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.
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.
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.
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).
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.