Today, the name “Hindenburg” is most closely associated with the fiery, disastrous crash that destroyed the famous dirigible in 1937. Before its demise, however, the massive, 800-foot-long German airship was considered the pinnacle of modern aerospace engineering and luxury travel, and often attracted crowds of awe-struck spectators wherever it went. Built over a period of four years and named after Paul von Hindenburg, President of Germany from 1925 to 1934, the Hindenburg took its maiden voyage around Germany in March 1936. As a display of German engineering prowess and gesture of international goodwill, the zeppelin made ten round-trip journeys between Germany and North America during that same year.
On October 9th, 1936, as a “thank-you” to the United States for the warm reception the airship received during its earlier tours, the Hindenburg’s operators scheduled one final tour over the northeastern U.S. before returning to Germany for the winter. The first leg of the Hindenburg’s journey from Lakehurst, New Jersey to Boston included a flyover of four Connecticut cities: Danbury, Waterbury, New Britain, and Hartford. The Hindenburg’s October 9th journey was also known as the “millionaire’s flight” because, in a carefully-calculated publicity move, the ship’s operators invited numerous CEOs and dignitaries aboard in hopes of securing international support and investment in German commercial flight projects. The passenger list included members of the Rockefeller family, the CEOs of Chase Bank and the Goodyear tire company, World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacher, and Mary Goodrich Jensen, the first Connecticut woman to receive a pilot’s license.
The airship’s scheduled journey over the Constitution State used quite a stir among Connecticans, many of whom worked in the aerospace industry themselves. Schools located in the zeppelin’s flight path suspended classes so that curious children could catch a glimpse, and people scrambled onto rooftops in order to gain an unobstructed view. With an average flying altitude of under 1,000 feet, the hulking dirigible was truly a sight to behold as it made what appeared to be an impossibly close flyover of Connecticut buildings — most notably the Travelers Tower in Hartford, which was then the state’s tallest skyscraper.
Not even six months later, the Hindenburg met its dramatic, fiery end on May 6th, 1937. While attempting to land at Lakehurst, New Jersey on its first North American tour of the year, the hydrogen-filled airship somehow caught fire and was soon engulfed in flames, killing 36 people as horrified spectators looked on. A few hours earlier, a Connecticut resident snapped the last known photo of the undamaged Hindenburg in flight as it passed over Connecticut for the final time.
“Video: The Hindenburg Flies Over Hartford,” connecticuthistory.org
Walt Sivigny, “The Hindenburg’s ‘Millionaires’ Flight’ Amazed Connecticut Residents,” Connecticut Magazine