What was it like to travel on the Hindenberg airship?
The LZ 129 Hindenburg was the largest passenger aircraft that has ever taken to the skies. This jaw-dropping feat of German engineering was
245 meters long (803 feet) and usually took off weighing 210,000 kg (232 tons), powered by four diesel engines adapted from the latest motor torpedo boats.
Marketed as the ‘hotel of the sky’, the airship was designed to carry up to 70 passengers in luxury and comfort. There was a restaurant, lounge, cocktail bar and, perhaps most surprisingly, a smoking room. Walls were lined with silk painted scenes of great historic voyages and exotic locales, while its furnishings were in an ultra-modern Bauhaus style.
While its cabins were small they were equal to that of an ocean liner or sleeper car. From 1936 onwards, the airship carried the rich and famous from Frankfurt to Rio to de Janeiro, in Brazil, and New Jersey, in the United States.
Although the Hindenburg was in development before the Third Reich came to power, the
Nazis quickly coopted it for their own means. Propaganda minister Joesph Goebbels insisted the Hindenburg’s maiden voyage should be in March 1936, so it could rally support for a referendum rubber-stamping the reoccupation of the Rhineland. For four days, the dirigible travelled Germany, blaring patriotic music and pro-hitler announcements from loudspeakers, while leaflets were scattered over cities. The Hindenburg also had a starring role in the opening ceremony of the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
Today the Hindenburg is best remembered for its catastrophic demise. On 6 May 1937, the colossal zeppelin burst into flame as it came into dock at an airfield in Lakehurst, New Jersey. Thirty-five of the 97 people on board were killed, plus a member of the ground crew. The disaster was covered by Herbert Morrison’s eyewitness radio report exclaiming, “Oh, the humanity!”
The cause of the fire was likely a build up of static in the ship’s gasbags, which were filed with highly flammable hydrogen.