06
May
09

On This Day, May 6: The Hindenburg Disaster

May 6, 1937

The Hindenburg disaster

The airship Hindenburg, the largest dirigible ever built and the pride of Nazi Germany, bursts into flames upon touching its mooring mast in Lakehurst, New Jersey, killing 36 passengers and crewmembers.

Frenchman Henri Giffard constructed the first successful airship in 1852. His hydrogen-filled blimp carried a three-horsepower steam engine that turned a large propeller and flew at a speed of six miles per hour. The rigid airship, often known as the “zeppelin” after the last name of its innovator, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, was developed by the Germans in the late 19th century. Unlike French airships, the German ships had a light framework of metal girders that protected a gas-filled interior. However, like Giffard’s airship, they were lifted by highly flammable hydrogen gas and vulnerable to explosion. Large enough to carry substantial numbers of passengers, one of the most famous rigid airships was the Graf Zeppelin, a dirigible that traveled around the world in 1929. In the 1930s, the Graf Zeppelin pioneered the first transatlantic air service, leading to the construction of the Hindenburg, a larger passenger airship.

On May 3, 1937, the Hindenburg left Frankfurt, Germany, for a journey across the Atlantic to Lakehurst’s Navy Air Base. Stretching 804 feet from stern to bow, it carried 36 passengers and crew of 61. While attempting to moor at Lakehurst, the airship suddenly burst into flames, probably after a spark ignited its hydrogen core. Rapidly falling 200 feet to the ground, the hull of the airship incinerated within seconds. Thirteen passengers, 21 crewmen, and 1 civilian member of the ground crew lost their lives, and most of the survivors suffered substantial injuries.

Radio announcer Herb Morrison, who came to Lakehurst to record a routine voice-over for an NBC newsreel, immortalized the Hindenberg disaster in a famous on-the-scene description in which he emotionally declared, “Oh, the humanity!” The recording of Morrison’s commentary was immediately flown to New York, where it was aired as part of America’s first coast-to-coast radio news broadcast. Lighter-than-air passenger travel rapidly fell out of favor after the Hindenberg disaster, and no rigid airships survived World War II.

“The Hindenburg disaster,” The History Channel website, 2009, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=4978 [accessed May 6, 2009]

On This Day

1527 – German troops began sacking Rome, bringing about the end of the Renaissance.

1861 – Arkansas became the ninth state to secede from the Union.

1877 – Chief Crazy Horse surrendered to U.S. troops in Nebraska.

1882 – The U.S. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. The act barred Chinese immigrants from the U.S. for 10 years.

1889 – The Universal Exposition opened in Paris, France, marking the dedication of the Eiffel Tower. Also at the exposition was the first automobile in Paris, the Mercedes-Benz.

1941 – Joseph Stalin assumed the Soviet premiership.

1942 – During World War II, the Japanese seized control of the Philippines. About 15,000 Americans and Filipinos on Corregidor surrendered to the Japanese.

1957 – U.S. Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his book “Profiles in Courage”.

1962 – The first nuclear warhead was fired from the Polaris submarine.

1994 – The Chunnel officially opened. The tunnel under the English Channel links England and France.

May 6, 1970

Students launch nationwide protest

Hundreds of colleges and universities across the nation shut down as thousands of students join a nationwide campus protest. Governor Ronald Reagan closed down the entire California university and college system until May 11, which affected more than 280,000 students on 28 campuses. Elsewhere, faculty and administrators joined students in active dissent and 536 campuses were shut down completely, 51 for the rest of the academic year. A National Student Association spokesman reported students from more than 300 campuses were boycotting classes. The protests were a reaction to the shooting of four students at Kent State University by National Guardsmen during a campus demonstration about President Nixon’s decision to send U.S. and South Vietnamese troops into Cambodia. Four days later, a student rally at Jackson State College in Mississippi resulted in the death of two students and 12 wounded when police opened fire on a women’s dormitory.

“Students launch nationwide protest,” The History Channel website, 2009, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=tdihArticleCategory&id=1830 [accessed May 6, 2009]

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