Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Why the Hindenburg Disaster was Newsworthy

by Connie Cortright

We've had a discussion of dirigibles for the last couple weeks and learned that many of them crashed between 1930 and 1937. So, why was the Hindenburg disaster so important to history?

Part of its significance was the insignia on the tail fin of the airship - the Swastika. The Zeppelin Company from Germany built it and placed this German symbol on the fins.

During the 30s, Hitler's power was growing. He wanted to show that Germany was superior to other countries in the world. By having the Zeppelins successfully fly important people around the world when other countries failed to fly these long distances, he was proving that Germany surpassed everyone else. 

When it crashed in May, 1937, the news reverberated around the world. It was a defeat for Germany - at least for Hitler's boasting.

Herbert Morrison

The other reason this disaster was so well-known is the media coverage that memorialized it. WLS radio from Chicago wanted to share this historic event - the landing of the Hindenburg - with their Chicago audience. Of course, they planned to record it not knowing what the day would bring. Back in those days, they didn't have the equipment to do a live broadcast, so they sent an announcer - Herbert Morrison - and his engineer - Charlie Nehlsen - to make a recording of the event at the naval station. The thought was to get on an airplane and get back to Chicago to play the broadcast the next day. 

Morrison and Nehlsen had their recording equipment set up and ready when the airship came in sight. Morrison started recording his voice description of the event as he usually would. When he saw flames coming out of the tail, he described what happened with his hysterical comments included. As a result, there is a voice recording of the events as they unfolded before his eyes. 

At the same time, other news sources were recording the event of the landing on newsreels. The footage of the airship bursting into flames and crashing to the ground was very dramatic, to say the least. At a later time, Morrison's voice was linked with the newsreel's video footage to make it more dramatic. Click on this link to see and hear a short portion of the recording:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Ad9tholMEM

The drama is palpable when one sees the event and hears Morrison's emotional commentary. This video, with a different narration, was shared in the movie theaters across the world, bringing the end of the Zeppelins for commercial flights.  No one wanted to pay to fly on something this unsafe.

Morrison's voice recording was indeed flown back to Chicago and broadcast to the Chicago radio audience later that night. NBC Radio played portions of it across the country bringing this important event to the awareness of millions of Americans. It was the first time a recording of a news event was ever broadcast from coast-to-coast. 

This event is now considered a classic in audio history and is the most well-known event involving a dirigible to this day. Our 24/7 news coverage we have today had its beginning in 1937 with this on-the-scene description that Morrison happened to witness on that fateful day. After this exciting news coverage, the American audience wanted to hear live coverage for other events, including WWII. 

Information taken from Wikipedia Herbert Morrison (announcer) and Wikipedia Hindenburg disaster

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Long Trip Ended Very Badly

by Connie Cortright

After reading last week's post, you probably wish you could have lived back in the early 30s so you could travel by airship. It looks very appealing, except for one small problem. When airships had accidents, the results were bad for almost everyone on board.

Flying over NYC
The crash of the German made Hindenburg airship on May 6, 1937 was the most publicized crash in the country. The Hindenburg had flown to Brazil and back before it's first scheduled flight from Frankfurt, Germany to Lakehurst, New Jersey. After flying over the city of New York, it approached it's landing location on the evening of the third day of the trip.

The weather wasn't very cooperative that day. The airship had to delay its landing by several hours waiting for a thunderstorm to pass over New Jersey. It circled over New York City while waiting for the storm to pass. Captain Pruss then headed west to New Jersey to prepare for the landing at the mooring location at Lakehurst Naval Air Station.

Between 7:00 and 7:15 PM Captain Pruss maneuvered the airship to a lower altitude preparing for the high landing at the naval station. This meant that the airship would be tethered to the mooring mast with it's ropes and cables and winched down to the mooring mast. This practice was common in landings in the US, but the German airship commander was not used to this type of landing.

