The Hindenburg was an 804-foot-long German dirigible and the largest rigid airship ever constructed. It was first launched in Friedrichshafen, Germany, in April 1936. The huge craft could lift atotal weight of about 235 tons (215 metric tons). It carried fifty passengers and a crew of sixty, in addition to baggage, mail cargo, and its heavy load of fuel. It had a maximum speed of 84 mph (135km/h) and a cruising speed of 78 mph (126km/h). It was renowned not only for its size but also for its luxurious two-deck passenger accommodations.

Commercial air service across the North Atlantic was inaugurated by the Hindenburg, carrying a total of 1,002 passengers on ten round-trips between Germany and the United States, was among the first lighter-than-air crafts, and certainly the most prestigious, to assure commercial air service across the North Atlantic. Then, on the evening of May 6, 1937, while landing at Lakehurst, New Jersey, the Hindenburg was destroyed in a massive, fiery explosion, killing thirty-five of the ninety-seven persons aboard and one ground worker. This disaster foreshadowed the end of the commercial rigid airship and the end of an era.

The disaster was generally attributed to a discharge of atmospheric electricity near a hydrogen gas leak from the zeppelin. There were some speculations that the dirigible had been the target of an anti-Nazi act of sabotage. More recent explanations disregard the bombing theory and the hydrogen leak problem, and lay the blame on a special fabric used for the outer skin which, when ignited, burns like dry leaves.

The importance of the event was magnified by a now-famous and often-replayed live radio broadcast of the disaster. This broadcast was the first to bring the drama of a major tragedy directly in the homes of Americans and helped ensure that this event would be considered one of the major disasters of the twentieth century.

See also: Disasters ; Titanic ; Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire


Archbold, Rick. Hindenburg: An Illustrated History. New York: Warner Books, 1994.

Dick, Harold G., and Douglas H. Robinson. The Golden Age of the Great Passenger Airships: Graf Zeppelin & Hindenburg. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992.

Internet Resources

Cochran-Bokow, Jacquelyn. "Fabric, Not Filling to Blame: Hydrogen Exonerated in Hindenburg Disaster." In the National Hydrogen Association [web site]. Available from www.ttcorp.com/nha/advocate/ad22zepp.htm .


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