The Hindenburg was a huge gamble in a long line of gambles for the Zeppelin Company. She still holds the record as the largest aircraft ever to fly but, as majestic and awe-inspiring as she was, the Hindenburg was meant to be only the first of a fleet. History dictated that she was to be the first of only two.
The Hindenburg was a marvel of zeppelin design. Her sheer size was truly an engineering masterpiece. For years builders of dirigibles, including the Zeppelin Company, had simply stretched the hulls of their airships to accommodate more lifting gas. The British built R101 was actually cut in half and had a whole extra section added to accommodate an additional gas bag to increase its poor lift and the famous Graf Zeppelin was in fact, little more than a stretched version of the LZ126, the Los Angeles. The Zeppelin Company decided that with this new zeppelin, they would increase gas volume by not only making her the longest they could, but also by radically increasing her girth. Where the Graf Zeppelin was an impressive 100 feet in diameter, the Hindenburg would measured in at 135 feet and 1 inch. Even though an increase of a little over 35 feet doesn't sound like so much, remember that these monstrous ships needed hangers to protect them from the elements and when the Hindenburg was being built in her new construction shed, she was wedged in as tight as possible! With her massive diameter and her impressive length, the Hindenburg would carry a gas volume of 7,062,000 cubic feet. This volume, when filled with hydrogen, would produce an astounding 242.2 tons of gross lift. The useful lift (the lift left after you subtract the weight of the structure from the gross lift) was still 112.1 tons. An astounding weight even by today's standards but mind-blowing in the 1930's. At this point in world aviation, airplanes could fly only short distances with constant refueling and as little weight as possible.
Although the Hindenburg is most famous for her fiery death, she was not initially meant to be filled with hydrogen at all. Dr. Hugo Eckner, then still the chairman of Zeppelin, had decided that it would be the wisest course to inflate his new ship with the nonflammable gas helium. The flaw in this plan started to unravel the idea at once. In order to keep the Zeppelin Company afloat during the hard times of the depression, large sums of money had been accepted by the now powerful National Socialist Party, better known as the Nazis. The majestic airships Hindenburg and Graf Zeppelin were emblazoned with the swastika on their vertical fins and had already been flown on many propaganda flights over Germany dropping pamphlets and generally showing of the power of the Nazi movement. The United States, having the only natural deposits of helium in the world, was getting more and more suspicious of Hitler and his new Third Reich. Government officials wondered if the Zeppelin could be used for military purposes such as they were in World War One and favor in giving Dr. Eckner the helium was waning. This was supremely frustrating to Dr. Eckner who was openly critical of the Nazi government. He had been forced to seek help form a government that he did not like at all (his own) and because of this, a government who he got along with well was denying him what he needed for his new zeppelin. Even after a meeting with President Roosevelt, the decision was made in the U.S. Congress. The Helium Control Act would make it impossible for the Zeppelin Company to obtain helium for their new ship. With this turn of events, the Hindenburg was inflated with the volatile gas, hydrogen. Now with the new flag ship of the Zeppelin line fully inflated, It was time for the Hindenburg to take to the skies. On March 4, 1936, the largest man made object ever to fly, took to the air. The ship was to move very well through her trials with only a few bugs to work out and some repairs to make due to a poor landing. The Hindenburg would soon enter service carrying passengers across Europe and North and South America.
The Hindenburg was a first in many ways for the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin. Her design was a departure from old ships and carried many novelties. She would carry all passengers in side her huge hull instead of from a protruding gondola section. Her control car alone would disturb her smooth lines. She was also fitted with a smoking room. Something of a oddity on a ship inflated with an incredibly flammable gas. The room was built with an anti-chamber airlock which would keep any flames from spreading to the rest of the ship. The room was lined with asbestos and only one lighter sat at a central table attached with a cord. After all lighters and matches were removed from passengers and locked away, this was the only source of flame available to light your cigarette with on the whole ship.