golThe “Millionaires Flight” of the Hindenburg was a 10-1/2 hour cruise over New England on October 9, 1936, for 72 wealthy and influential passengers. The guests were invited to generate support for a German-American zeppelin service and it was said the passengers had a combined net worth of more than one billion dollars, from which the flight got its nickname.
Passengers on the “Millionaires Flight” were leaders in the fields of finance, industry, government, and aviation. The guests included powerful financiers such as Winthrop W. Aldrich and Nelson Rockefeller; U.S. and German government officials and naval officers; and leaders in the aviation industry including Eddie Rickenbacker of Eastern Airlines, Jack Frye of TWA, Eugene Vidal, and perhaps most importantly, Juan Trippe of Pan American Airways.
Juan Trippe had been a director of the Pacific Zeppelin Transport Company, founded in 1929 to operate a never-realized 36-hour zeppelin service between California and Hawaii. Airships appeared to pose direct competition to the flying boat airliners Pan Am wanted as operate across the Atlantic, and in fact shortly after the Millionaires Flight, Trippe and his wife Betty embarked on a round-the-world voyage by air that included a flight on Hindenburg from Frankfurt to Rio de Janeiro. Trippe was invited on the Millionaires Flight to stimulate his interest in investing in a zeppelin venture but, firmly invested in Pan Am’s clipper flying boats, he likely accepted the invitation to check out the competition.
The flight was jointly organized by the Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei (DZR) and Standard Oil of New Jersey (Esso), which supplied diesel fuel and hydrogen to the Hindenburg, and the passengers were hosted during the flight by Hugo Eckener, Ernst Lehman, and DZR’s American representative, F. W. “Willy” von Meister. NBC radio reporter John B. Kennedy did live airborne broadcasts from the ship over the NBC Blue and Red networks in the afternoon.
The flight was a leisurely day-long cruise over the fall foliage of New England.
Passengers boarded a specially chartered Pullman train at New York’s Pennsylvania Station on the evening of October 8, 1936, and settled into sleeping compartments. The train traveled to Lakehurst overnight and parked at a railroad siding a few hundred feet from the mooring mast, and at 5:00 AM the passengers were awakened for breakfast and then taken to the airship.
Hindenburg left Lakehurst at 6:57 AM and flew up the Hudson River to New England, passing over Hartford, Springfield, and Worcester, and reaching Boston around Noon.
The ship circled over Boston 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, and followed by Turkish coffee, pastries, and fine liqueurs.
After lunch the airship turned south and passed Providence, New London, and New Haven before reaching New York City at around 3:00 PM, and finally headed back to Lakehurst.
Despite a heavy fog (which grounded the American Airlines DC-3’s taking passengers back to New York from Lakehurst), Hindenburg landed without difficulty at 5:22 PM and then departed for Germany as scheduled on its last transatlantic crossing of the 1936 season.
