Today on May 6, 1937, the Hindenburg Airship suddenly burst into flames, crashing only moments later over New Jersey.
Luftschiff Zeppelin #129, better known as the Hindenburg, was one of the largest and most famous commercial airships in the world. It was designed, manufactured and operated by the Zeppelin Company in Germany. The airship was named after the German World War I Field Marshal, Paul von Hindenburg, who later served as the President of Germany from 1925 to 1934.
On March 4, 1936, the Hindenburg made its maiden voyage and went on to complete 17 trips during its first year in operation — ten were to the United States and seven to Brazil. However, only a short 14 months after making its maiden voyage, the Hindenburg was suddenly struck by disaster. While finishing a routine transatlantic flight, an unknown spark engulfed the airship in flames while trying to safely land at a naval base in Manchester Township, New Jersey.
Hindenburg's arrival was delayed for hours while it waited for a local thunderstorm to pass. After being cleared to land, it approached the naval base and ground handlers grabbed the airship’s landing lines. At 7:31 pm, the Hindenburg suddenly burst into flames and crashed less than two minutes later. Investigators never conclusively determined the exact cause of the fire. It's likely that some escaping hydrogen gas mixed with the air, which would have ignited a flame. The disaster tragically claimed the lives of 36 passengers and crew. There were 61 survivors from the incident.
Airships had a notorious history of disasters during the early twentieth century. The British Airships R38 and R101 crashed in 1921 and 1930, respectively causing 92 total fatalities. The French Airship named Dixmude went down in 1923, which led to 52 deaths. And finally, U.S. Airships Rome and Akron experienced similar fates and caused 107 fatalities. The Hindenburg’s structural frame and scrap metal were sent back to Germany and recycled for the construction of Hitler’s new Luftwaffe. The rock-and-roll band, Led Zeppelin, actually got their name from the Hindenburg disaster. Keith Moon, the drummer with The Who, early on suggested ‘the band would go down like a lead zeppelin.’