A naturally occurring EMP-like effect, caused by a large Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) of the Sun. Via Wikipedia:

The solar storm of 1859 (also known as the Carrington Event) was a powerful geomagnetic storm during solar cycle 10 (1855–1867). A solar coronal mass ejection (CME) hit Earth’s magnetosphere and induced the largest geomagnetic storm on record, September 1–2, 1859. The associated “white light flare” in the solar photosphere was observed and recorded by British astronomers Richard C. Carrington (1826–1875) and Richard Hodgson (1804–1872). The storm caused strong auroral displays and wrought havoc with telegraph systems.

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