The 1859 super flare is called the "Carrington event" after English astronomer Richard Carrington who was studying sunspots when "blinding white light" suddenly appeared over them in a kidney shape. See his diagram above.
The next day, telegraph offices reported sparks flying that caused some fires, and in some places electrical currents kept the equipment operating even after the batteries were disconnected. Auroras could be seen all over the planet, even in tropical latitudes such as Hawaii. Some were so bright that newspapers could be read at night.