New Jersey History January 19, 2022
by Kim Magaraci The Terrifying, Deadly Airship Crash In New Jersey That Will Never Be Forgotten
One of the world’s most-watched disasters happened right here on New Jersey soil. As the public excitedly listened to the radio for news of the Hindenberg Airship’s landing in New Jersey, they heard something tragic and unexpected. Days later, the footage of the incident made international newsreels, and soon, the whole world was talking about what happened on a spring evening in New Jersey.
In the early 1900s, airship technology advanced significantly, and many countries began to experiment with travel and cargo services, thinking that these ships were a useful alternative to airplanes.
By the 1930s, Germany had taken the lead in airship development. Their Zeppelins could carry more passengers in more luxurious accommodations than airplanes could, and it seemed as if this was a great solution to the difficulties of cross-ocean travel.
In 1936, one of Germany's prized Zeppelins, the Hindenburg, made 10 successful flights back and forth across the Atlantic.
The May, 1937 flight of the Hindenberg was particularly noteworthy, as the pilot had taken a detour over Manhattan and thousands flocked to the streets to watch the fascinating ship sail past.
However, as everyone now knows, this enormous airship's flight was doomed to become a dark part of New Jersey history.
On May 6, 1937, as the ship attempted to dock in Lakehurst, it caught fire, burst into flames, and crashed to the ground.
Because of how flammable the gas was that held the airship aloft, it took less than 40 seconds from the first sign of trouble to the complete destruction of the aircraft.
Early camera technology recorded the disaster, and it made international newsreels. These early airship crossings were fascinating to the public, and promising for the future of international travel. However, after the Hindenburg explosion, the industry collapsed entirely.
The fire and crash caused 36 fatalities - 22 crewmen, 13 passengers, and 1 person on the ground. There were 97 people on board.
The cause of the fire was never determined. At the time, many thought that it had been sabotaged by crew or a passenger. Today, theories vary from static electricity to engine chamber sparks.
The Hindenburg Memorial sits at Joint Base McGuire–Dix–Lakehurst, and visitors can see the memorial and Hangar 1, where it was to be docked, by appointment.
For information on touring the Hindenburg crash site (and learning quite a bit about airship travel), see the
Navy Lakehurst Historical Society website, here.
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Address: Hindenburg Disaster Memorial, 563 Saniuk Rd, Lakehurst, NJ 08733, USA