A Journey on the Hindenburg

Whilst trawling through an online journal archive I came across something non-related to what it was I was searching for which really peaked my interest.

Now I'm assuming pretty much everyone here has heard of the Hindenburg, the giant German passenger carrying trans-Atlantic airship, largest flying object ever built which very famously and tragically exploded in 1937 and completely put an end to the future of passenger carrying airships.
Well, and perhaps perfectly understandably, and a little bit like the Titanic, the Hindenburg has become so synonymous with the tragic disaster that destroyed it that that's really all its remembered for in the popular imagination, including mine until recently, and that dominates any prior history of the machine, however interesting . When in fact the Hindenburg had an entire year of successful operational history before the tragic disaster. It actually made 17 successful round trips across the Atlantic in 1936, 10 trips from Europe to the US and 7 from Europe to Brazil.

The cost of a ticket between Germany and Lakehurst in America was US$400 (about US$6,300 in 2010 dollars), a considerable sum in the Depression era. Hindenburg passengers were generally affluent, including many public figures, entertainers, noted sportsmen, political figures, and leaders of industry. The ship was reportedly so stable that a pen or pencil could be stood on a table without falling. Its launches were so smooth that passengers often missed them, believing that the airship was still on the ground.

So in this archive I found a collection of diary entries from two Hindenburg passengers who had travelled aboard the airship from Germany to America on one of its successful 1936 flights. The diary entries provide a remarkable insight into the astounding and wonderful experience that it was to fly across the Atlantic by airship.

To start with they described their trip from the hotel to the airfield: 'At  Seven o’clock we suddenly realized that the busses were filling up, so we climbed in and were soon on our way through the beautiful environs of Frankfurt to the Air Field.  In half an hour we were passing through a narrow lane formed by the police, through the jam of people gathered there.  The order and efficiency was to later stand out in sharp contrast with the confusion and utter lack of police control over the mob at Lakehurst'.  

Starboard Dining Room
'Breakfast was the usual Continental one.  Fruit, coffee, and fresh rolls baked on the Airship. The meals are delicious-luncheon consisted of soup, fish, chicken breast with rice, peas, asparagus tips, ice cream, cake and coffee.  Dinner: Consummee, fish, tenderloin of beef on toast with mushrooms, potatoes, salad, Charlotte Rousse with coffee.  We have spent several pleasant hours with them over cocktails'.

'The smoking room is the rendezvous before and after meals.  Presided over by Max, a steward, who makes excellent cocktails and watches everyone “like a hawk” to see that none inadvertently leaves with a lighted cigar or cigarette.  The doors are so arranged that not more than one person can enter or leave at the same time'.


'Captain Lehman made the remark that an Airship can “pick it’s weather” and has complete freedom of choice as to which route to follow in reaching its destination.  The choice is of course determined by the localities of most favourable winds and weather'. 

'As we are to pass some of the islands of the Azores at 3am, we were in our bunks and fast asleep by 10pm. Sure enough, we reached the Islands on schedule-mountains rising from the sea, pale in the light of the full moon, plumed with clouds'.

'We have received our most prized buttons, a silver and blue disc, about the size of a nickel-on the border is inscribed “Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei” (German Zeppelin Corporation).  The centre is a globe with a Zeppelin Ship across it.  They are an “Open Sesame” in Germany, as if one was a mason'.

'A test of the air proved that the landing might be bumpy, as a gusty wind was blowing from a bad quarter.  Our good luck.  Word was sent down that we would not land and away we flew through the clear sky of a bright summer day.  Down the New Jersey coast-a circle around Atlantic City thence to Cape May- West across Maryland and the waters of the Chesapeake to Annapolis and on to Washington.  The Nation’s capitol never looked more beautiful as we circled twice around it and then headed North toward Baltimore'.

Control Car
'Shortly after leaving Baltimore, Capt. Lehmann sent an officer below to invite Dorothy and me down to the Control Car.  After the usual precarious crawl along the catwalk, we climbed down the ladder to the little glass cage, nerve centre of the great Ship.  There was Captain Lehmann knowing us as Philadelphians, who said, “Show me where you live and what part of Philadelphia you would like to have us go over”.  On the map I pointed out the Main Line and a circuit was planned.  From then on, until we had passed over the Delaware River, I directed the course of the ship.  Approaching from the Southwest, we flew over Independence Hall and then described a large arc, followed below the left bank of the Schuylkill, Germantown, White Marsh to Norristown.  Turning there we pointed out Bryn Mawr, following Lancaster Ave to Wynnewood and passing directly over our place where we could clearly see the figures of the household on the lawn and waved to them.  Over West Fairmount Park to Market Street and as a final thrill passed directly over the Packard Building where the offices of Orr, Hall and Williams are located-over the Delaware to head straight for Lakehurst'.

'It was a very gracious courtesy on the part of an old friend, a thrill of a lifetime, and incidentally an honour I was able to share my City and its environs.  For forty minutes we cruised over this area, a longer time than was allotted to New York and Washington combined.  After that experience the rest of the journey was very tame.  In about a half hour-that is 7:00, we dropped our landing line at the Station and were safely down on Mother Earth'.

'No story of this crossing would be complete without recording the constant evidence of skill in the navigation and management of the Ship, and the courtesy and friendliness of the officers and personnel'.

Clarence and Dorothy Hall were passengers on Hindenburg’s flight from Frankfurt to Lakehurst on August 5-8, 1936. Clarence E. Hall was a well-respected lawyer in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and he and his wife Dorothy were returning home from the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.