An Airship Tuberculosis Hospital

by Dan Grossman on September 30, 2015

In the days before antibiotics, the only treatment for tuberculosis was sunlight, clean air, and good food. What better place than an airship?

Before the 1940s, physicians would send their TB patients to a sanatorium in the mountains or desert in places like Switzerland, Scandinavia, the Rocky Mountains, or the southwestern United States.

The July 1930 issue of Popular Science Monthly proposed placing a sanatorium on an airship and imagined what such a flying clinic might look like.

A Flying Tuberculosis Hospital - Airship TB Sanatorium

According to the editors, the illustration was based on information provided by Karl Arnstein of Goodyear-Zeppelin. “The body of the airship would follow the design of the two 6,500,000-cubic-foot airships being built for the Navy. A hospital airship of this size would be able to stay aloft for weeks at a time. An airplane carried inside its hull could maintain communication with the ground and if necessary make trips for special medicines and supplies.”

The clinic itself was located at the top of the airship so patients “would receive the full benefits of sunlight. Its walls and roof would be studded with windows, the panes made of celluloid or some similar material which transmits the healthful rays of the sun.”

The effect of this arrangement on the ship’s center of gravity was not discussed.

This concept is an example of the airship as a symbol of futurism that was popular in the 1920s and 1930s. But while this proposal was never realistic, and the sanatorium movement itself ended with the development of modern tuberculosis drugs — the first was Streptomycin in the 1940s — scientists now recognize that tuberculosis is susceptible to UV light, which stimulates the production of  Vitamin D, and that the benefits of sunlight in the treatment of tuberculosis are real.




I can’t believe it took me two years to stumble across the cocktail recipe published by Café de Abejas, a band from Helsinki, but I am glad I did!

The band created their own recipe for a drink they named “Pauline’s Cherry Lips,” inspired by the “Kirschwasser martini” improvised by Hindenburg passenger Pauline Charteris when the airship’s bar ran out of gin on its maiden voyage to America in 1936.

In honor of the band’s efforts I followed their recipe, and I enjoyed their creation with the appropriate glassware and accessories, of course. :-)

Café de Abejas Hindenburg Cocktail Recipe

When I crafted my original version of the Pauline Charteris Hindenburg Cocktail, I limited myself to ingredients that would have been available to Pauline based on photographs of the airship’s bar and the Hindenburg drinks menu.

Hindenburg bar and cocktail menu

The creative types from Café de Abejas did not similarly constrain themselves and used items that were not on board the airship, allowing them to create a much more interesting and layered, if less traditional, alternative. Personally I thought the absinthe was a little too muscular compared to the other ingredients, but perhaps it was the brand I used, and even so it was a very well-balanced cocktail.

Give it a try; play with the ingredients; and feel free to post your own thoughts in the comments.

The Recipes:

Pauline Charteris Hindenburg Cocktail

My version of what Pauline might have crafted to imitate a martini in the absence of gin:

  • 3 oz kirschwasser
  • A tad less than 1/2 oz dry vermouth
  • A splash of Grenadine
  • Lemon peel*

*A peel… just the oily skin… not a “twist” with the bitter white pith.

Shake with ice; enough to make cold but not enough to dilute too badly.

Pauline’s Cherry Lips

The creative alternative by the interesting people at Café de Abejas:

A jigger (50 ml) of Kirschwasser
A barspoon of dry Vermouth
2 barspoons each of Absinthe and Maraschino liqueur
A dash of orange bitters
Two dashes of Peychaud’s bitters
Maraschino cherry or lemon peel for garnish

Stir and strain in to a cocktail glass.

And for those who would like a musical accompaniment to their cocktail hour, here is Café de Abejas:


Ed Regis Responds to Book Review of “Monsters”

by Dan Grossman on September 14, 2015

I am very pleased to present this guest post by Ed Regis, in which he responds to my review of his recently-published Monsters: The Hindenburg Disaster and the Birth of Pathological Technology.

I was very flattered to read such a glowing review of my book, and was equally glad to see your critical assessment of its “delirium” argument and the “pathological technology” business.

I think you are right in your claim that part of the appeal of hydrogen airships was that they permitted long-distance human flight at a time when no real competitors existed. Your point is also sound that people accepted greater levels of risk back then than we do today, when we want everything to be absolutely safe and totally risk-free (as if that were possible). Still, I think the two points of view are complementary rather than mutually exclusive. Pragmatism and delirium were both at work, so it was a case of “both-and” rather than “either-or.”