As the ship got closer to the ground, the stern of the ship dipped lower. Captain Pruss ordered several of the water tanks to be dumped to lighten the ballast of the tail. This didn't help the problem so several crewmen were sent forward to level the airship.  By 7:21 the mooring lines were dropped and one was connected to a post on the ground. A light rain started again as the ground crew tried to assist the mooring of the ship.

At 7:25 eye witnesses noticed flames coming out of the back of the Hindenburg. It quickly spread over the ship and shot out the elevated front nose. Within seconds, the tail of the ship was engulfed in flames and crashed to the ground with gas tanks bursting in the flames. The nose pointed upward after the explosion, but ignited shortly after and crashed to the ground within 30 seconds of the first spotted flames.

Of the 97 people on board there were 35 fatalities. This included 13 passengers and 22 crewmen. The majority of the victims died in the explosion with a few fatalities caused by jumping out of the airship at too great a height. Several deaths were caused by burns, including one ground crewman who was assisting in the landing.

There are many theories about the Hindenburg disaster including lightning strike, sabotage, and an engine spark that ignited the hydrogen. The most likely reason for the fire was that a spark, caused by the electrical charge between the surface of the ship and the surrounding air, ignited a hydrogen leak. Some witnesses mentioned that they spotted a fluttering of the ship's outer cover near the tail just before the fire ignited. It is generally accepted that the speed of the fire was caused by the hydrogen gas igniting in the gas cells.

The national publicity this story received stemmed from the fact that this was the first flight of the airship from Germany to the US. The journalists were gathered at the landing site to catch the event for the media. When the landing event turned into a disaster, cameras and videos caught it all in real time. The news was quickly broadcast nationally .

The demise of the Hindenburg was not the worst or only airship crash that happened. In fact, the US Navy built three rigid airships of which all three crashed before 1935.  With that type of record, the use of airships declined rapidly in the late 30s. If we knew that airplanes had a 100% chance of crashing to the ground at some point, I don't think there would be so many people flying around the world today either.

Information taken from Wikipedia-Hindenburg disasterAirships.net/hindenburg disaster, and This day in history/the Hindenburg disaster.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Ist Class Travel in the Air

by Connie Cortright

My husband is on a trip to Bangladesh this week. He told me that the flight from Minneapolis to Japan seemed so long because he had to sit in one spot for over twelve hours. If he had been traveling in the 30s, it would have been possible to walk around or go to the bar for a drink while flying.

He would have had to fly on an airship to be able to do that. Airship travel was similar to taking a cruise back in the 30s. A trip by airship took much less time than sailing on the ocean.

Dining in an airship

Early in the 20th Century, Germany experimented with transporting people and cargo by air. Zeppelin was the most successful company to build these gigantic airships, also known as dirigibles,  that were put to commercial use during the 1920s and into the 30s.

During the summers of 1931 to 1936, the German airship Graf Zeppelin flew passengers back and forth between Frankfurt, Germany and Recife, Brazil on a regular basis. This trip took about a week's time.
Lounge in Zeppelin airship

These intercontinental flights were only for the well-to-do since they cost about the equivalent of $10,000 in today's dollars.

While they were floating high above the earth, the passengers could relax in the lounge, enjoy a smoke in the smoking lounge, have a drink in the bar, or eat dinner in the dining room. At night they had a sleeping room similar to berths on a ship.

These commercial airships were rigid with an outer structural framework surrounded by a pliable material called the "envelope". In the envelope there were one or more gas-bags that inflated and caused the airship to rise. The lifting gas was usually pumped into the gas-bags to cause the airship to gain altitude.

The dirigibles were pushed forward by engines with propellers attached either to the underside of the airships or on the gondolas attached to the bottom of them. The crew would control the airship by venting or adding gas to the air bags. Usually the airships had tanks of water for ballast that would be dropped if the ship needed to rise rapidly.

The airbags were built on the top of the ship with the passenger compartments in the underbelly. The passengers and crew traveled and worked under the massive structure overhead. The Graf Zeppelin successfully completed many trips across the ocean for several years.

As airline travel improved in the 30s, airship travel dropped off quickly. Airplanes replaced this form of travel because the time to travel was much faster and the cost to do it much more inexpensive. However, I'm sure that would have been a much more comfortable way to travel long distances instead of being strapped into one seat for a twelve hour flight.

Information taken from Airships.net and Airship - Wikipedia

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Celebrate an Historic Anniversary!

by Connie Cortright

You may not realize this, but we're passing an important anniversary this year. Mr. Peanut is now 100 years old. In 1916, the Planters Nut and Chocolate Company held a contest to find the best trademark for their growing roasted peanut industry. Antonio Gentile, a 14-year-old son of a friend of the owner, drew a peanut with human characteristics and Mr. Peanut was born. Antonio received $5.00 for winning the contest.

A commercial artist added a top hat and monocle to the anthropomorphic drawing, making it very similar to the icon we still recognize today. He's been on every can of Planter's Peanuts since that time, so it is one of the most recognizable characters on food products today.

Mr. Peanut debuted in the advertising world in 1918 when it was published in the Saturday Evening Post. He was an instant hit among children and parents alike.

Through the 20s and 30s, Mr. Peanut sold many bags and cans of Planter's Peanuts to people all over our country. By the mid-30s, he became the symbol of the entire peanut industry to many people. He appeared in advertisements from magazines to billboards. The first Mr. Peanut billboard appeared in Time Square in 1938.

He changed slightly with each passing era of the history of our country. During the 1940s, he even appeared in ads promoting our soldiers as they fought in World War II across the globe.

It's hard to believe that this long-lasting icon of Planter's Peanuts has been around for 100 years. He's aged very well! Now go out and have some nuts!

Information taken from Mr. Peanut and Antonio Gentile and Mr. Peanut - Wikipedia

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

That Dress is a Bag - Literally

by Connie Cortright

Many years ago, my husband-to-be won a door prize at a dance in a small town in Wisconsin. He was thrilled to find out that his prize was a twenty pound bag of flour. Now what would a single man attending college do with a prize like that? Needless to say he got on the good side of his future mother-in-law by giving it to her.

The one thing that I remember about that prize was the cloth sack that the flour came in, not a common thing in the 70s. After doing some research, I found that this was very normal back in the 1920s, 30s, and into the 40s. When food staples and feed were sold in large quantities back then, it would be sold in a sack of pretty floral patterned material.

In the late 1800s cotton sacks were used for shipment of food stuffs such as flour, sugar, and rice because they were easier to handle than wood barrels or boxes. Animal feed was also shipped that way.

Women living on farms, not wanting to waste anything, started sewing clothes out of these cloth sacks. When manufacturers discovered this, they starting printing the cloth with colorful patterns hoping to sell more sacks of flour.

A woman needed three identical sacks to make a dress, so the farmer would buy three matching sacks to help her out. These patterned cotton sacks were also used for making aprons, pillowcases, diapers, laundry bags, curtains, table cloths, dish towels, and even toys.

This continued even into the Roaring Twenties and especially into the years of the Great Depression. During the 30s, girls were often sent to school in feedsack dresses. In a one-room country school, the siblings were easy to identify since the girls would all be dressed in the same patterned dress material - made from feedsacks. Boys in the family ended up with shirts made of sack material, but of course their mother would pick plainer ones for them.

During World War II this was more common with the rationing of items across the country. Staples and animal feed were always needed on a farm, so mother used up the flour and feed sacks by sewing them into needed articles. The strings of the feed bags were even used in knitting or crocheting items. Now that's recycling!

After World War II, the use of cloth bags ended. Manufacturers discovered that heavy paper or plastic bags were more cost effective for shipping these bulk items. The cotton sack was not produced anymore so flour sack dresses were no longer sewed. Any colorful cloth sacks still available were used in quilting by mothers and grandmothers.

Have you ever seen any of these colorful feed sacks in antique stores? Maybe there were all used up in sewing projects years ago.

Information taken from Feedsack Fabrics and Flour Sacks for Clothes