• Weird History

Fascinating Facts You Didn't Know About The Hindenburg And Its Untimely Demise

On May 6, 1937, the German passenger airship LZ 129 Hindenburg, a type of rigid aircraft known as a Zeppelin, was making its final approach to Manchester Township, New Jersey, when it caught fire and crash landed. In total, 35 of the 97 people on board died in the disaster along with one ground crewman.

Once ignited, the ship crashed quickly, with some reporting the entire incident took as little as 32 seconds from the first sign of distress to the airship hitting the ground. The disaster captured the public's attention thanks to the eyewitness testimony of a reporter who was present and the fascinating and disturbing footage filmed during the disaster. 

There have been many theories about what went wrong during the fateful flight of the Hindenburg. The fire could have been caused by lightning, static electricity, or may have been an act of anti-Nazi sabotage. Despite an airship's ability to travel over the ocean in considerably less time than an ocean liner, all airship travel ceased after the explosion. 

This fiery historical disaster continues to intrigue those who see the jarring imagery captured during its final moments. But history has revealed more around this crazy moment in time not captured in photographs. Here are a few of the fascinating details. 

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  • The Disaster Was Blamed On Anti-Nazi Sabotage

    Photo: Franklin D. Roosevelt Library / Wikimedia Commons

    Both German and American accident investigators determined in 1937 that the Hindenburg fire was started by an electric spark that ignited when it reached leaking hydrogen. There are those who believe that the electric spark origin story is only a theory. Initially many in the public speculated that the Hindenburg was purposely set on fire as an act of anti-Nazi sabotage. Following the disaster, rigid airships were no longer used for commercial air transportation.

  • The Ship Wasn't Even Originally Going To Use Flammable Gas

    Photo: Cofod, Arthur Jr / Wikimedia Commons

    The Hindenburg was originally designed to be filled with helium gas, however, export restrictions by the United States against Nazi Germany meant that highly flammable hydrogen gas had to be used instead. The ship reached top speeds of 84 mph with a cruising speed of 78 mph. During its inaugural season the Hindenburg carried over 1,000 passengers between Germany and the United States.

  • We Still Don't Know Exactly How The Fire Started

    Photo: Associated Press / Wikimedia Commons

    There have been many theories surrounding the cause of the Hindenburg disaster. Ground crew member Robert Buchanan was manning the mooring lines when the Hindenburg caught fire. He saw one of the engine's backfiring and hypothesized that the airship's outer layer was ignited by engine sparks. Ground crewman Robert Shaw saw a blue ring he thought was leaking hydrogen, which may have been ignited due to sparks from the engine.

    According to airship historian Dan Grossman, the only mystery is the cause of the leaking hydrogen. He told Live Science. "We know that hydrogen was leaking and that it was ignited probably by an electrostatic discharge caused by the weather —there was a thunderstorm at the time of the landing."

  • Contrary To Popular Belief, The Famed Radio Broadcast Was Not Live

    Video: YouTube

    Chicago radio station reporter Herbert Morrison gave the now infamous and emotional first-person account of the Hindenburg disaster. However, Chicago residents didn't hear his recording until later that night and Americans nationwide didn't 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.