Photos and ephemera from the Hindenburg

The Hindenburg disaster happened 75 years ago this month. In this incredibly fascinating video, Cheryl Ganz, the chief curator for the National Postal Museum, talks about the photographs, letters, and maps collected by Hindenburg passenger Peter Belan.

Belan was on the Hindenburg when it burst into flame. In fact, he took a whole roll of photos from the doomed ship as it came in for a landing, photos that haven't ever been published before. You'll see some of them here. Belan's pockets and suitcase are the source of some of the only surviving examples of Hindenburg passenger documents, including receipts and a map of the ship's last route.

In particular, I absolutely love the Belan photographs. There's something very modern about them, or maybe just about the act of photographing a setting right before it becomes infamous. These shots make it easy to imagine a parallel-universe Belan twittering the disaster as it happened.

Read more about the Hindenburg disaster at Smithsonian


  1. I wonder if Belan was using flash bulbs when he took his photos on the Hindenburg. Hey, you don’t suppose…. naw.

  2. One of the pleasures of living in Silicon Valley is that there’s a zeppelin at the local airbase that I often encounter taking off or landing as I’m driving to work.  It has a new paint job this week – a bright orange frame that looks like it’s going to have something added to it soon.  In addition to flying tourists around, it recently headed out to the Sierras to help scientists look for meteorite fragments from the recent meteor shower.

    1.  Are you sure it’s a zeppelin and not a blimp? A zeppelin, of course, would be cool, but blimps are wayyyyyy more common today, as far as airships go.

  3. I love zeppelins. 

    That article was not very good. 

    Photographs taken right after the initial explosion show lines of fire along boundaries between the fuel cells,…

    That would have been a good opportunity to mention that that is where the blaugas was stored.  The fuel for the engines. 
    Blaugas is similar to propane, it had not, unlike the hydrogen in the cells, been garlic scented for leak detection.  (not leek  =] )
    None of the survivors reported having smelled garlic. 

    Hydrogen may not be safe in it’s gaseous form, but the Hindenburg disaster was not caused by it directly, just made more disastrous.

    1. Hindenburg’s engines burned diesel not blaugas. The only airship ever flown on blaugas was the Graf Zeppelin. Zeppelin did plan to follow the Graf with the LZ128 burning blaugas but that ship was scrapped following the crash of the British R101. 

      Although Zeppelin had never lost a civilian life with hydrogen, the burning of the R101 made them reconsider the risk of their designs. Blaugas, with a low flashpoint was out, and the future Zeppelins would have been inflated with helium. Because helium has a lower lift per cubic metre than hydrogen, the LZ128 was too small for an economic transAtlantic service.
      Zeppelin came up with the LZ129 (Hindenburg) and LZ130 (another Graf Zeppelin) which had the necessary volume to make transAtlantic flights with helium in their gas cells. Their original design would have included secondary gas cells filled with hydrogen which would have been vented in flight to compensate for the burning of fuel. Diesel was the fuel of choice because it doesn’t burn easily.

      In the event, Germany couldn’t obtain US helium and the ships were inflated with hydrogen. This gave them additional lift over that originally planned, so the the Hindenburg was refitted with additional passenger accommodation for its second season (also its last season).

      As for the myth that hydrogen didn’t cause the accident, the proponents that the dope on the cover of the airship was to blame still can’t explain why the movie clearly shows the cover burning *after* the interior of the ship is already alight.

      1.  The only mystery is. “What started the fire?”, which may well have involved the dope, but once the fire started it was the hydrogen that destroyed the ship.

  4. I had an elderly neighbor a decade plus ago who’s father was on the Lakewood, NJ First Aid Squad and was called for the Hindenberg explosion.  She had a melted fork, a pitcher marked “Zeppelin” with melted metal on it and a burned postcard that her father had picked up for souvenirs.
    He also had several pulleys that were used to anchor the airship but those had disappeared in the last fifty odd years.

    1. My mother remembered watching the Hindenburg fly over, but not when it was on fire.

  5. That’s really exciting that the Hindenburg is making news again! Here is another interesting short documentary about recent Hindenburg artifact discoveries made by a 15 year old at the University of Wyoming. “Pieces of the Hindenburg: Treasure Hunting in Wyoming”

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