Hindenburg Millionaires Flight

The “Millionaires Flight” of the Hindenburg was a 10-1/2 hour cruise over the fall foliage of New England on October 9, 1936, to which 72 wealthy or influential passengers had been invited as a way of generating support for a German-American transatlantic zeppelin service.

Nelson Rockefeller in Navigation Room of Hindenburg

Nelson Rockefeller in Navigation Room of Hindenburg

The flight was jointly organized by the Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei (DZR) and Standard Oil of New Jersey (Esso), which supplied hydrogen and diesel fuel to the Hindenburg, and each passenger was given a souvenir duralumin ashtray with a glass model of the airship filled with Esso diesel fuel.

The passengers were entertained by Captain Hugo Eckener and the DZR’s American representative, F. W. “Willy” von Meister, and NBC radio reporter John B. Kennedy did an airborne broadcast over the NBC Blue network.

Souvenir Ashtray

Souvenir Ashtray

The flight took place before Hindenburg’s evening departure on its last transatlantic crossing of the 1936 season. Passengers boarded a specially chartered Pullman train at New York’s Pennsylvania Station the evening before the flight and settled into sleeping compartments. During the night the train traveled to the air station at Lakehurst, to a railroad siding a few hundred feet from the mooring mast, and early the next morning the passengers were awakened and taken to the airship.

Hindenburg left Lakehurst at approximately 6:00 AM and flew to New England.  The ship circled over Boston around noon while the VIP guests enjoyed a midday meal of Swallow Nest Soup, cold Rhine salmon, tenderloin steak, Chateau Potatoes, Beans a la Princesse, Carmen salad, and iced melon, accompanied by beer and wines including a 1934 Piesporter Goldtröpfchen and a 1928 Feist Brut.  The meal was followed by Turkish coffee, pastries, and fine liqueurs.

Gene Vidal

Gene Vidal

After lunch the airship turned south and passed over New York City at around 3:00 PM, and finally headed back to Lakehurst. Despite a heavy ground fog (which caused the cancellation of the passengers’ American Airlines DC-3 flights from Lakehurst back to New York), Hindenburg landed without difficulty, and then departed as scheduled a few hours later on its transatlantic flight to Germany.

Passengers on the “Millionaires Flight” were leaders in the fields of finance and industry, and included Winthrop W. Aldrich (Chairman of the Chase National Bank), and his nephew Nelson Rockefeller (grandson of Standard Oil industrialist John D. Rockefeller; many years later Rockefeller would become Governor of New York and Vice President of the United States),Thomas McCarter (former New Jersey Attorney General and founder of the Public Service Corporation of New Jersey, one of America’s largest utility companies), Karl Lindemann (a director of the Hamburg-Amerika Line and an officer of Standard Oil), Hans Luther (German ambassador to the United States, and former chancellor and president of Germany and president of the Reichsbank), Lucius B. Manning (president of Cord automobile corporation), Byron C. Foy (president of De Soto Motors, and son-in-law of Walter Chrysler), and Paul W. Litchfeld (president of Goodyear Tire & Rubber, and the leading force behind American commercial airship endeavors).

Juan Trippe of Pan American Airways

Juan Trippe of Pan American Airways

Other passengers included leaders in aviation, government, and the military, including Juan T. Trippe (head of Pan American Airways), Jack Frye (president of TWA), Eddie Rickenbacker (famous aviator and WWI fighter ace and General Manager of Eastern Air Lines), Frank Durand (president of the New Jersey Senate), Eugene L. Vidal (Director of Aeronautics of the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the same Gene Vidal who was a close personal friend of Amelia Earhart), Admiral William H. Standley (Chief of Naval Operations of the United States Navy), Rear Admiral Arthur B. Cook (Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics for the United States Navy), Rear Admiral William S. Pye, and American naval airship officers Charles E. Rosendahl, Garland Fulton, and George F. Watson.

Henry Ford, Walter P. Chrysler, Alfred P. Sloan Jr., and Walter C. Teagle were among those who were invited but did not join the flight.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Neil Hemstad July 29, 2013 at 8:46 pm

Do you think in the end it was foolish of Dr. Eckener to have invited the heads of the heavier than air rivals to the flight?If you look at the end result I would rather think that they would have thought of zeppelins as threats to their future plans for trans atlantic air travel and given the chance they would have done what they could have done to hinder the zeppelin service. Harold Dicks in his book about the Graf Zeppelin and Hindenburg even points out his suspicions that Imperal Air of Britain helped blocked the sale of Helium to Germany after the Hindenburg crash.

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Karl Sharicz March 24, 2013 at 6:33 pm

A large photo of the Hindenburg during this flight flying over Quincy Massachusetts hangs on the dining room wall of Alba Restaurant in downtown Quincy.

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Warren Chernick October 20, 2012 at 7:40 pm

I remember the Hindenberg passing over Providence, RI in 1936. Would this have been the flight I saw?

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crawford lincoln October 9, 2012 at 9:44 am

We were at recess on the playground outside our fourth grade classroom at Converse St. school in Longmeadow, MA when this wonderful apparition of a huge whale floated noiselessly above our heads moving toward Springfield. It was 76 years ago today when almost the entire fourth grade left the playground and followed the Hindenberg “Millionaires’ Flight” all the way to King Philip’s stockade, a public park overlooking the Connecticut river. Then someone remembered that our teacher, Miss Connell, had told us never to leave the playground during recess and we ran back to school as fast as we could.

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George October 12, 2011 at 8:27 am

This George F. Watson later appeared in a documentary about the Hindenburg that is listed on imdb.

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MacTavish14 September 18, 2011 at 3:32 pm

The souvenirs for this trip are made out of aluminum, not duralumin, which is a different alloy altogether. The alloy used for the ashtray is 99% aluminum and only 1% impurities, while duralumin is around 94% aluminum. The company which made these souvenirs, Wendell August, still has one in its possession.

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s.blondal March 24, 2011 at 11:37 am

I have the passenger list 7. flight 17.8.1936 and i can see that Jack F Chrysler was also on board, as one of the 58 passenger. He and others signed there autograph in my Hindenburg folder, the folder contained the passenger list and information about Hindenburg, -every passenger got this folder when traveling with Hindenburg. It would be interesting to konw who the others on the list where.

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Beer Stein September 1, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Thanks to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, people actually got to see a Zeppellin in action.

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