Anniversary of the Hindenburg “Millionaires Flight”

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.

Nelson Rockefeller in Navigation Room of Hindenburg

Nelson Rockefeller in Navigation Room of Hindenburg

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.

Juan Trippe on Hindenburg, 1936

Juan Trippe on Hindenburg flight to Rio de Janeiro, 1936 (photo Elizabeth Trippe, courtesy

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.

Each passenger was given a souvenir duralumin ashtray with a glass model of the airship filled with Esso diesel fuel

Each passenger was given a souvenir ashtray with a glass model of the airship filled with Esso diesel fuel

The Flight

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.

Hindenburg Menu from Millionaires Flight

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, 1950s

Winthrop W. Aldrich, 1950s

Winthrop W. Aldrich
Chairman of the Chase National Bank

Sherman Altick
Aviation Editor

J. W. Bancker

William J. Baxter
Baxter International Economic Research Bureau

R. H. Blake

Lt. Gen. Friedrich von Boetticher
German Military Attaché to United States (“Hitler’s Ambivalent Attaché”)

Harlee Branch
Chairman of U.S. Civil Aeronautics Board; City Editor and Washington correspondent for The Atlanta Journal

William J. Brewster

Ray Brock

Harry A. Bruno
Aviation Public Relations Executive

Juan Trippe of Pan American Airways

Juan Trippe of Pan American Airways

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 Générale Transatlantique)

Harry L. Derby
President, American Cyanamid and Chemical Corporation

Jack Frye of TWA around the time of the Millionaires Flight

Jack Frye of TWA around the time of the Millionaires Flight

Robert Dorman

Frank Durand
President of New Jersey Senate

Byron C. Foy
President of De Soto Motors and son-in-law of Walter Chrysler

Frederick H. Frazier

Jack Frye
President, TWA

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

Garland Fulton Hindenbug Ticket

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

J.L. Hughes

Thomas 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

Juan and Betty Trippe disembarking Hindenburg

Juan and Betty Trippe disembarking Hindenburg after a flight from Frankfurt to Rio de Janeiro, 1936 (photo Elizabeth Trippe, courtesy

John E. Lamiell
Director of the International Service, United States Post Office

Roman Lapica
United Press Staff Correspondent

Arthur Levy

Thomas Lewis

Karl Lindemann
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

Hans Luther
German ambassador to the United States; Former chancellor and President of Germany and President of the Reichsbank

Paul MacKall
Bethlehem Steel Executive

Lucius B. Manning
President, Cord Automobile Corporation

Thomas McCarter
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)

Joachim Meyer

R. Walton Moore
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State

A. L. Murphy

Ed Neil

Pat O’Brien

Rear Admiral William S. Pye
United States Navy

W. M. Rapsher
United States Customs Service

Eddie Rickenbacker in his Eastern Air Lines office (Auburn University Library)

Eddie Rickenbacker in his Eastern Air Lines office (Auburn University Library)

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.

Nelson Rockefeller
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

John Schroeder

Edward L. Shea
Executive Vice President, Tidewater Associated Oil Co.

Richard Southgate
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)

Gene Vidal

Gene Vidal

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.

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David MoyerPatrick Russell Recent comment authors
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David Moyer
David Moyer

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 »

Patrick Russell

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 »