The disaster that made Lakehurst famous took place on this day in history when the German zeppelin, Hindenburg, caught fire, killing 36 people. On May 6th, 1937, the hydrogen filled airship was attempting to dock on a mooring mast at the Naval Air Station when it caught fire, falling 200 feet and killing 13 passengers, 22 crew members, and one member of the ground crew. Most of the survivors endured serious injuries. The majority of the casualties burned to death, while others died jumping out of the burning ship; the last survivor of the disaster died in 2019.

The exact reason for the fire is unknown, but various theories are that it was struck by lightning, it was set by a static spark, sabotage, or incendiary paint. The static spark is the most commonly accepted cause.

At the time, the 800 foot Hindenburg offered the height of luxury travel, traveling from Europe to North America in half the time of the fastest ocean liners, according to It had an elegant dining room, luxurious sleeper cabins, and, maybe surprisingly, a smoking room. Commercial zeppelins had been in use for about 30 years, ferrying over 2,000 passengers safely, but the era of the airship effectively came to an end at Lakehurst.

One of the reasons this disaster is so memorable is because video of the fire exists and a newsman’s audio recording also exists; the famous line “oh, the humanity!” was broadcast coast to coast the next day. By the end of World War II, there were no rigid airships left.

The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Bill Doyle. Any opinions expressed are Bill Doyle's own.

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