Complete Passenger List
Winthrop W. Aldrich
Chairman of the Chase National Bank
J. W. Bancker
William J. Baxter
Baxter International Economic Research Bureau
R. H. Blake
Lt. Gen. Friedrich von Boetticher
German Military AttachÃ© to United States (“Hitler’s Ambivalent AttachÃ©”)
Chairman of U.S. Civil Aeronautics Board; City Editor and Washington correspondent for The Atlanta Journal
William J. Brewster
Harry A. Bruno
Aviation Public Relations Executive
William A. M. Burden
Wall Street aviation analyst; great-great-grandson of railroad baron Cornelius Vanderbilt
Reginald M. Cleveland
Aviation Reporter; New York Times, Scientific American
Colonel J. C. Cone
Director of Air Regulations, Aeronautics Bureau, U.S. Department of Commerce
Rear Admiral Arthur B. Cook
Chief of Bureau of Aeronautics, United States Navy
William F. Cutler
H. Morin de Linclays
U.S. General Manager of the French Line (Compagnie GÃ©nÃ©rale Transatlantique)
Harry L. Derby
President, American Cyanamid and Chemical Corporation
President of New Jersey Senate
Byron C. Foy
President of De Soto Motors and son-in-law of Walter Chrysler
Frederick H. Frazier
Alvin T. Fuller
Former Governor of Massachusetts (perhaps best known for his refusal to pardon Sacco and Vanzetti); Wealthy automobile dealer and art collector
Commander Garland Fulton
U.S. Navy airship officer
Robert L. Hague
Vice President, Standard Oil of New Jersey
John Augustine Hartford
Chief Executive, Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P)
John D. Hertz
Founder of Yellow Cab Company; Partner in Lehman Brothers investment bank; Transportation investor
H. E. Hildebrand
H. L. Hughes
Harry P. Kelliher
John B. Kennedy
Reporter, National Broadcasting Company
James L. Kilgallen
Famed Report with Hearst’s International News Service; Father of reporter Dorothy Kilgallen who made a round-the-world flight by air, including a leg on Hindenburg
Robert D. King
John E. Lamiell
Director of the International Service, United States Post Office
United Press Staff Correspondent
Director of the Hamburg-Amerika Line and an officer of Standard Oil
Paul W. Litchfield
President of Goodyear Tire & Rubber, and the leading force behind American commercial airship endeavors
German ambassador to the United States; Former chancellor and President of Germany and President of the Reichsbank
Bethlehem Steel Executive
Lucius B. Manning
President, Cord Automobile Corporation
Former New Jersey Attorney General and founder of the Public Service Corporation of New Jersey, one of America’s largest utility companies
Edward O. McDonnell
Director of Pan American Airways; Banker with Grayson M.P. Murphy (an investor in the Pacific Zeppelin Transport Co., of which McDonnell was a director)
R. Walton Moore
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State
A. L. Murphy
Rear Admiral William S. Pye
United States Navy
W. M. Rapsher
United States Customs Service
Captain Eddie Rickenbacker
Famed aviator, WWI fighter ace, and General Manager of Eastern Air Lines
Joseph P. Ripley
Vice President, National City Bank; Investor in Pan American Airways, NYRBA, and United Aircraft; Director of Pacific Zeppelin Transport Co.
Chase National Bank; Grandson of Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller; future Governor of New York and Vice President of the United States
Commander Charles E. Rosendahl
Senior U.S. Navy airship commander
John F. Royal
Senior Executive, National Broadcasting Company
E. J. Sadler
Vice President, Standard Oil of New Jersey
Abel Alan (“Abe”) Schechter
News Director, National Broadcasting Company
Dr. D. A. Schmitz
Edward L. Shea
Executive Vice President, Tidewater Associated Oil Co.
Chief of Protocol, U.S. Department of State
(One of Southgate’s predecessors as Chief of Protocol was Ferdinand Lammot Belin Sr., whose son (“Peter” Belin) survived the Hindenburg disaster)
Admiral William H. Standley
Chief of Naval Operations, United States Navy
Juan T. Trippe
Head of Pan American Airways; Director of Pacific Zeppelin Transport Co.
Eugene L. Vidal
Director of Aeronautics of the U.S. Department of Commerce; a close personal friend of Amelia Earhart
Lieutenant George F. Watson
U.S. Navy airship officer
M. G. B. Whelpley
Vice President, Chase Securities; President, American Express Bank & Trust; Former V.P. of Chase National Bank
Vice Admiral Robert Witthoeft-Emden
German Naval Attaché
H. C. Woodall
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.
I would like to express my appreciation to Patrick Russell and John Provan, and Doug Miller of the Pan Am Historical Foundation, for their assistance with this post.
The lack of American investment in commercial airship development has always struck me as one of the great mysteries of the whole rigid airship story. Certainly Germany had the history, and Britain’s empire naturally gave rise to the Burney Scheme, but why didn’t the roaring 20s produce a US passenger… Read more »
Dan, this is an excellent article! Well done, indeed. What’s always been striking to me about the Millionaires’ Flight is not just that the collective net worth of the passengers exceeded a billion dollars (which, of course, meant considerably more in 1936 than it would today!) but also the fact… Read more »