Tuesday, May 6, 2008

71 years ago: The Hindenburg

On this date in 1937, during its second year of service, the German zeppelin LZ 129 Hindenburg went up in flames and was destroyed while landing at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in Manchester Township, New Jersey, U.S., on 6 May 1937. Thirty-six people died in the accident, which was widely reported by film, photography and radio media.

The disaster is well recorded because of the extraordinary extent of newsreel coverage and photographs, as well as Herbert Morrison's recorded, on-the-scene, eyewitness radio report from the landing field. Heavy publicity about the first transatlantic passenger flight of the year by Zeppelin to the U.S. attracted a large number of journalists to the landing. (The airship had already made one round trip from Germany to Brazil that year.) Morrison's recording was not broadcast until the next day. Parts of his report were later dubbed onto the newsreel footage, giving the impression to many modern viewers, more accustomed to live television reporting, that the words and film were recorded together intentionally. Morrison's broadcast remains one of the most famous in history. His plaintive words, "Oh, the humanity!" resonate with the impact of the disaster, and have been widely used in culture. Part of its poignancy is due to its being recorded at a slightly slower speed to the disk, so when played back at normal speed seeming to be at a faster delivery and higher pitch; when corrected, his account is less frantic sounding, though still impassioned.

Spectacular movie footage and Morrison's passionate recording of the Hindenburg fire shattered public and industry faith in airships and marked the end of the giant passenger-carrying dirigibles. Also contributing to the Zeppelins' downfall was the arrival of international passenger aeroplane travel and Pan American Airlines. Aircraft regularly crossed the Atlantic and Pacific oceans much faster than the 130 km/h (80 mph) of the Hindenburg. The one advantage that the Hindenburg had over aircraft was the comfort it afforded its passengers, much like that of an ocean liner.

Many theories exist for what caused the disaster, ranging from sabotage, static sparks, lightning, incendiary paint, structural failure and the hydrogen fuel that it used. Regardless of the reason, the Hindenburg disaster has entered the popular lexicon of the 20th century and remains a seminal historic event.


Mr. Karswell said...

>the Hindenburg disaster has entered the popular lexicon of the 20th century and remains a seminal historic event.

It also looks great on a Ledd Zepplin album cover!

Chuck Wells said...

Yep, the boys original thought that the idea of forming a band would go over "like a lead balloon" was a bit premature.

Eddie said...

I was stationed at NAS Lakehurst for two years and if you did not know about the Hindenburg before you arrived, you sure knew of it and the date before you left.

Oversize copies of the famous picture of the explosion were all over the place.

Chuck Wells said...

Cool Thanks for passing that along.