The Hindenburg was the world’s largest airship, built in Germany in 1931. The airship as a type of travel and transport came to be used earlier, around 1900. Airships were also used throughout World War II to carry heavy loads long distances and to spy on enemy armies and navies. In Germany, some airships dropped bombs on London and other locations. Their main purpose was to carry goods and passengers across the Atlantic Ocean, however.
Many airships had light, metal, oval skeletons that made up their interior structures. Airships were filled with gases like helium or hydrogen which are lighter than air, making it possible for them to fly. The Hindenburg was filled with hydrogen and was 804 feet long-longer than two-and-a- half football fields! It would be taller than the Washington Monument if stood on its end!
It was important to keep weight carried on an airship to a minimum, since they needed to float easily. For this reason, furniture for passengers was made of aluminum and sinks were made of plastic. On most flights, passengers could play an aluminum piano, though there wasn’t one on the Hindenburg’s flight.
On the evening of May 6, 1937 the Hindenburg was getting ready to land in Lakehurst, New Jersey. It had taken off from Frankfurt, Germany. This journey took two-and-a-half days. As it descended, a fire began in the back of the airship and soon flames engulfed the whole thing. Thirty-six people died in the crash and 62 survived.
The cause of the Hindenburg explosion is still not known. Some speculate that the fire fueled by the paint used on the outside of the ship. This paint was made of the same type of material that is used to power rockets. Others say some kind of spark made the hydrogen gas catch fire. Another explanation is that lightning struck the ship, though no witnesses saw any lightning.
The Hindenburg crash marked the end of airship travel, though it did not keep people from wanting to fly. Soon airplanes became the preferred method of travel through the air. Airships are used for little more than advertising and filming at sporting events these days and are called blimps. These blimps are filled with helium, because it is much less flammable than hydrogen. They don’t have a metal skeleton like the Hindenburg did either.
Read more about this fascinating event in history in one of the books we have about the Hindenburg disaster .