In 1936, the future looked bright for rigid airships, the hydrogen-filled, lighter-than-air behemoths also known as dirigibles or zeppelins. The Hindenburg, Nazi Germany’s pride and joy, spent one glorious season ferrying passengers across the Atlantic in its luxurious belly. The following year, the airship era screeched to a spectacular halt when the Hindenburg burst into flames while landing in Lakehurst, New Jersey. The disaster claimed the lives of 36 people and received an unprecedented amount of media coverage.
The Hindenburg was a 245-meter (804-foot-) long airship of conventional zeppelin design that was launched at Friedrichshafen, Germany, in March 1936. It had a maximum speed of 135 km (84 miles) per hour and a cruising speed of 126 km (78 miles) per hour. Though it was designed to be filled with helium gas, the airship was filled with highly flammable hydrogen owing to export restrictions by the United States against Nazi Germany. In 1936 the Hindenburg inaugurated commercial air service across the North Atlantic by carrying 1,002 passengers on 10 scheduled round trips between Germany and the United States.
On May 6, 1937, while landing at Lakehurst, N.J., on the first of its scheduled 1937 trans-Atlantic crossings, the Hindenburg burst into flames and was completely destroyed. Thirty-six of the 97 persons aboard were killed. The fire was officially attributed to a discharge of atmospheric electricity in the vicinity of a hydrogen gas leak from the airship, though it was speculated that the dirigible was the victim of an anti-Nazi act of sabotage. The Hindenburg disaster marked the end of the use of rigid airships in commercial air transportation.