I must confess that, speaking for myself, the magical quality of LTA craft exists even today: when I see the MetLife blimp aloft in the distance, even I feel somewhat enchanted by the sight. It has an otherworldly aspect that an ordinary winged aircraft simply lacks. (And I speak as a former private pilot.)

You also hit the nail on the head when you note that I provide few examples of pathological technologies. This is because they are rare rather than common, and, given how damaging they are, or could be if and when fully implemented, it is actually fortunate that they are scarce. But I do identify four defining characteristics of such technologies, and the three other examples I provide do seem to meet the defining conditions, so I see no escape from the conclusion that such technologies are real.

It is not quite correct to say that the SSC “never got off the drawing board.” As I described it (p. 284), the SSC was about 20 percent complete when abandoned, ten miles of the tunnel had been dug, seventeen access shafts had been sunk into the ground, some superconducting magnets had been built and tested [and failed the tests], and 2,000 people were employed on the project—all for naught. Indeed, it took a couple of billion dollars to shut down the project over a period of several months.

In one of the comments, Guillaume suggested that my pathological technology theory does not work out on the ground that, other than for the hydrogen airship, the technologies in question did not mature. But maturation is not a criterion of a pathological technology as I define it. In fact, I argue that a large part of the point and utility of identifying such technologies in the bud is that we can perhaps avoid developing them fully, thus actively preventing them from becoming mature.

We proactively assess emerging technologies all the time. Consider, for example, nanotechnology, in the specific sense of atomically precise molecular manufacturing systems as proposed by Eric Drexler in Engines of Creation (1986). Such systems do not exist as yet, but their desirability has been debated for years. Other examples: Using genomic engineering to create designer babies, or to resurrect extinct animals such as the passenger pigeon. Are these good ideas? Finally, there is Elon Musk’s recent plan to nuke the Martian polar ice caps in order to warm the planet: Project Plowshare all over again! Is that pathological or not?

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Ed!

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New Book about the Hindenburg: “Monsters” by Ed Regis

by Dan Grossman on September 13, 2015

A wonderful new book about the Hindenburg disaster has just been published.

Monsters: The Hindenburg Disaster and the Birth of Pathological Technology, is a reappraisal of the large rigid airship by science writer Ed Regis, who argues that the very concept of a hydrogen-inflated passenger airship was flawed from the beginning and an example of a “pathological technology.”

Monsters: The Hindenburg Disaster and the Birth of Pathological Technology, by Ed RegisThe book is one of the most readable accounts of airship history that has recently been published. Regis has a delightful turn of phrase on almost every page, and while many of his jibes are sardonic or sarcastic they are always well deserved and justified by the facts.

The author’s argument that airships were inherently flawed will be considered heretical by those who view Graf Zeppelin and Hindenburg solely in the warm light of nostalgia, but his thoughts are refreshingly realistic and he makes some excellent and well-grounded points.

Regis devotes almost 200 pages to a clear, readable, and accurate history of lighter-than-air flight. The book covers aircraft from Rozier to Schwarz to Zeppelin; describes the passenger zeppelins of DELAG and the DZR; and discusses the British and American experience with airships. And most notably, Regis includes a clear and readable account of Hindenburg’s final moments, the fate of the individuals onboard, and a discussion of the various investigations into the cause of the disaster.

For its discussion of airship history alone, the book is well worth buying.

And the book is interesting for the larger thesis advanced by Regis, whether one accepts it or not. Regis uses Hindenburg as an example of what he calls a “pathological technology” whose “obvious and sizable risks were ignored, discounted, minimized, and swept under the rug by the influence of what amounted to an overriding, all-consuming, and almost irresistible emotional infatuation.”

Regis attributes the development of zeppelins to a form of delirium: “The Hindenburg and other zeppelins were built and flown because the bigger these leviathans got the more they acquired a spellbinding, mesmerizing, hypnotizing, practically immobilizing sway over human minds and emotions.”

Regis has a good point, and one that may explain my own fascination with these beasts: I have often said there is something magical about an aircraft the size of the United States Capitol that floats weightless in the air, and perhaps that is the precise point Regis is making. But by attributing the world’s 37-year devotion to the airship solely to delirium, Regis neglects an important consideration: For much of those 37 years there was simply no alternative.

