People often compare R.M.S. Titanic and A.S. Hindenburg; there was even a film called Hindenburg: Titanic of the Skies. But while both are best remembered for their dramatic disasters, these two passenger ships otherwise had little in common.
On the anniversary of the sinking of Titanic — April 14-15, 1912 — a brief comparison of the two ships.
- Titanic: Sank on Maiden Voyage
- Hindenburg: 62 Successful Flights
Titanic famously sank on her maiden voyage; the ship never once saw the port she was designed to visit, New York.
There is a common misconception that Hindenburg crashed on its maiden voyage as well, but in fact the airship was lost on its 63rd flight, having made many successful voyages between Europe and North and South America.
- Titanic Death Toll: 68% Died
- Hindenburg Death Toll: 64% Survived
Titanic was a tragedy both in terms of the number of people who died — 1517 men, women, and children perished in the sinking — and also the tragically low rate of survival: Only 32% of the souls on board Titanic survived, and the death toll was even higher for certain groups; only 25% of third class passengers and 24% of the crew survived the sinking.
While Hindenburg’s fiery destruction may have looked unsurvivable to those on the ground, and to people watching films of the disaster, 64% of the passengers and crew survived the accident. Of the 97 persons on board the airship when it burned, only 35 died in the disaster (along with one civilian on the ground).
- Titanic: Built for Luxury – Not Speed
- Hindenburg: Built for Speed – Not Luxury
Titanic was built for size and luxury. The White Star ship was never going to win any speed records, but provided passengers with space and luxury never before seen on any ocean liner. Passengers looking for speed in 1912 would have chosen Mauretania or Lusitania rather than Titanic.
Hindenburg was built for one purpose: to cross the ocean faster than any other passenger vessel in the world. The airship’s passenger accommodations were certainly comfortable, and astounding when compared to a modern jetliner, but not luxurious when compared to an ocean liner; the ship’s windowless cabins were about the size of a small railway compartment and passengers shared public bathrooms one deck below. Passengers looking for luxury would have chosen Queen Mary, but Hindenburg was more than twice as fast: While the fastest ocean liners of the era took about five days to cross the Atlantic, Hindenburg’s fastest crossing took less than 43 hours.
- Titanic: Conservative Design
- Hindenburg: Cutting Edge Innovation
Titanic was not a technologically innovative ship; she was basically a larger version of ships that had gone before. Titanic’s main power plant was a tried-and-true triple-expansion reciprocating steam engine (although she had a small turbine powering her center propeller) and most of the ship’s notable features and systems — such as her watertight subdivisions and Marconi radio installation — had been used on previous liners.
Hindenburg, in contrast, represented the cutting edge of airship technology, and was one of the most capable aircraft of any kind in its time. Hindenburg had advanced engines, an auto-pilot, and a sonar altimeter among other innovations, and the zeppelin could carry a greater payload a farther distance than any other aircraft of its day. Though the technology of the airship itself was rapidly becoming obsolete, Hindenburg was the summit of airship development.
- Titanic: The Beginning of a Golden Age
- Hindenburg: The End of an Era
Titanic was the beginning of a golden age of transatlantic ocean liners. Titanic’s sister ship Olympic had a distinguished career that lasted until 1935, and the next decades saw a succession of larger and faster ships that included Bremen and Europa, Normandie, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, United States, Queen Elizabeth 2, and France.
Hindenburg was the last airship ever to carry passengers across an ocean. Hindenburg’s near-identical sister ship LZ-130 Graf Zeppelin never carried a paying passenger and was dismantled in 1940.