Essay: The Hindenburg

In this report I will be telling you about the Hindenburg. The Hindenburg was a massive airship that did more than run Nazi propaganda missions. Airships were used quite a bit, and are essentially giant hot air balloons, but instead of air; they used hydrogen gas. These airships were created by the Zeppelin Company, which was run by Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin. As such, airships are often referred to as Zeppelins, airships, dirigibles, or rigid airships. In this paper I will talk about how big the Hindenburg was, how many voyages it had, the theories on why it burst into flames, the real reason it burst into flames, the controversies surrounding it, and the people aboard the mighty airship. Another subject that will be addressed is why the Hindenburg used the highly flammable hydrogen gas instead of the safer alternative; helium. I will attempt to make this report as detailed as the word limit allows me to, and I hope that I can teach you a few things you didn’t know about the Hindenburg.
The Hindenburg was 803.8 feet in length, which was almost as large as the RMS Titanic. The great airship also weighed 242 tons, could carry 112 tons over its weight, and carried over 2,656 people over the Atlantic Ocean. The first flight the Hindenburg took was a Nazi propaganda mission that went over several German cities in March 1936. Compared to other aircraft of its kind and ocean liners, it was relatively cheap at only $400.00 a ticket. The Zeppelin was also a quicker way to travel; taking only a few days compared to a week or maybe two aboard a ship. It made around 10 round trips from Germany to the United States, and on top of being a different way of transportation, it delivered mail. Zeppelins float, or fly by using inflatable balloons or bags that fill up with hydrogen or helium gas; and originally, the Hindenburg was designed to inflate its balloons with helium. However, at that time, the United States feared that other countries would utilize it as a weapon; so they banned all exporting of helium. In response, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin ordered that the large dirigible be converted to handle hydrogen. Hydrogen is a lot more dangerous and unstable than helium, but it worked. Soon enough, the Hindenburg was off in the air.

The Hindenburg was set to fly a round trip from Germany, to Lakehurst, New Jersey, to Britain, and then back to Germany. The Zeppelin would be carrying 97 passengers from Frankfurt to Lakehurst air base in New Jersey. This would be the Hindenburg’s 63rd flight. Everything was going smoothly after the take-off, no problems arose. Things continued normally until the airship arrived in New Jersey where the weather conditions near the naval air base were highly unfavorable. The commanding officer of the base, Charles Rosendahl, sent a message up to Captain Max Pruss to report that the conditions were unsuitable for landing. In response, Captain Pruss steered away from the air base to fly over the coast until the weather cleared up. When Rosendahl sent another message to report that the conditions were favorable, Captain Pruss turned the airship around to return to the base. Once back at the runway, spectators gathered to watch the arrival of the massive Zeppelin. Captain Pruss ordered that the first mooring line be dropped, and so it was. Things continued to run normally until Captain Pruss overshot the second mooring post, so he made a sharp ‘s’ shaped turn. When the second mooring line was dropped, the tail of the ship began to tilt downward. Thinking the weight was unevenly distributed; Captain Pruss ordered that water be released from the front end of the airship to even out the weight. It did nothing to fix the problem. In a matter of seconds, the Hindenburg burst into flames, falling to the ground and killing 35 people aboard.

Joseph Goebbels, one of Hitler’s right hand men, wanted to get the Hindenburg named after Hitler. However, Hugo Eckener, the one who constructed the Hindenburg, was no fan of the Third Reich. So, he declined the request and instead, named it after the late German president Paul von Hindenburg. I’m sure that wherever Hitler is, he’s glad that he didn’t get a Zeppelin named after him that erupted into a ball of flames. Now that a bit of the Hindenburg’s history has been covered, theories will be the main focus.

There are several theories as to why the Hindenburg caught fire. The more popular theories are the static charge theory, the gas leak theory, the diesel theory, the flammable skin theory, and the sabotage theory. In the next few paragraphs I will describe the basics of each of these theories, and how they are fairly easily disproved. The most shocking thing is, the Hindenburg had a smoking lounge. Sure, it was an air tight room, but still. The real shocking thing is that none of the theories ever have to do with the smoking lounge in the Zeppelin.

Let’s talk about the first theory, the lightning theory. The lightning theory states that the Hindenburg suffered a gas leak, and that lightning struck the airship in such a way that it ignited the gas. However, this would not be possible. The first reason why this theory isn’t possible is because the Hindenburg had been struck by lightning several times before and gotten away just fine. The second reason why this theory is incorrect is because no one reported seeing lightning, and even weather reports say that there was no chance of a real storm. The last reason why this would not be possible is because of the bright orange flames that were scene when the airship went down. Hydrogen burns invisibly mind you, so no matter what ignited it, there wouldn’t be any color to the flames.

The next theory is the gas leak theory, also known as the static charge theory. The gas leak theory is similar to the lightning theory. This theory states that while the Zeppelin was going through the landing procedure, a wire inside snapped and cut a hole into a balloon, and well as causing a rip to develop in the outer skin. Hydrogen burns invisibly, but some people stated that they saw a blue light before the fire. This theory also has to do with the natural and unusual phenomena known as St. Elmos Fire. The ship was apparently statically charged from flying around in the bad weather. When the hydrogen leaked, the static electricity then set the gas and the Hindenburg ablaze. But like the lightning theory, there are a few faults in this theory. In order for the air to become statically charged, there has to be high amounts of electricity, like when there are lightning strikes. Secondly, there was still color to the flames. After the St. Elmos fire apparently left, the airship was still engulfed in bright orange flames.

