The Hindenburg airship explosion in 1937 has a more complex history than more people realize. At one point it was even used to distribute Nazi propaganda. Ronni talks more about the history of this famous disaster.

Here’s a transcript of our conversation:

Ronni: Hey, Brittany.

Brittany: Hi, Ronni.

Ronni: So, I don’t know exactly why this topic was on my mind, but I tend to sometimes get interested in an idea, and then I deep dive into research, that’s just me. So, recently I started thinking about the Hindenburg airship disaster that took place in 1937. Do you know this?

Brittany: I’m actually really excited we’re talking about this because I know the references and there’s like, people be like, oh, it’s like the Hindenburg and they’ll make these references. And it dawned on me that I don’t know anything about it, like anything. I know it was a disaster because I, what call it, but so I was really excited about this. I know literally nothing.

Ronni: Well, that’s a fantastic intro to what I was going to talk about and why I’m going to talk about this actually, because I feel as though with the Hindenburg disaster, as with many things in history, most people are vaguely familiar about it, or they know, oh, it was an airship and I saw it on fire and it crashed, and that’s all they know. Or maybe they’ve seen the newsreel, which by the way, the newsreel has its own story. If we have time, I will share that part as well. But they see the newsreel of the guy who’s talking this really hyper language and he’s like, oh, the humanity, and it’s crashing to the ground. Most people only think about that. But Hindenburg is really, it’s an interesting event. There’s a lot of different kinds of things that came into play about it. Just as with almost all historical events. There’s different perspectives, there’s unknowns, there’s different possibilities. There’s the legend that people remember from something as seldom what the truth was. So, I think talking about something like the Hindenburg might hopefully remind people that in any historical event to look further, look at more details to understand it. So, anyways, so, I’m trying to think where should I start with this. Fantastic story. Okay, so you have seen the newsreel, right?

Brittany: No, Okay. I’m shocked at how little I know about this.

Ronni: All right, well then, I’m going to do most of the talking, and you can just ask questions if you have any. Love it. Okay. So, for the audience out there, you may have seen when you think of the Hindenburg, which was the airship, and there’s the black and white newsreel footage, and it’s crashing to the ground. And I mentioned this a minute ago, but there was a newscaster, and he’s talking very frenzied kind of language, and his famous line is, oh, the humanity. So, if you ever hear the phrase, oh, the humanity, this is where it came from, is from the newscaster who was covering the Hindenburg disaster, but there’s so much more to the Hindenburg disaster. There’s actually some conspiracies around it. I’m not going to talk too much about the conspiracies because I don’t really know if any of those are true, but I will talk about the true things that I know, and you can look into any conspiracies from there if you feel like it. But okay, so where do I start? Where do I start? Okay, so fun facts about the Hindenburg. It was this big airship, like a huge blimp, and it caught on fire and crashed, and no one really knew why it caught on fire. But number one, you have to understand that Hindenburg was filled with hydrogen, which is highly flammable. So it’s kind of strange to think why would they have this huge floating flammable thing in the sky that seems extremely dangerous? And I fully agree with you on that. But why did it have hydrogen? And instead of say something like helium, which is not as flammable, you’ll never guess.

Brittany: I will not guess. I was like, I hope this question to me, I don’t know why

Ronni: This is a rhetorical question in which I am asking the audience. Okay, good. Oh my god.

Brittany: I want to answer the question, have the answer.

Ronni: I felt I just went into teacher mode when I’m addressing a class. I’m like, anytime that I, no one’s going to answer.

Brittany: And I felt like the student was called on.

Ronni: So, the airships, when they were originally designed, they were meant to have helium in them because helium is less flammable. But at the time, who controlled all the helium storage in the world? All the helium, it was the US. The US refused to allow Germany or any other country to have any helium, whether this was done because the US wanted to maintain control in case they ever built airships. Maybe it was political, I’m not a hundred percent sure, but the whole reason why it had the highly cleanable hydrogen in it, instead of helium as it was originally designed for, is because of the US government who refused to allow helium to be in. It Sounds crazy. It would not have blown up the way that it happened. But anyway, another interesting fact is most people, when they think of the Hindenburg disaster, see only the blimp, not the blimp, the airship crashing. But if you look for other pictures of the airship when it was still up in the air, you might notice something surprising. And that was that on its tail, there was a Nazi swastika because it was a German airship that had been used for Nazi propaganda. So, 1937, this is a little before World War II. So the Nazi shuka was not as symbolic then. Not as many people were quite as aware of its symbolism, but there were still people at that time who felt very uncomfortable with having this German heirship over US soil. But politics are weird. And at that time, it just felt as though it was a kind of political move. People were more understanding of it. But now it feels very weird that there were Nazi planes with a giant swastika flying over New York, and there’s pictures. And so that surprises a lot of people because I don’t think they realize this. But that goes on to, sorry, let me know if I’m losing you. If you have any questions.

