Airships were the future once. In an era before mass air travel (or transit, as it increasingly feels) airships provided an alternate means of travelling long distances in the comfort and style more expected of ocean liners. With good weather conditions an airship could hit 80 miles an hour. They were how the jet-set travelled before the invention of the jet engine. A single incident in May 1937 destroyed the dreams of airship manufacturers everywhere: the Hindenburg disaster.
The destruction of Hindenburg while mooring in New Jersey brought the era of passenger travel by airship to an abrupt end. Having made the first transatlantic flight to the US of the season from Frankfurt in Germany, an explosive fire tore through Hindenburg in under a minute. The rigid-framed airship fell 120 metres to the ground killing 35 of the 97 passengers and crew aboard.
It wasn’t perhaps so much the accident itself, but that it was the first transport disaster to be caught on film that destroyed public confidence in this mode of transport. In fact there had been a worse accident 4 years earlier when the navy airship USS Akron crashed (also in New Jersey) killing almost 100 people: close to everyone aboard.
This beautiful contemporary silent newsreel footage explains all. It ends “the pioneer spirit of Hindenburg must go on!”, but of course, it didn’t.