82 Years Ago Today The Hindenburg Burst Into Flames, Killing 36

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On May 6, 1937, the German airship LZ129 Hindenburg caught fire during its landing in Manchester Township, New Jersey, killing 36 people out of 97 total on board after departing from Frankfurt, Germany two days prior.


The Hindenburg was 803.8 feet long and weighed approximately 242 tons. It’s metal frame was filled with hydrogen, which was vented as the dirigible descended. It contained sleeping quarters, a dining area, a library and a lounge, and was able to cruise along at just over 80 miles per hour. 


Hindenburg dining room

Drinks at the Hindenburg bar

Once the Hindenburg caught fire, it rapidly spread throughout the dirigible’s gas cells until it was destroyed. The disaster at Naval Air Station Lakehurst, which was spectacularly caught on camera, marked the end of the rigid airship era of travel. 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgWHbpMVQ1U]


While the newsreel footage was shot by Pathé News, Movietone News, Hearst News of the Day, and Paramount News – perhaps the most famous audio broadcast of the disaster was Herbert Morrison’s live radio report for WLS Chicago. 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJ4XsHRZmpw]

In Germany, media coverage of the disaster was suppressed – while newsreel footage was not released in the country until after World War II

What brought it down? 

At the time of the catastrophe, the two most common theories as to what caused the fire were sabotage or a lightning strike as the dirigible vented gas upon approach. Hugo Eckener – former head of the Zeppelin Company, came to believe that static discharge was the cause.



Max Pruss, who commanded the Hindenburg throughout most of the airship’s career, told Columbia University in 1960 that it was likely sabotage – as early dirigible travel was safe, and they were frequently struck by lightning along the popular route between Germany and South America. 

There’s an entire game of Clue’s worth of suspects who were onboard the Hindenburg before the crash – ranging from a German acrobat, to crew members, to a theory that Adolf Hitler himself gave the order. 

This is all that was left: 

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