While it is possible that people subconsciously ignored the risks of the airship because they were blinded by a psychological phenomenon, it is equally possible that they considered and deliberately disregarded these risks because they had no choice; as dangerous as the technology was, it was the only way to fly. It was the airship or nothing.

Even the use of hydrogen itself may be explained by necessity rather than delirium. The danger of hydrogen was well known: As Regis himself points out, Henry Cavendish, the man who discovered hydrogen, was more interested in its explosive properties than its lifting ability. But for Count Zeppelin and others there was nothing else available. It was hydrogen or nothing.

And the hydrogen airship allowed man to achieve feats of aviation that were inconceivable with any other aircraft of the time. When the world’s first zeppelin, LZ-1, first flew on July 2, 1900, it carried a crew of men for 3-1/2 miles; the Wright brothers’ first flight was still three and a half years in the future, and when the Wright airplane did fly for the first time, on December 17, 1903, it managed only a 120 foot hop. The Wright Flyer’s longest flight of the day carried one man just 852 feet in a short 59 seconds. In 1908, the year the Wright brother’s airplane was made public, with a version able to carry a single passenger, the zeppelin L-4 made a 24-hour endurance flight, and between 1910 and 1914 DELAG’s commercial zeppelins carried thousands passengers on hundreds of flights without a single injury.

At all stages of the zeppelin’s brief history it was ahead of all other aircraft of its time. In 1919 the British R-34 crossed the Atlantic in both directions, and the German LZ-120 Bodensee was carrying 26 passengers in comfort on regularly scheduled flights between Southern Germany and Berlin.  In 1928 LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin was launched, and within a few years it began the world’s first intercontinental airline passenger service, carrying passengers between Europe and South America long before any passenger airplane could cross an ocean.

In other words, for most the period between 1900 and 1937 it was the airship or nothing, and it is not in the nature of human ambition – and certainly not in the nature of men like Zeppelin and Eckener and Rosendahl — to accept nothing.

We also cannot divine the motivation behind the hydrogen airship — Delirium or Pragmatism? – without remembering that people of the era were willing to accept a much different level of risk than we are today. In the 19th and early 20th centuries routine factory work and construction projects had injury and death rates that we can barely imagine, and the earliest ships, trains and airliners were also enormously dangerous but nevertheless embraced by the public.

Of course there is a difference; early trains and airliners were dangerous because they were embryonic — the first versions of a technology that could, and did, become safe – while Regis argues that large hydrogen airships could never become safe, and they certainly never did. But was that obvious to people at the time?

And there is one other thing we must remember with regard to airships of the 1930s: Helium was on the horizon. If airships had been inflated with helium, as many people predicted and desired, would they have been inevitably doomed, or merely inevitably obsolete?

There is also a larger question one might ask about the book’s main thesis: Has Regis has identified enough examples to justify a generalized concept of “pathological technology?”

Hindenburg is the best example Regis can find of a technology that was arguably “pathological,” and he seems to have difficulty summoning equally compelling examples to justify the need for an overarching theory. The only other examples he offers are Project Plowshare, the idea of engineering giant construction projects (such as artificial harbors and new canals) with nuclear bombs; the Superconducting Supercollider, a gigantic and never-built particle accelerator; and the “100 Year Starship,” a fanciful attempt to create a space vehicle to travel to the stars. But none of these projects ever got off the drawing board; none consumed significant resources or experienced actual failure, because none were ever tried; and none took a single human life. So one might ask, do these examples fit the author’s definition of a pathological technology, or did he craft his very specific definition to fit the examples he was able to summon?

But there is no doubt that Regis has put his finger on a significant reason for the public’s intense, enduring, and perhaps otherwise inexplicable devotion to the airship: their magical quality.

And perhaps that is a form of delirium after all.

Monsters: The Hindenburg Disaster and the Birth of Pathological Technology; a wonderful addition to any airship history library


Toto’s Zeppelin – Restaurant and Lounge

by Dan Grossman on September 9, 2015

Toto’s Zeppelin was a supper club designed like an airship, even copying the design and furniture of the passenger lounge on the Hindenburg.

