How the US Helium Act of 1925 contributed to the Hindenburg disaster.


The Hindenburg Airship, built in 1936, was the world’s largest airship and built by the Germans. Its maiden voyage to the US (1937) was a trip that was promoted by the German Government (the Third Reich) ruled by Adolf Hitler, and seen as a chance to show off German technological competence and power.

Daubed with Nazi symbols the airship crossed the Atlantic but had to take a “tour” of the skies around New York while a storm blew over. The Captain was finally given permission to land but on landing there was an explosion (some observers believe it was a bomb placed on board and was sabotage – other scientists believe it was static electricity).

However, the small explosion was the catalyst to the disaster – as the whole airship was filled with hydrogen, which surrounded the passenger cabins. The hydrogen ignited and the Hindenburg collapsed to the ground in a huge fireball.

The reason why the Hindenburg was filled with Hydrogen was that the only real worldwide source of Helium was in the US. The US Helium Act of 1925, forbid the export of Helium to foreign countries – and hence Germany could not get access to the much safer Helium so had to use Hydrogen. If Helium has been used – the airship would have landed safely with little or no loss of life.

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