How much do you know about the Hindenburg?

Published 8:41 am Wednesday, May 26, 2021

On May 6, 1937, the German passenger airship Hindenburg was making its final approach to Manchester Township, New Jersey. Closing in on docking on the ground, the Zeppelin caught fire and crashed to the ground. Some thought the fire could have been caused by lightning, static electricity, or may have been an act of anti-Nazi sabotage.

The airship had 97 passengers and crew members on board when it burst into flames, but less than half were killed in the disaster. Some passengers and crew jumped to the ground and survived. Others either did not survive the jump or could not run away from the aircraft before it ran aground. 13 passengers, 22 crew members, and one worker on the ground died.

The Hindenburg was carrying an estimated 17,000 pieces of mail. Most of it was destroyed, but 176 pieces survived because they were stored in a protective container. While they were charred from the fire, they were still readable. The mail was postmarked four days after the airship was destroyed and is highly valuable among modern collectors. The United States issued three Graf Zeppelin airmail stamps on April 19, 1930. In the late 1970s, a mint never-hinged set in the grade of very fine could sell for as much as $10,000. Today they have a Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue value of $2,125.

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The Hindenburg was filled with highly flammable hydrogen gas instead of the recommended helium gas, because of the export restrictions by the United States against Nazi Germany. According to airship historian Dan Grossman, the discharge of hydrogen and resulting fire was caused by a thunderstorm at the time of the landing.

Herbert Morrison, a Chicago radio station reporter gave the now infamous and emotional first-person account of the Hindenburg disaster. Chicago residents however did not hear his recording until later that night and Americans nationwide did not hear it until the following day. The media played Morrison’s audio report with newsreels of the disaster – and his comment, “Oh, the humanity!” became a recognizable phrase around the world.

In what the Nazi’s considered a propaganda triumph, the Hindenburg made a cameo at the famed 1936 German Olympics. Olympic stadium spectators and as many as three million German citizens and visitors in Berlin watched the airship travel approximately 750 feet high above the ground during the summer Olympics. The Hindenburg put on a show for about an hour. Source: Britannica

Gene Hays is an author and historian with eight books available on Email: