Pre-war Zeppelin over German City
This picture shows a pre-First World War Zeppelin flying over an unidentified German city. Most wartime Zeppelins had a cross-shaped tail.
The inside of the Hindenburg surpassed all other airships in luxury. Though most of the airship's interior consisted of gas cells, there were two decks (just aft of the control gondola) for the passengers and crew. These decks spanned the width (but not the length) of the Hindenburg.
- Deck A (the top deck) offered a promenade and a lounge on each side of the airship which was nearly walled with windows (which opened), allowing passengers to watch the scenery throughout their trip. In each of these rooms, passengers could sit on chairs made of aluminum. The lounge even featured a baby grand piano that was made of aluminum and covered in yellow pigskin, weighing only 377 pounds.
- Between the promenade and the lounge were the passenger cabins. Each cabin had two berths and a washbasin, similar in design to a sleeping room on a train. But in order to keep weight to a minimum, the passenger cabins were separated by only a single layer of foam covered by fabric. Toilets, urinals, and one shower could be found downstairs, on Deck B.
- Deck B (the lower deck) also contained the kitchen and the crew's mess. Plus, Deck B offered the amazing amenity of a smoking room. Considering that hydrogen gas was extremely flammable, the smoking room was a novelty in air travel. Connected to the rest of the ship through an airlock door, the room was specially insulated to keep hydrogen gasses from leaking into the room. Passengers were able to lounge in the smoking room day or night and freely smoke (lighting from the only lighter allowed on the craft, which was built into the room).
During 1928 there were six proving flights. On the fourth one, Blau gas was used for the first time. Graf Zeppelin carried Oskar von Miller, head of the Deutsches Museum Charles E. Rosendahl, commander of USS Los Angeles and the British airshipmen Ralph Sleigh Booth and George Herbert Scott. It flew from Friedrichshafen to Ulm, via Cologne and across the Netherlands to Lowestoft in England, then home via Bremen, Hamburg, Berlin, Leipzig and Dresden, a total of 3,140 kilometres (1,950 mi 1,700 nmi) in 34 hours and 30 minutes.  On the fifth flight, Eckener caused a minor controversy by flying close to Huis Doorn in the Netherlands, which some interpreted as a gesture of support for the former Kaiser Wilhelm II who was living in exile there.  
In October 1928 Graf Zeppelin made its first intercontinental trip, to Lakehurst Naval Air Station, New Jersey, US, with Eckener in command and Lehmann as first officer. [nb 1] Rosendahl and Drummond-Hay flew on the outward leg.   Ludwig Dettmann and Theo Matejko made an artistic record of the flight. 
On the third day of the flight a large section of the fabric covering of the port tail fin was damaged while passing through a mid-ocean squall line 2,400 km (1,500 mi 1,300 nmi) east of Bermuda (35°N, 42°W).  With the engines throttled back, the riggers (including Eckener's son, Knut) repaired the torn fabric while roped together for safety whenever the airship descended too close to the ocean, they retreated into the ship so the engines could be restarted to maintain lift. Eckener directed Rosendahl to make a distress call when this was received, newspaper headlines speculated that the ship was lost, US Navy vessels prepared for a rescue mission, and the radio station WOR broadcast a prayer and minute of silence. 
Graf Zeppelin was able to complete its journey with the repairs of its crew.   When news broke that it was safe, it was deluged by radio calls of congratulation and requests to overfly particular places.  It crossed the US coast at Cape Charles, Virginia, around 10 am on 15 October, then flew up the eastern seaboard via Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City, landing at Lakehurst at 5:38 pm.  There was some annoyance from the Lakehurst personnel that the ship had not answered repeated calls for its position and estimated arrival time.  The 9,926 km (6,168 mi 5,360 nmi) crossing, the longest non-stop flight at the time, had taken 111 hours 44 minutes.  Eckener was welcomed with a ticker-tape parade in New York and an invitation to the White House to meet Calvin Coolidge, the US president. 
After the tail had been repaired, Graf Zeppelin left Lakehurst at 1:24 am on 29 October. Clara Adams became the first female paying passenger to fly transatlantic on the return flight.  The ship endured an overnight gale that blew it backwards in the air and 320 km (200 mi 170 nmi) off course, to the coast of Newfoundland.  The wind caused the structure of the ship to bend visibly. 
A stowaway, 19-year-old Clarence Terhune, got aboard at Lakehurst and was discovered in the mail room mid-voyage. On arrival in Germany he became well-known and received job offers.   [nb 2] The airship returned home on 1 November.  On 6 November it flew to Berlin Staaken, where it was met by the German president, Paul von Hindenburg, who praised the achievements of the ship, and those who had designed, built, and flown it. 
With the cotton tail surfaces replaced by linen for added strength,  Graf Zeppelin visited Palestine in late March 1929. It carried 28 passengers, some in the crew quarters.  It had to leave port at 12:45 am because France only permitted it to overfly its territory in darkness, and above 3,600 feet. At Rome it sent greetings to Benito Mussolini and King Victor Emmanuel III. It entered Palestine at Jaffa, flew over Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and descended to near the surface of the Dead Sea, 1,400 feet below sea level. The ship delivered 16,000 letters in mail drops at Jaffa, Athens, Budapest and Vienna. 
The Egyptian government (under pressure from Britain) refused it permission to enter their airspace the Egyptian journalist Mahmud Abu al-Fath, who was on board representing Al-Ahram newspaper, wrote that this was caused by British jealousy over the success of German technology.  Eckener sent a telegram to King Fuad from just outside Egyptian territory, expressing regret that "contrary winds prevent us from flying over the land of the wonders of a thousand years."   It then returned after a journey of 8,000 km (5,000 mi 4,300 nmi) in 81 hours.  
The second Mediterranean cruise flew over France, Spain, Portugal and Tangier,  then returned home via Cannes and Lyon in a flight of 57 hours on 23–25 April.  
Shortly after dark on 16 May 1929, on the first night of its second trip to the US, Graf Zeppelin lost power in two of its engines off the southeast coast of Spain, forcing Eckener to abandon the voyage and turn back. Flying against a strong headwind up the Rhône valley in France the next afternoon, two of the remaining three engines also failed, and the airship was blown towards the sea.  With Eckener struggling for a suitable place to force-land, the French Air Ministry allowed him to land at Cuers-Pierrefeu, near Toulon.  Barely able to control the ship on its one live engine, Eckener made an emergency landing. 
Graf Zeppelin was kept in the hangar which had housed the Dixmude (LZ 114) and the Méditerranée (LZ 121).  [nb 3] The engines were replaced with working ones sent by rail from Friedrichshafen,  and the ship returned there on 24 May.  The incident, and the forced comradeship it engendered, softened France's attitude to Germany and its airships slightly.  The incident was caused by adjustments that had been made by the chief engineer to the four engines that failed.  
On 1 August 1929, the airship made a successful journey to Lakehurst, arriving on 4 August. Aboard both flights was Susie, an eastern gorilla who had been captured near Lake Kivu in the Belgian Congo and sold by her German owner to an American dealer. After a touring career in the US, Susie went to Cincinnati Zoo in 1931, where she died in 1947.   [nb 4]
The American newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst's media empire paid half the cost of the project to fly Graf Zeppelin around the world,  with four staff on the flight Drummond-Hay, Karl von Wiegand, the Australian explorer Hubert Wilkins, and the cameraman Robert Hartmann. Drummond-Hay became the first woman to circumnavigate the world by air.  [nb 5] Rosendahl and Lieutenant Jack C Richardson represented the US government   Japan's Commander Fuiyoshi and the Soviet Union's Comrade Karklin were also aboard. 
Hearst stipulated that the flight in August 1929 officially start and finish at Lakehurst   the Germans considered that the trip began and ended at Friedrichshafen.   Round-the-world tickets were sold for almost $3000 (equivalent to $45,000 in 2020  ), but most participants had their costs paid for them.  The flight's expenses were offset by the carriage of souvenir mail between Lakehurst, Friedrichshafen, Tokyo, and Los Angeles.  A US franked letter flown on the whole trip from Lakehurst to Lakehurst required $3.55 (equivalent to $54 in 2020  ) in postage. The $100,000  Hearst paid for exclusive media rights would be the equivalent of $1,500,000 in 2018. 
Graf Zeppelin flew back across the Atlantic to refuel at Friedrichshafen, then continued across Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to Tokyo. The Soviet government requested that it overfly Moscow, but Eckener declined for operational reasons, irritating the Soviets.  While crossing Siberia it carried hunting rifles and other emergency supplies in case of a forced landing.  The ship dropped a wreath near Yakutsk in memory of the dead German prisoners of war buried there.  Crossing the inaccurately mapped Stanovoy Mountains in the Russian Far East, it had to climb to 6,000 feet to pass through a high mountain pass.  
After five days in Tokyo, at a former German airship shed that had been removed from Jüterbog and rebuilt at Kasumigaura Naval Air Station,   Graf Zeppelin continued across the Pacific to California. Eckener used the remnants of a typhoon to advantage, picking up a tailwind to boost ground speed.   He delayed crossing the coast at San Francisco's Golden Gate so as to come in near sunset for aesthetic effect.   The ship passed over Hearst's San Simeon residence during the night,  and landed at Mines Field in Los Angeles, completing the first ever nonstop flight across the Pacific Ocean 9,634 km (5,986 mi 5,202 nmi) in 79 hours and 54 minutes.  
The takeoff from Los Angeles was difficult because of high temperatures and an inversion layer. To lighten the ship, six crew were sent on to Lakehurst by aeroplane, and the minimum of fuel, food and spares were carried.  The airship made a dynamic take-off with full power on four engines it suffered minor damage from a tail strike and barely cleared electricity cables at the edge of the field.   The 4,822 km (2,996 mi 2,604 nmi), 51-hour-13-minute flight across the US took Graf Zeppelin over 13 states and El Paso, Kansas City, Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit, before arriving back at Lakehurst from the west on the morning of 29 August, three weeks after it had departed to the east.
Flying time for the four Lakehurst to Lakehurst legs was 12 days, 12 hours, and 13 minutes the entire circumnavigation (including stops) took 21 days, 5 hours, and 31 minutes to cover 33,234 km (20,651 mi 17,945 nmi).   It was the fastest circumnavigation of the globe at the time.  Eckener remained in the US for discussions with the Goodyear Zeppelin company about plans for a future world airship network,  leaving Lehmann in command for the last leg back to Germany. A passenger was caught smoking, which was very strictly forbidden on board the culprit was held in contempt by the other passengers, but Lehmann had no means of punishing or confining him.  At the end of the flight, on 4 September, the Graf Zeppelin was losing no more lifting gas than when it had departed. 
Eckener became the tenth recipient and the third aviator to be awarded the Gold Medal of the National Geographic Society, which he received on 27 March 1930 at the Washington Auditorium.  Before returning to Germany, Eckener also met President Herbert Hoover and successfully lobbied the US Postmaster General for a special three-stamp issue (C-13, 14 & 15) for mail to be carried on the Europe-Pan American flight due to leave Germany in mid-May.   Germany issued a commemorative coin celebrating the circumnavigation. 
On 26 April 1930 Graf Zeppelin made a brief visit to England commanded by Lehmann it flew low over the FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, dipping in salute to King George V, then briefly moored alongside the larger R100 at Cardington, before returning to Germany with Eckener in command.  On 18 May, it left on a triangular flight between Spain, Brazil, and the US, carrying 38 passengers, many of them in crew accommodation.  At Seville the Infante Alfonso, cousin of the Spanish King, boarded on a goodwill visit to Cuba.   At 9:30 am on 20 May, a ceremony on board celebrated becoming the first airship to cross the equator.  Drinking and washing water ran low in the hot conditions.  The ship arrived at Recife (Pernambuco) in Brazil, docking at Campo do Jiquiá on 22 May, where a temporary mooring mast and fuelling station had been set up, and 300 soldiers helped land it.   It then flew to Rio de Janeiro, where it arrived ahead of time and spent some hours flying around the city.  When it landed, there was no post to tether to, so it was held down by the landing party for the two hours of the visit.  
It flew north, via Recife, to Lakehurst adverse weather led to the planned stop at Cuba being cancelled, to the annoyance of passengers who had booked to go there. Alfonso, an experienced flier, was philosophical about it.   The storm damaged the rear engine nacelle, which had to be repaired in the hangar at Lakehurst. During ground handling of the airship there, it suddenly lifted, causing serious injury to one of the US Marines who was assisting.  From Lakehurst it flew over New York City, across the Atlantic on 2 June to Seville, where Alfonso disembarked, then back to Germany.  A few hours from home, when the Graf Zeppelin flew through a heavy hailstorm over the Saône, the envelope was damaged and the ship lost lift. Eckener ordered full power and flew the ship out of trouble, but it came within 200 feet of hitting the ground.  
The Europe-Pan American flight was largely funded by the sale of special stamps issued by Spain, Brazil, and the US for franking mail carried on the trip. The US issued stamps in three denominations: 65¢, $1.30, and $2.60, all on 19 April 1930.  With the US in the depths of the Great Depression, only about 7% of the stamps had been distributed when the issue was withdrawn from sale on 30 June. Over three million unsold stamps were destroyed by the US Post Office, making the three Graf Zeppelin issues by far the USPOD's smallest of the 20th century. Despite the poor sales, the US Post Office Department paid Luftschiffbau Zeppelin $100,000 (equivalent to $1,549,000 in 2020  ) for the carriage of US franked mail on the flight.  
Graf Zeppelin flew to Moscow and back on 9–10 September 1930 to make up for not going there the previous year. It landed briefly at Moscow's October Field to collect souvenir mail.  
In late September Graf Zeppelin toured the capitals around the Baltic Sea. The flight was planned to visit Riga, Tallinn, Helsinki and Stockholm and to drop mail during its visits. Three of its 15 passengers were meant to get off in Helsinki, but the planned landing had to be cancelled due to strong winds. The ship dropped flowers and chocolate to the wife of the German consul in Töölö district. 
In October Eckener and Hans von Schiller attended the funeral service in London for the 48 people killed in the R101 disaster.  [nb 6]
The second flight to the Middle East took place in 1931, beginning on 9 April. It carried Booth, now commander of the grounded, but not yet scrapped, R100. Al-Fath again covered the event for Al-Ahram. Graf Zeppelin was allowed to overfly France in daylight this time, and crossed the Mediterranean to Benghazi in Libya. It flew via Alexandria, to Cairo in Egypt, where it saluted King Fuad at the Qubbah Palace, then visited the Great Pyramid of Giza and hovered 70 feet above the top of the monument.  While in Cairo, Eckener met Flight Lieutenant H F Luck, from the British airship station at Ismailia, who had been sent there to receive the R101 on its maiden voyage to India, before its accidental destruction the previous October.  After a brief stop, the ship flew to Palestine where it circled Jerusalem, then returned to Cairo to pick up Eckener, who had stayed for an audience with the King. It returned to Friedrichshafen on 13 April. 
The idea of using airships to explore the Arctic had been a dream of Count Zeppelin 20 years earlier, but was put on hold during World War I.   Roald Amundsen had taken a Dornier Wal flying boat to the Arctic in July 1925, and commented that an airship would have been a better vehicle for the journey.  Arctic exploration was one reason used to justify the restoration of Germany's right to build airships.  Eckener had taken Graf Zeppelin on a three-day trip to Norway and Spitsbergen in July 1930 to test its performance in the region. This was followed by a three-day flight to Iceland.  Both trips were completed without technical problems. 
The International Society for the Exploration of the Arctic by Air (Aeroarctic) was interested in getting Eckener involved in a polar flight. Fridtjof Nansen, the president of Aeroarctic, died suddenly, and Eckener was offered the presidency. Overwhelmed by the offer, he consulted the German Chancellor, Heinrich Brüning, who was unable to help him.  Wilkins then suggested a polar rendezvous. The initial plan was to meet the Nautilus (SS-73), the submarine in which Wilkins was attempting a trip under the polar ice. The submarine suffered technical problems and was later scuttled off Bergen, Norway. [nb 7]
The polar flight (Polarfahrt 1931) lasted from 24 to 31 July 1931. Graf Zeppelin carried emergency equipment including tents, inflatable boats, fishing equipment, petrol stoves, and 4,100 kg (9,000 lb) of food.  To save weight, luxury fittings were removed and the beds were replaced by lightweight bunks.  The ship rendezvoused with the Soviet icebreaker Malygin, which had the Italian polar explorer Umberto Nobile aboard. [nb 8] It exchanged 120 kg (260 lb) of souvenir mail with the airship, which Eckener landed on the Arctic Ocean, using canvas buckets of sea water to descend to the surface, flotation aids, and a sea anchor to hold position.  Fifty thousand cards and letters, weighing 300 kg (660 lb), were flown. The costs of the expedition were met largely by the sale of special postage stamps issued by Germany and the Soviet Union to frank the mail carried on the flight.  
The writer Arthur Koestler was one of two journalists on board, along with a multinational team of scientists led by the Russian Professor Samoilowich, who measured the Earth's magnetic field, and a Russian radio operator, Ernst Krenkel.   The expedition photographed and mapped Franz Josef Land accurately for the first time, and came within 910 kilometres (570 mi 490 nmi) of the North Pole.  It deployed three early radiosondes over the Arctic to collect meteorological data from the upper atmosphere  they were released through a specially built large hatch in the keel, with a weight that dropped away, allowing them to climb. 
From the beginning Luftschiffbau Zeppelin had plans to serve South America there was an early failed plan to charter the ship to a Spanish company to carry mail from Seville to Buenos Aires in Argentina.   [nb 9] There was a large community of Germans in Brazil, and existing sea connections were slow and uncomfortable.  Graf Zeppelin could transport passengers over long distances in the same luxury as an ocean liner, and almost as quickly as contemporary airliners. 
After its single trip to Brazil in 1930, Graf Zeppelin made three in 1931.  On 7 September it completed its eighth transatlantic flight, to Recife and back, in under nine days it had left home on 29 August.  In December 1931 it was laid up for a complete overhaul in preparation for regular transatlantic service.  All nine round trips during 1932 were made on schedule. The final one returned to Germany on 3 November. 
The route to Brazil meant flying down the Rhône valley in France, a cause of great sensitivity between the wars. [nb 10] The French government, concerned about espionage, restricted it to a 12 nmi (22 km 14 mi)-wide corridor in 1934. Turning right at the Mediterranean, it followed the coast of Spain to Gibraltar, then the coast of North Africa as far as Río de Oro, turning right again over the ocean to the Cape Verde islands, then Fernando de Noronha and direct to Recife where it could be replenished with fuel and lifting gas.  The service initially terminated there, and was later extended to Rio de Janeiro to meet demand. 
Graf Zeppelin was too small and slow for the stormy North Atlantic route,   but because of the Blau gas fuel, could carry out the longer South Atlantic service.  The Great Depression led to a reduction in its flights from almost 200 in 1930–31 to fewer than 60 in 1932.  On 2 July 1932 it left for another visit to Britain it arrived with a Junkers G.38, moored at Hanworth Air Park assisted by Rover Scouts, then flew a 24-hour tour of Britain, flying over Portsmouth, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Cardiff and Bristol. 
While returning from Brazil in October 1933, Graf Zeppelin stopped at Miami (NAS Opa Locka) and then in Akron, Ohio, where it moored at the Goodyear Zeppelin airdock, the only time the airdock's international facilities were used.  The airship then appeared at the Century of Progress World's Fair in Chicago.  It displayed swastika markings on the left side of the fins, as the Nazi Party had taken power in January. Eckener, aware that the Nazis were unpopular in America, circled the fair clockwise so that the swastikas would not be seen by the spectators.   The ship returned to Akron for two days, visited Canada, overflew the White House, then left for home with an overnight stop in Seville.  The United States Post Office Department issued a special 50-cent airmail stamp (C-18) for the visit, which was the fifth and final one the ship made to the US.  It made twelve return trips to South America in 1934  on the third one it flew to Buenos Aires to gauge interest in starting an airship service there. This did not materialise, and connecting services were provided by aeroplane from Rio de Janeiro. 
In spite of the dope, the cotton envelope absorbed moisture from the air in humid tropical conditions. When the relative humidity reached 90%, the ship's weight rose by almost 1,800 kilograms (4,000 lb).  Exposure to tropical downpours could greatly add to this, but when under way the ship had enough reserve power to generate dynamic lift to compensate.  On 25 April 1935 it made a rough forced landing at Recife after it was caught in a rainstorm at low speed on the approach to land and the added weight of several tons of water caused it to sink to the ground. The lower rudder was lost, the outer envelope was ripped in several places, and a petrol tank was punctured by a palm tree. A crewman extinguished a cooking fire close to the landing site. The damage was repaired on return to Friedrichshafen.  
In late 1935 the existing postal shuttle service between Recife and Bathurst, in the British African colony of the Gambia, had to be suspended so that the ships supporting the Dornier Wal flying boats which operated it could be serviced. Graf Zeppelin was put into service as a replacement, carrying mail only. There was no landing facility at Bathurst, so mailbags were exchanged by rope. The first of three return journeys left Recife on 15 November. On 24 November, during the second trip, the crew learned of an insurrection in Brazil, and there was some doubt whether it would be possible to return to Recife. Graf Zeppelin delivered its mail to Maceió, then loitered off the coast for three days until it was safe to land, after a flight of 118 hours and 40 minutes.  It returned to Germany on 10 December, having made 19 South American trips in a year.  
In May 1936 the new airship base at Frankfurt am Main opened, and Graf Zeppelin started operating from it higher payloads could be carried as it was nearer sea level than Friedrichshafen.  [nb 11] Brazil also built a hangar for airships at Bartolomeu de Gusmão Airport, near Rio de Janeiro, at a cost of $1 million (equivalent to $19 million in 2018  ). [nb 12] Brazil charged the DZR $2000 ($37,000  ) per landing, and had agreed that German airships would land there 20 times per year, to pay off the cost.  The hangar was constructed in Germany and the parts were transported and assembled on site. It was finished in late 1936,  and was used four times by Graf Zeppelin and five by Hindenburg.  It now houses units of the Brazilian Air Force. 
Graf Zeppelin made 64 round trips to Brazil, on the first regular intercontinental commercial air passenger service,  and it continued until the loss of the Hindenburg in May 1937. 
In 1932 Eckener had declined permission for Graf Zeppelin to endorse Hindenburg's electoral campaign against Adolf Hitler  he later made a speech on radio supporting the moderate policies of Brüning.  He was outspoken about his dislike of the Nazi Party and was warned by Rudolf Diels, the head of the Gestapo, but faced no other sanction.   When the Nazis gained power in 1933, Joseph Goebbels (Reich Minister of Propaganda) and Hermann Göring (Commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe) put millions of marks into Luftschiffbau Zeppelin, on condition it was reorganised. Luftschiffbau Zeppelin would continue to build airships, but a new airline would operate them, Deutsche Zeppelin Reederei (DZR). The Nazis sidelined Eckener by putting the more sympathetic Lehmann in charge of DZR,  and used Graf Zeppelin as a propaganda tool.  On 14 May 1934 over Berlin, it released a glider from under its hull.  
On 7 March 1936, in violation of the Treaty of Versailles and the Locarno Treaties, German troops reoccupied the Rhineland, Germany's western border region which was designated as a demilitarised buffer zone. Hitler called a plebiscite for 29 March to retrospectively approve the reoccupation, and adopt a list of exclusively Nazi candidates to sit in the new Reichstag. Goebbels commandeered Graf Zeppelin and the newly launched Hindenburg for the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda.  The airships flew in tandem around Germany before the vote, with a joint departure from Löwenthal on the morning of 26 March.  Millions of Germans watched from below as they toured the country for four days and three nights, dropping propaganda leaflets, playing martial music and slogans from large loudspeakers, and broadcasting political speeches from a makeshift radio studio on Hindenburg.  The vote, held under the new Nuremberg Laws which disenfranchised the Jews, resulted in overwhelming support for the Nazis.  After Eckener complained publicly about the propaganda flights, Goebbels made him an "unperson" his name was not to be mentioned nor his photograph published. 
On 1 May 1936, Hitler ordered that Graf Zeppelin fly over Berlin again as part of the May Day celebrations later in May, it transported Goebbels on a visit to Italy, and gave the Marshal of the Air Force Italo Balbo an aerial tour of Rome. It was used later in the year as a backdrop for one of Hitler's Nuremberg Rallies. 
The Hindenburg over New York, still a startling sight
The anniversary of the 1937 explosion of the German passenger airship Hindenburg over Lakehurst, NJ, was last Friday, May 6, and I spent some time this weekend looking up old videos of the famous Zeppelin floating over Manhattan. Sure, we occasionally get blimps over the city — who can forget the Conan O’Brien-themed airship last year? — but the German-built Hindenburg was the largest and most luxurious air conveyance of its day.
And fated for a short life. It’s first appearance over New York was on May 9, 1936. Less than a year later, it would explode over the New Jersey air station runway, killing 36 people, a disaster accompanied by the world’s most famous freak-out by radio announcer Herbert Morrison.
The Hindenburg came to America a handful of times in 1936, including two complete roundtrip flights between Frankfurt, Germany, and Lakehurst in the month of May that year. [source]
This video shows a lot of mid-1930s New York. The Hindenburg makes an appearance at the 1:30 mark:
Yes, in case you were wondering, that is a set of swastikas on its vertical fins. Nazi insignia flying over New York during the 1930s!
Here’s an entire list of flights the German airship took during its short existence. And here’s a link to an older Bowery Boys article on a New York history of blimps and zeppelins.
Color photos from pre-war Nazi Germany
The photos on display here are taken by Hugo Jager, a former personal photographer of Adolf Hitler. He traveled with Hitler in the years leading up to power and throughout World War II. He was one of the few photographers who were using color photography techniques at the time. As the war was drawing to a close in 1945, Jaeger hid the photographs in a leather suitcase. He then encountered American soldiers prompting fears of potential arrest and prosecution for carrying around so many images of such a wanted man. When the soldiers opened the case however, their attention was distracted by a bottle of cognac they found there, which they opened and shared with Jaeger. Jaeger buried the photographs inside 12 glass jars outside Munich. The photographer returned to the burial place over several years to ensure they were safe. He dug up all of the photographs ten years later in 1955, storing them in a bank vault. In 1965, Jaeger sold them to Life magazine.
Nazi party was not just a political organization, it was an evil psychological propaganda machine. The Nazis had an incredible sense of aesthetics and fully understood the power of iconography and branding. Here we see the Nazi world through these rare color photos. The symbols and colors of Nazism were all carefully orchestrated to have maximum psychological effect. There was nothing accidental about the structure of the crooked cross or the usage of dramatic colors such as red, white and black. Long, draping banners and standards with Roman eagles and gilded leaves all were designed to evoke images of strength, power, and a connection to history.
Nazi symbols are alluring. They look good in an evil way. They are sharp, carefully tailored to catch the eye and made to inspire passions. The armbands worn on black uniforms are a striking statement of virility and supreme confidence. On the SS uniforms, the addition of the skull and crossed bones, the totenkopf, was a deliberate move to instill fear and terror in the hearts of anyone who faced the uniform. The men wearing it felt empowered by the menacing appearance of the uniform.
The ceremonial was considered as art. There was nothing accidental or incidental about Nazi pageantry. Everything was carefully staged and orchestrated. Nighttime processions lit by fire and bonfires upon which books were burned were all choreographed for effect. They reveled in tales of heroism and glorified war. Images from the Nuremburg rallies still impress us today with the absolute precision and dramatic scale of the stage set by the Hitler regime on the Zeppelin fields.
The black-white-red color scheme is based upon the colors of the flag of the German Empire, the black-white-red colors were commonly associated with anti-Weimar Republic German nationalists after the fall of the German Empire. In Mein Kampf Adolf Hitler defined the symbolism of the swastika flag: the red represents the social idea of the Nazi movement, the white disk represents the national idea, and the black swastika, used in Aryan cultures for millennia, represents “the mission of the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man, and, by the same token, the victory of creative work”. Hitler knew that the colors red, white and black combined create a psychological sense of intimidation and power, which is why a lot of propaganda like these banners use the same color combination.
Adolf Hitler makes keynote address at Reichstag session, Kroll Opera House, Berlin, 1939.
Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels (in box) at Charlottenburg Theatre, Berlin, 1939.
1937 Reich Party Congress, Nuremberg, Germany.
Adolf Hitler salutes troops of the Condor Legion who fought alongside Spanish Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War, during a rally upon their return to Germany, 1939.
Adolf Hitler speaking at the Lustgarten, Berlin, 1938.
Berlin illuminated at midnight in honor of Hitler’s 50th birthday, April 1939
Crowds cheering Adolf Hitler’s campaign to unite Austria and Germany, 1938.
League of German Girls dancing during the 1938 Reich Party Congress, Nuremberg, Germany.
Nazi officials on their way to Fallersleben Volkswagen Works cornerstone ceremony, 1938.
Adolf Hitler at the swearing-in of SS standard bearers at the Reich Party Congress, Nuremberg, 1938.
Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels speaking at the Lustgarten in Berlin, 1938.
Reich Party Congress, Nuremberg, Germany, 1938.
Scene along roadway to the Fallersleben Volkswagen Works cornerstone ceremony, Germany, 1938.
Volkswagen Works cornerstone ceremony, near Wolfsburg, 1938.
Another image from Volkswagen Works cornerstone ceremony, near Wolfsburg, 1938.
Fear of Floating
That spring, no true Englishman could enjoy an evening stroll without spotting a zeppelin. “My eye was at once attracted by a powerful light, which I should judge to have been some 1,200 feet above the ground,” said Police Constable Kettle of his March 23, 1909 sighting, reported in London’s Daily Mail. “I also saw a dark body, oblong and narrow in shape, outlined against the stars.” His observation was seconded by a Miss Gill, who told the Evening News of “a brilliant flashing light in the sky.”
Zeppelins had been flying for nine years, but this was the first time one had been spotted over England. Designed by Count Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin, the rigid airships were marvels of engineering: 446 feet long, built of 16 linked duralumin rings braced with wire and girders to hold bags of hydrogen in place, the whole structure covered with a cotton skin. But they had also proven fragile, skittish, and prone to catastrophe: Of the first 10 built, six crashed or burned. By 1909, only two, LZ 3 and LZ 4, had enjoyed some success. LZ 3 made 45 short hops totalling 2,733 miles, while in 1908, LZ 4 made a 12-hour trip of more than 600 miles. But had one really flown from the zeppelin hangar at Friedrichschafen, Germany, to Peterborough, England, and back—a trip of 1,036 miles?
British newspapers continued to report airship sightings: one in Cambridgeshire, another by two constables in Ipswich, an egg-shaped ship over Suffolk. In May, says historian Brett Holman of the University of Melbourne in Australia, who has catalogued the reports, London newspapers carried 49 sightings, including a May 18 account of railroad signalmen seeing “a boat or cigar shape” over Cardiff, in Wales. A zeppelin was even spotted over Ireland, where, according to the Belfast Telegraph, “the aerial visitant was thousands of feet light [high], and came steadily in the direction of the city.”
The sightings caused the British terrible anxiety. At the time, Germany and the United Kingdom were locked in an arms race. In 1906 the British had commissioned the Dreadnought, the fastest battleship in the world, and the most sophisticated in firepower. Germany would launch a fleet of formidable Kaiser-class battleships, but it hoped to shore up its naval power with airships. In 1908, German privy councillor Rudolph Martin bragged to Daily Mail readers that in the event of a war, a zeppelin fleet would “transport 350,000 men in half an hour during the night from Calais to Dover…. [W]e would conclude no peace until a German army had occupied London.”
Popular culture reflected Germany’s threat. The year before the airship reports, the British magazine Pall Mall had serialized H.G. Wells’ The War in the Air, a novel in which a fleet of German dirigibles bombs New York. The following year, Martin elaborated on his boasts, publishing World War in the Air, a book that imagines zeppelins bombing block after block of Paris (“Even at high altitudes,” says one character, “I heard the sounds of hundreds of people crying for help”) and defeating England.
The British “woke up to the idea that the Germans had created this dreadful weapon capable of breaking the [protective] barrier of the British navy,” says folklorist David Clarke of the University of Sheffield. “[F]or the first time in its history the island was vulnerable to invasion from the air.”
The sightings went on for four months, with several hundred people throughout the United Kingdom reporting lights and zeppelin-like objects in the sky. Were they on to something?
In truth, the odds of spotting a real zeppelin over the British Isles in 1909 matched the likelihood of seeing Kaiser Wilhelm dancing the can-can at a Paris burlesque house. “No airships could have possibly invaded then,” says historian Guillaume de Syon, author of Zeppelin! Germany and the Airship, 1900. The engines were reliable only in failing, he adds. Furthermore, zeppelin pilots navigated “by observing the roads or looking for landmarks like a church steeple,” says de Syon, and those would have been in short supply as a London-bound zeppelin crossed the North Sea. The journey would also carry the ship over Belgium and France in daytime (zeppelins then did not fly at night), creating an international incident at a time when every visit of dirigibles to Europe’s skies brought thousands of people streaming into the streets.
Many historians, Clarke says, think the airship scare was worked up by newspapers such as the Daily Mail, owned by Alfred Charles William Harmsworth, known as Lord Northcliffe. The phantom airship reports spiced up the paper’s usual fare and put pressure on the government to increase military spending (one of Lord Northcliffe’s preoccupations). And with papers reporting airship spottings day after day, says Clarke, “you get this huge popular delusion.”
On the other hand, some papers were openly skeptical about the reports. The Weekly Dispatch noted that in one case, an airship was seen at Stamford and 20 minutes later over the coast at Southend “this would give the airship a speed of 210 miles per hour seeing as the two places are seventy miles apart.” For airships of the day, a speed of 40 mph was more like it.
Newspapers also reported cases in which witnesses refuted zeppelin sightings. Daniel Blight told the South Wales Daily Post, “The airship was of quarter-circle shape, with two bright lights, one at each end of it…. I drew the attention to it of Constable No. 440C., who was passing at the time, and no doubt he will report it.” But the paper also quoted Constable 440C. saying that what he saw that night was “a particularly bright star, and it was there again on Thursday night.”
Lesser Known Photos From The Hindenburg Disaster Put Historic Crash In Perspective, 78 Years Later
The crash of the Hindenburg was one of the most jarring aviation disasters of its day.
Thirty-six people, including passengers and crew, were killed when the hydrogen-filled zeppelin ignited while attempting to dock with its mooring mast at Naval Air Station Lakehurst, New Jersey, on May 6, 1937. Although the exact cause of the blaze remains debated, spectacular photos and film footage of the fiery wreck were enough to shatter public confidence in zeppelin travel, ending an era of aviation.
This photo, taken at almost the split second that the Hindenburg exploded, shows the 804-foot German zeppelin just before the second and third explosions send the ship crashing to the earth over the Lakehurst Naval Air Station in Lakehurst, N.J., on May 6, 1937.
Perhaps the most iconic images of the crash are those that show the airship on fire, but other, lesser known photos of the Hindenburg and its aftermath are compelling in their own right. How bizarre it is to spot a dirigible soaring over lower Manhattan hours before its historic demise or to see swastika-draped caskets on display in New York City, before their return to Nazi-controlled Germany.
At the beginning of World War I, Germany had ten zeppelins. During the war, Hugo Eckener, a German aeronautical engineer, helped the war effort by training pilots and directing the construction of zeppelins for the Germany navy. By 1918, 67 zeppelins had been constructed, and 16 survived the war.
During the war, the Germans used zeppelins as bombers. On May 31, 1915, the LZ-38 was the first zeppelin to bomb London, and other bombing raids on London and Paris followed. The airships could approach their targets silently and fly at altitudes above the range of British and French fighters. However, they never became effective offensive weapons. New planes with more powerful engines that could climb higher were built, and the British and French planes also began to carry ammunition that contained phosphorus, which would set the hydrogen-filled zeppelins afire. Several zeppelins were also lost because of bad weather, and 17 were shot down because they could not climb as fast as the fighters. The crews also suffered from cold and oxygen deprivation when they climbed above 10,000 feet (3,048 meters).
The forgotten era of the Airships, 1900s-1940s
The German zeppelin Hindenburg floats past the Empire State Building over Manhattan, on August 8, 1936, en route to Lakehurst, New Jersey, from Germany.
The history of airships begins, like the history of hot air balloons, in France. After the invention of the hot air balloon in 1783, a French officer named Meusnier envisioned an airship that utilized the design of the hot air balloon, but was able to be navigated. In 1784, he designed an airship that had an elongated envelope, propellers, and a rudder, unlike today’s blimp. Although he documented his idea with extensive drawings, Meusnier’s airship was never built.
In 1852, another Frenchman, an engineer named Henri Giffard, built the first practical airship. Filled with hydrogen gas, it was driven by a 3 hp steam engine weighing 350 lb (160 kg), and it flew at 6 mi/hr (9 km/hr). Even though Giffard’s airship did achieve liftoff, it could not be completely controlled.
The first successfully navigated airship, La France, was built in 1884 by two more Frenchman, Renard and Krebs. Propelled by a 9 hp electrically-driven airscrew, La France was under its pilots’ complete control. It flew at 15 mi/hr (24 km/hr).
In 1905, pioneering balloonist Thomas Scott Baldwin’s latest airship returns from a flight over the City of Portland, Oregon, during the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition.
In 1895, the first distinctly rigid airship was built by German David Schwarz. His design led to the successful development of the zeppelin, a rigid airship built by Count zeppelin. The zeppelin utilized two 15 hp engines and flew at a speed of 25 mi/hr (42 km/hr). Their development and the subsequent manufacture of 20 such vessels gave Germany an initial military advantage at the start of World War I.
It was Germany’s successful use of the zeppelin for military reconnaissance missions that spurred the British Royal Navy to create its own airships. Rather than duplicating the design of the German rigid airship, the British manufactured several small non-rigid balloons.
These airships were used to successfully detect German submarines and were classified as “British Class B” airships. It is quite possible this is where the term blimp originates—”Class B” plus limp or non-rigid.
During the 1920s and 1930s, Britain, Germany, and the United States focused on developing large, rigid, passenger-carrying airships. Unlike Britain and Germany, the United States primarily used helium to give their airships lift. Found in small quantities in natural gas deposits in the United States, helium is quite expensive to make however, it is not flammable like hydrogen.
Because of the cost involved in its manufacture, the United States banned the exportation of helium to other countries, forcing Germany and Britain to rely on the more volatile hydrogen gas. Many of the large passenger-carrying airships using hydrogen instead of helium met with disaster, and because of such large losses of life, the heyday of the large passenger-carrying airship came to an abrupt end.
An airship flies above the White House in Washington, District of Columbia, in 1906.
The Baldwin airship at Hammondsport, New York, in 1907. Thomas Scott Baldwin, second from left, was a U.S. Army major during World War I. He became the first American to descend from a balloon by parachute.
French military dirigible “Republique” leaving Moisson for Chalais-Mendon, in 1907.
Zeppelin airship seen from the water, August 4, 1908.
A Clement-Bayard dirigible in shed, France, ca 1908. The lobes on the tail, meant for stability, were removed from later models, as they were found to slow the craft in the air.
Wellman airship “America” viewed from the RMS TRENT, shown dragging her anchor, ca 1910.
Boats, airplane, and airship, ca. 1922. Possibly the U.S. Navy’s SCDA O-1.
Luftskipet (airship) “Norge” over Ekeberg, Norway, on April 14, 1926.
The giant German dirigible Graf Zeppelin, at Lakehurst, New Jersey, on August 29, 1929.
The Graf Zeppelin flies low over Tokyo before proceeding to Kasumigaura Airport on its around-the-world flight, on August 19, 1929.
A pair of Gloster Grebe fighter planes, tethered to the underside of the British Royal Navy airship R33, in October of 1926.
British M.P.s walk onto an airship gangplank, in Cardington, England, in the 1920s.
The U.S. Navy’s dirigible Los Angeles, upended after a turbulent wind from the Atlantic flipped the 700-foot airship on its nose at Lakehurst, New Jersey, in 1926. The ship slowly righted itself and there were no serious injuries to the crew of 25.
Aerial view of the USS Akron over Washington, District of Columbia, in 1931, with the long north diagonal of New Jersey Avenue bisected by the balloon and Massachusetts Avenue seen just beneath the ship.
Passengers in the dining room of the Hindenburg, in April of 1936.
Interior hull of a U.S. Navy dirigible before gas cells were installed, ca. 1933.
The Graf Zeppelin over the old city of Jerusalem, April 26, 1931.
The mechanic of the rear engine gondola changes shift climbing inside the mantle of the airship, as the Graf Zeppelin sails over the Atlantic Ocean in a seven-day journey from Europe to South America, in August of 1933.
The German-built zeppelin Hindenburg trundles into the U.S. Navy hangar, its nose hooked to the mobile mooring tower, at Lakehurst, New Jersey, on May 9, 1936. The rigid airship had just set a record for its first north Atlantic crossing, the first leg of ten scheduled round trips between Germany and America.
The Hindenburg flies over Manhattan, on May 6, 1937. A few hours later, the ship burst into flames in an attempt to land at Lakehurst, New Jersey.
The German dirigible Hindenburg crashes to earth, tail first, in flaming ruins after exploding at the U.S. Naval Station in Lakehurst, New Jersey, on May 6, 1937. The disaster, which killed 36 people after a 60-hour transatlantic flight from Germany, ended regular passenger service by the lighter-than-air airships. Read more about this disaster .
The airship USS Macon, moored at Hangar One at Moffett Federal Airfield near Mountain View, California.
The USS Akron launches a Consolidated N2Y-1 training plane during flight tests near Naval Air Station at Lakehurst, New Jersey, on May 4, 1932.
The USS Los Angeles, moored to the USS Patoka.
The wreckage of the naval dirigible USS Akron is brought to the surface of the ocean off the coast of New Jersey, on April 23, 1933. The Akron went down in a violent storm off the New Jersey coast. The disaster claimed 73 lives, more than twice as many as the crash of the Hindenburg. The USS Akron, a 785-foot dirigible, was in its third year of flight when a violent storm sent it crashing tail-first into the Atlantic Ocean shortly after midnight on April 4, 1933.
1. Eagle’s Nest BerchtesgadenKehlsteinhaus. Photo Credit.
Kehlsteinhaus, or as the Allies called it “The Eagle’s Nest,” was built atop of the Kehlsteinhaus summit that rises above Obersalzberg in the Bavarian Alps.
It was Hitler’s luxurious refuge, which was presented to him on his 50th birthday. Talk about a surprise party. The complex was commissioned by Martin Bormann 1937, and the entire endeavor was paid by the Nazi Party.
The large house on the top of the mountain also includes an underground tunnel with an elevator that leads to a large parking lot, 124 meters bellow.
Its construction cost about 150 million euros in today’s standards and 12 workers lost their lives building it.
The interior was decorated by the famous Hungarian-born architect and designer, Paul Laszlo. Benito Mussolini donated a large fireplace made of red marble as a token of appreciation.
1945 photo of entrance tunnel to elevator going up to the Kehlsteinhaus, visible at top. Photo Credit.
On May 4, 1945, the members of the 101st Airborne Division, together with elements of the French 2nd Armored Division, conquered Hitler’s famous mountain resort.
Today the building is owned by a charitable trust and serves as a restaurant offering indoor dining and an outdoor beer garden.
It is a popular tourist attraction to those who are attracted by the historical significance of the “Eagle’s Nest.”