Toto's Zeppelin Restaurant

Located between Holyoke and Northampton, Massachusetts, Toto’s offered a restaurant, cocktail lounge, and dance floor, and operated from 1935 until it was destroyed by fire in November, 1938.

totos zeppelin nightclub


This day in 1925: Loss of U.S.S. Shenandoah

September 3, 2015

On this day in 1925, the U.S.S. Shenandoah crashed in Ohio during a storm, destroyed by politics as much as the weather. Fourteen officers and sailors were killed in the disaster. A service commemorating the loss will be held this Sunday in Ava, Ohio.

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Today in 1930: First Flight of Soviet Airship “Komsomol’skaya Pravda”

August 29, 2015

A guest post by Alexey Belokrys. *********** On 29 August 1930, near Moscow, one of the earliest Soviet airships “Komsomol’skaya Pravda” (Комсомoльская прaвда) took off for her maiden flight. After a one-hour flight over Moscow she successfully landed. For the decade of the 1920s the Soviet state refrained from building airships. Neither the Red Army neither the […]

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Today in 1927 — U.S.S. Los Angeles does a “Handstand”

August 25, 2015

A guest post by Rick Zitarosa, Vice President and Historian of the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society. *********** 25 August 1927, Naval Air Station Lakehurst: One of the most famous moments of airship history as the USS LOS ANGELES did her fabled “head stand” on the “high mast.” Some background on this event. The big dirigible […]

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Today in 1921: Crash of Airship R-38 / ZR-2

August 24, 2015

On this day in 1921, the British-built airship R-38 — intended for U.S. Navy service as ZR-2 — broke up in the air near Hull and crashed into the waters of the Humber estuary where its hydrogen ignited, killing all but five of the 49 men aboard.  

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Happy Birthday, Ferdinand von Zeppelin: July 8, 1838

July 8, 2015

Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin was born on this day in 1838.  

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Happy July 4, America

July 4, 2015
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Happy Birthday, Zeppelins! 115 Years of Zeppelin Airships

July 2, 2015

The world’s first zeppelin flew for the first time 115 years ago today, on July 2, 1900. Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin completed his first airship, LZ-1, in the winter of 1899 but decided to wait until the summer of 1900 before attempting to fly his new invention. The ship was inflated with hydrogen in June and made its […]

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Happy Canada Day

July 1, 2015

R.100 in Canada, 1930.

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Newsreels of U.S.S. Akron (ZRS-4) from British Pathé

June 16, 2015

The people at British Pathé kindly send us a DM on Twitter (@Airships) about airship newsreels they have posted. We will be sharing them periodically on the blog. Today’s selection are two films of the U.S. Navy airship ZRS-4 Akron, showing her operation as an airborne aircraft carrier and her tragic crash.

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Airship Exhibit at New Museum in California

June 4, 2015

The New Museum Los Gatos is hosting an exhibition about airships. Giants in the Sky | The Rise and Fall of Airships will be a multimedia, interactive exposition including contemporary artwork, vintage photographs, artifacts, memorabilia, and video. The museum is located in Silicon Valley near San Jose and Moffett Field, home to the American naval […]

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Upcoming Changes to Goodyear Airship Fleet

June 2, 2015

An article by Jim Mackinnon (@JimMackinnonABJ) of the Akron Beacon Journal about changes to the Goodyear airship fleet: Two Goodyear airships now in Akron area; California blimp to be retired in August Thanks for keeping us up to date, Jim!

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A Visit to the Zeppelin Mast in Recife, Brazil

May 24, 2015

Last month I visited the world’s last remaining zeppelin mast, the Torre do Zeppelin in Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil. History of the Recife Zeppelin Field The landing field in Recife was the first zeppelin base in South America. Passenger and mail service to South America was an early dream of Hugo Eckener, who realized it was one of […]

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Hindenburg Disaster Anniversary – May 6, 1937

May 6, 2015

Every year on the sad anniversary of the loss of the airship Hindenburg I drink several toasts. To the memory of the airship in better times… To the memory of the man who made it all possible… And in memory of those who lost their lives.

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Easter Greetings from

April 5, 2015
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Anniversary of U.S.S. Akron crash – April 4, 1933

April 4, 2015

On this day in 1933, the U.S. Navy dirigible ZRS-4 Akron crashed in a storm off the coast of New Jersey, killing 73 of the 76 men aboard the airship.

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