The third theory is the diesel theory. By far, this theory and the lightning theory are the shortest theories. This theory states that the diesel fuel that powered the engines might have started the ill-fated fire. A bit of in depth information states that there may have been a leak from one of the engines that caused the fire that consumed the mighty Hindenburg. The theory says that the heat from the engine block could have been enough to ignite the diesel fuel. However, the location of the fire and the location of the engine pods were in different locations. At first, engineers believed that sparks from a backfiring engine caused the fuel to ignite, but were quickly proven wrong by the aforementioned comparison between where the fire started and where the engine pods were located.

The fourth theory is called the flammable skin theory and is the most plausible theory out of all six of the main theories that have been presented. This theory takes a bit from the Gas Leak theory. This theory states that during the landing procedure, a wire snapped. Just like in the Gas Leak theory. And it still follows along the lines as far as the gas leaking, and then catching fire. However, the Flammable Skin theory adds that the solution that helped the skin tighten around the skeleton of the airship, dope, was the cause of the colored flames. As previously stated, hydrogen burns invisibly. However, the dope combined with the canvas gave the gas fire color. This theory ties in heavily to the truth of why the great airship went down.
The last theory on this list is the Sabotage Theory. This theory states that someone had sabotaged the Hindenburg, probably by placing some kind of explosive in the airship. Threats to the Hindenburg were far from uncommon. The airship had many threats against it, but none of them really held water. There were a few suspects who were blamed for sabotaging the dirigible; however none of those convicted had done anything. It was simply misjudgment.

Now, it’s time for the truth. Here’s the scientifically proven reason on how the Hindenburg went down. The weather was unfavorable as the airship arrived at Lakehurst, New Jersey. The Hindenburg was told to stay in the air until the conditions were better. Soon enough, things were clear for the Hindenburg to land, however, this is where everything went wrong. The airship was to make three trips: one from Germany to America, and then to England. The Hindenburg was already behind schedule, the request to wait until conditions cleared only delayed said schedule further. Once allowed to land, Captain Max Pruss wanted to land the airship as quickly as possible so that they could at least make it to Britain at some point. However, in his haste to land, he made a fatal error. He took a sharp ‘s’ shaped turn that snapped a wire inside the Hindenburg. Spectators on the ground noted that the Hindenburg’s tail was tilting back. Captain Pruss noted this and ordered that water be dropped from the front to even out the weight. A mooring line was dropped to let the ship down, but as soon as the mooring line to the nose was dropped, the tail of the ship burst into flame and in just about 38 seconds, the Hindenburg was nothing more than a wreck. The gas had caught fire, and the skin produced the colored flames that consumed thirty five people.

Passengers aboard the airship all attempted to escape the fiery death that threatened them, and many made it out by jumping out the windows. Many suffered horrible burns, and a few unlucky souls died in the hospital. A specific example of this is the Doehner family. Hermann, Matilde, Irene, Walter, and Werner Doehner were aboard the doomed Zeppelin. Hermann died aboard the Hindenburg while Matilde tried frantically to get the kids out. Irene and Walter jumped out the windows, but Werner had been paralyzed with fear. His mother, Matilde, quickly pushed him out the window before jumping after him. Irene died in the hospital overnight while Matilde, Walter, and Werner were treated for their burns. Werner is still alive today and lives in Colorado, his mother and brother died before him.

Werner Franz, a cabin boy aboard the airship, still lives as well. He was saved from the flames when a water tank burst over him. The water protected him from the heat as he too raced to get out of the quickly burning airship. Neither Werner Doehner or Werner Franz attended the memorial for the Hindenburg.

There are several controversies surrounding the Hindenburg. One that arose recently was the fact that there was a smoking lounge on the Hindenburg. A smoking lounge directly under 7 million cubic feet of highly unstable hydrogen. This sounds crazy already, but the craziest part is that no one ever thought that the smoking lounge could have been the cause of the blaze aboard the airship. The given is that it was an air tight room, the only cigarette lighter was electric and handled by a steward, and that patrons were not allowed to leave with lit cigars or cigarettes. But this is still ludicrous seeing as the air tight rooms then are primitive compared to technology now. But when you take into account the time period, things dwindle down to a less crazy level. In the era of the Hindenburg, smoking was a popular pastime for many. It was also a symbol of style, just like the Victorian Era high wheeled bicycles. I digress however, going back to the Hindenburg. Without the smoking lounge aboard the airship, the passengers would have been extremely bored. The lounge was not only added for style, but for business purposes as well. If there was no land in sight, people would simply be staring out at water all the time. If people were bored out of their minds on the trips, then they wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, and getting negative reviews is bad for any business. The smoking lounge was added so that patrons had something to do, and so that they would give positive references to the Zeppelin Company.

While the smoking lounge probably didn’t have anything to do with the tragedy, it was still a horrible idea. I hope that you look over the theories about the Hindenburg and choose what you believe in of you don’t believe in what has been proven as the truth.

Source: Essay UK -

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