This is not Hindenburg — It’s U.S.S. Macon

The gadget blog Gizmodo recently published a wonderful photograph of an airship under construction, asking:  “Ever wondered how a beast like the Hindenburg zeppelin””a gigantic 803 feet in length and 130 feet in diameter structure””was built in the 1930s? Here’s the answer: With the biggest ladders you can possibly imagine.”


The image of workmen on these absurdly long ladders is so cool that the post has been widely circulated, but while the Gizmodo post correctly said “like the Hindenburg,” the image has been mislabeled in numerous Tweets and blogs as a photo of Hindenburg itself.

This airship is not the German zeppelin Hindenburg, however, but the American Navy airship USS Macon (ZRS-5), under construction by the Goodyear-Zeppelin company in Akron, Ohio.

USS Macon under construction

USS Macon under construction

The long ladders which make the photo so notable were typical of Goodyear’s construction technique, as seen in this postcard of Macon’s sister ship, USS Akron:


The framework of sister ships ZRS-4 Akron and ZRS-5 Macon were nearly identical, and it can be difficult to tell one ship from another in photographs of the construction process, but the similarity between the Gizmodo photograph and another known photograph of USS Macon confirm that the Gizmodo photo is USS Macon; even the ladders and scaffolding are in the same position:

USS Macon Under Construction

USS Macon Under Construction

Some Historical Detective Work

For those who enjoy historical detective work, even without the Macon photo for comparison, a number of clues indicate that the photograph on the Gizmodo blog depicts an American airship of the Akron/Macon class rather than the German zeppelin Hindenburg.

The Deep Rings

The framework in the Gizmodo photograph identifies the ship as either Akron or Macon, which were distinctive for their “Deep Ring” construction.  These deep rings can be seen in both the Goodyear-Zeppelin photo below (right) and the photo on the Gizmodo blog, and they differed significantly from the braced single-girder main rings used by German zeppelins like the Hindenburg (below left):

Design of main rings of Hindenburg (left) and Akron/Macon (right)

Design of main rings of Hindenburg (left) and Akron/Macon (right)

The Lack of a Cruciform Tail

The framework in the Gizmodo photograph also lacks the distinctive cruciform tail structure found in German zeppelins like the Hindenburg, in which the horizontal and vertical fins were connected with girders passing through the hull in an + shape for additional strength (see diagram, below right):

Cruciform tail of Hindenburg (left) vs. Akron/Macon (right)

The Goodyear Airdock

The hangar in which the ship is being built also identifies the ship as USS Akron or USS Macon, since it is the famous Goodyear Airdock in Akron, Ohio.  The Airdock can be identified by the row of rectangular windows, the design of the ceiling, and the curved, distinctive “orange peel” doors for which the building was known:

USS Macon under construction

USS Macon under construction


Interior of the Goodyear Airdock


The Goodyear-Zeppelin Airdock


The Goodyear-Zeppelin Airdock

Some Extra Information From Rick Zitarosa

But for a final bit of advanced detective work and additional information, I turned to my friend Rick Zitarosa, the historian of the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society and one of the most knowledgeable students of American naval airships.

Rick pointed out that according to the state of completion of the framework, the Gizmodo photo would have been taken about seven months before the Macon’s first flight (on April 21, 1933), which dates the photograph sometime in the fall of 1932.

Rick’s eagle eye also noticed that the factory crew appears to be working without coats or jackets, which he mentioned as further evidence that the photo is the Macon and not the Akron; seven months before the Akron’s first flight (on September 25, 1931) would have placed the photograph in the winter of 1930, and there would have been a cold winter chill in the giant unheated Airdock. And as a final piece of historical information, Rick pointed out that the fabric covering of ZRS-4 Akron was applied from bow to stern, while the covering of ZRS-5 Macon was applied from stern to bow, as seen in the photograph above.

And a Note of Thanks to Gizmodo

Finally, a note of thanks to Jesus Diaz and the folks at Gizmodo for keeping interest alive in these great airships of the past.

Leave a Reply

5 Comment threads
1 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
5 Comment authors
Barb MillerJoe Bloggsanother Zeppelin EnthusiastDan ( Borrego Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Barb Miller
Barb Miller

I work at an art gallery. A client brought in a large poster of the first depiction on this site of the blimp being constructed. She bought it at an antique shop. Numerous other customers would love to have this poster. Is it available for sale anywhere that you know… Read more »

Joe Bloggs

Hi folks, Interesting pictures at how very complex the internal structure of the old Zeppelins was. I wonder how many manhours it took to do all the riveting. If you want to see some more airship pictures take a look at my 2 new websites, the first is for… Read more »

another Zeppelin Enthusiast
another Zeppelin Enthusiast

Thank you. And a very nice web site you have here too. I have followed this interesting subject since I was a little kid, and my great-uncle gave me Lehmann’s book for my ninth birthday. Right now I live near Niederstetten, Germany, the birthplace and longtime residence of Albert Sammt,… Read more »

another Zeppelin Enthusiast
another Zeppelin Enthusiast

Dear John, I happen to have an original example of Captain Ernst Lehmann’s book “Auf Luftpatrouille und Weltfahrt” from 1937. It includes several photographs of the “Hindenburg” abuilding, and yes, they did use such long ladders. As far as I’m informed, the rings of the frame were assembled on the… Read more »

Dan (

The Luftschiffbau Zeppelin (the Zeppelin Construction Company, or “LZ”) did use long ladders for certain task, especially for tasks involving the fabric covering as shown Lehmann’s book; I also have a photo of workers on those ladders painting the Olympic Rings on Hindenburg’s side. In general, however, and especially during… Read more »

John Borrego
John Borrego

Very interesting. You point out that the enormously tall ladders were used at Goodyear-Zeppelin. Was this different from the construction techniques used by the German Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH? Did they use scaffolding of some kind? It is hard to imagine how the construction workers managed to put together these enormous… Read more »