Brittany: I’m following as best as my non-science brain can.

Ronni: So, the Hindenburg was originally built as a Nazi propaganda tool, and it was first flown in Germany and would go to different towns, and they dropped different Nazi pamphlets and brochures and things because that was a big thing. They used to drop flyers on the ground in cities and Europe. That was how they spread the news, which is interesting. So, they would drop all these pamphlets and things all over the ground for people to come and get. So it was used for German Nazi propaganda. It was meant to look huge and big, and that’s what they were trying to do, trying to get this idea in people’s minds of this huge Nazi symbol like, ah, we’re powerful. It’s really interesting when you think about just history in general, when you have more totalitarian governments wanting to take over, it’s always the show of power. And that’s what was happening here, and that was kind of the Hindenburg, which this was also getting into some of the conspiracies, which everybody can go and research.

Brittany: There’s Conspiracies.

Ronni: So, some of the conspiracies has to do with the fact that, oh gosh, there shouldn’t have been a Nazi airship on US soil, and so people were trying to destroy it. I’m not sure about all those things I’m not going into because that’s way more deep dive than I was able to go right now. So, what else can I talk about now? Okay, so some people have heard the Hindenburg and they’ve heard that it was highly flammable and that it probably blew up or caught on fire because someone was smoking. Actually, when I was young, and I first heard about this, that was the story that I was told or heard or believed. So, the funny story is that even though the airship was filled with hydrogen, which was highly flammable, this was a time in which everybody smoked. So, to not allow smoking on the airship would’ve been socially unacceptable, especially considering the passengers that could afford to fly on this were the super-elite. The whole point of the airship is that it could cross the Atlantic in two days or something instead of taking a ship, which was a week or something. So, only the super elite could afford to fly on this thing. So, they had to have a smoking lounge for them. So, they had this specially controlled smoking lounge on a hydrogen airship.

Brittany: That feels very dangerous.

Ronni: Oh, extremely dangerous. So, it was like the special pressurized room, and they had one lighter that was stationary, and that could only be used in this one certain place. And then they had super security. It wasn’t that secure, but you had to go through special pressurized doors to enter the chamber or something. So, that’s a fun fact. Another fun fact is that most people, when they watch the footage, they think that everybody died or everyone blew up, but actually over half of the people on the ship survived like 60% or 70% or something like that. And a lot of them survived just by jumping because the way it was crashing close enough to the ground that they could just jump out. There’s even stories of some people who just stepped off the wreckage as it was crashing and then ran and they survived. But they always make it look as though everyone died, and it was a little bit different. Okay, now the last fun fact that I will go through is the humanity part. So, I think this is one of the reasons why Hindenburg became, I mean, it was very famous at the time. It was up there with the way it was reported on. It was up there with the Titanic, but the Titanic was way worse, but just in terms of how it was reported in the news cycle. But one of the reasons why it got so much press is because there was this one guy who was this one reporter, and he was getting footage and just happened to be filming when it caught on fire. However, there was a mismatch with the way the audio was recorded and the film was recorded so the audio was sped up. So, the audio that you hear and that most people think is the super frantic guy is actually the audio going way fast. When you listen to audiobooks quickly in order to absorb the information really fast, that is how it is. So, it sounds though he’s way more frantic when he’s like, oh, and it’s crushing and all of this and all the blah, blah, blah, and all the humanity. Because of that little mismatch, it became so famous, and then the newsreel footage was shown everywhere, and then that kind of stuck in people’s minds too. Anyway, Hindenburg is a really interesting story, and just as with all history stories, there’s always so much more. There’s not always simple explanations. There’s not always simple answers. And I encourage kids to be aware. What do we like to say? Question everything.

Brittany: Do your own research. It’s called Go on Treasure. Go pretend you’re a detective. Almost go learn, yeah.

Ronni: You learn so much more. You understand the complexities of the world, and the world is both simple and complex, but if you’re not afraid of learning about the details of things, you get a better understanding of the way the world works.

Brittany: That’s the name of the show. Awesome.

Ronni: That’s a good ending there.

Brittany: Great way to end it. Well, thank you everybody. Don’t forget to like and subscribe and share the podcast with your friends. And until next time, we will talk to you soon.

Ronni: All right, see you soon.