The Hindenburg’s Aluminum Piano

by Dan Grossman on June 5, 2010

The Hindenburg's Piano (click all photos to enlarge).  Photo courtesy Julius Blüthner Pianofortefabrik.

The Hindenburg’s Piano (click all photos to enlarge). Photo courtesy Julius Blüthner Pianofortefabrik.

The Hindenburg featured the first piano ever to be carried on a passenger aircraft.

To meet the strict weight limits of a lighter-than-air dirigible, the Zeppelin company commissioned the renowned piano making firm of Julius Blüthner to create a lightweight aluminum alloy piano, and the Julius Blüthner Pianofortefabrik created a small grand piano that weighed only 162 kg (356 lbs).  The frame, rim, fallboard, and top lid were made of duralumin, and the legs, back bracing, and lyre were made of hollow duralumin tubing.

Associated Press reporter Louis P. Lochner, who was a passenger on Hindenburg’s maiden voyage to the United States, commented that the piano had a “particularly large and full tone” despite its aluminum construction.

Franz Wagner at Hindenburg's Piano, with Dr. Rudolf Blüthner-Haessler to his left in the corner, and Captain Ernst Lehmann to his right.

Franz Wagner at Hindenburg’s Piano, with Dr. Rudolf Blüthner-Haessler to his left in the corner, and Captain Ernst Lehmann to his right. Photo courtesy Julius Blüthner Pianofortefabrik.

The external appearance of the piano was designed by architect Fritz August Breuhaus, who was responsible for Hindenburg’s interior design and decoration. The piano was covered with pale pigskin, which was not only lightweight but also gave the piano a warm appearance that matched the tonal qualities of the instrument.

Lounge of the Hindenburg, as completed (left) and under construction.  Zeppelin chief designer Ludwig Dürr standing at right of photo, with Professor Franz Wagner at the piano and Captain Ernst Lehmann to Wagner's right

Lounge of the Hindenburg (left).  Lounge under construction (right); Zeppelin chief designer Ludwig Dürr standing, at right of photo, Professor Franz Wagner at the piano, Captain Ernst Lehmann to Wagner’s right

The piano was located in Hindenburg’s Lounge on A Deck, where it was frequently played by passengers and the ship’s musical captain, Ernst Lehmann, who had earlier entertained passengers on the Graf Zeppelin with his accordion.

NBC Radio broadcaster Max Jordan, with Franz Wagner at the piano

NBC Radio broadcaster Max Jordan, with Franz Wagner at the piano.  Photo courtesy Julius Blüthner Pianofortefabrik.

The Blüthner piano was a prominent feature of the Hindenburg’s first flight to America, during which Dresden pianist Professor Franz Wagner gave several concerts for the passengers, playing classical music by Chopin, Liszt, Beethoven, and Brahms as well as popular music.

Also on the flight was Dr. Rudolf Blüthner-Haessler, of the Blüthner piano company, who was traveling to America with his company’s latest creation.

As the Hindenburg approached the coast of North America on the last night of the voyage, NBC radio reporter Max Jordan directed a live broadcast during which Professor Wagner played Schubert’s Serenade and Strauss’s Blue Danube, and accompanied Lady Suzanne Wilkins who sang “I’m in the Mood for Love.”

The piano also played a large role in the 1975 film “The Hindenburg” by director Robert Wise, which featured a satirical political concert by passenger Joseph Spah (played by Robert Clary) and a fictional character called Reed Channing (played by Peter Donat).

"The Hindenburg" (1975)

“The Hindenburg” (1975)

The concert was pure poetic license, and the piano was not even aboard the Hindenburg on the ship’s final flight.  The piano was removed before the beginning of the 1937 season and taken to the Blüthner factory, where it was placed on display.  The piano was destroyed in 1943 when the factory burned following an air raid during the Second Word War.

UPDATE April 1, 2013:  I posted a short film in which you can hear the sound of the Hindenburg’s piano.

The author would like to express his deep appreciation to the Julius Blüthner Pianofortefabrik, and in particular to Ms. Carolin Voigt, for their assistance with this article.

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