and hot water heaters. Overall, he argued, the wartime restrictions were too stringent to keep up with demand, especially on holidays when everyone was using electricity at the same time. Hoffman also noted that the holiday failure "caused us some humiliation and in addition much adverse publicity."