Barrage balloon cuts power to Seattle and causes air raid scare on January 12, 1942.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 12/04/2000
  • Essay 2860
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On January 12, 1942, a U.S. Army barrage balloon drags steel cables across power transmission lines north of Seattle, cutting all electric power to the city. The United States had entered World War II five weeks earlier and "a sudden fear swept the city" that the outage was "a blackout presaging the appearance of enemy aircraft" (Seattle P-I).

A planned test of the air raid siren on Queen Anne Hill and the silence of all radio stations didĀ little to calm Seattle citizens. Commuters were stalled in unheated electric trackless-trolleys and elevators were trapped between floors. Outages lasted from a few minutes to several hours.

The balloon short-circuited transmission lines of Seattle City Light and Puget Sound Power and Light, then traveled westward and settled on the waters of Puget Sound off Richmond Beach. According to Second Interceptor Command, the balloon was being tested "somewhere in the Pacific Northwest." Other balloons got loose on February 2, 1942. One landed at Fort Lawton and another came down near Boeing Field, but there was no damage.

Helium filled barrage balloons were tethered by U.S. Army air defense units around targets of air attack. Defenders expected that the balloons and their trailing cables would force enemy aircraft to fly at higher altitudes and interfere with their ability to drop bombs.

Following this incident, Seattle City Light launched a publicity campaign to discourage children from playing with toy balloons near power lines.

Sources: "Power Failure Hits Seattle," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 13, 1942, p. 1; "Barrage Balloons Loose," Ibid., February 3, 1942, p. 5; Seattle City Light Official bulletin, April 1942, p. 1.

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