Hindenburg disaster newsreel footage

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Universal Newsreel of the Hindenburg Disaster

Hindenburg Disaster Newsreel Footage[1] refers to the footage filmed by several newsreel companies of the Hindenburg disaster where the zeppelin Hindenburg crashed and burned on May 6, 1937.

The film is frequently played with narration by Herbert Morrison, who was there to watch the zeppelin's arrival in the United States. Morrison was a 31-year-old Chicago radio reporter, and his commentary was recorded, and not broadcast until later. It has since been combined with the separately filmed newsreel footage. To modern eyes it may appear to have been a live broadcast with pictures and sound, but it was not. Most of the original newsreels have their own narration, and many composite edits have been made for documentaries.

One common composite found on the internet is a silent film with Pathe footage of the first 1936 landing at Lakehurst and Hearst News of the Day Newsreel footage of the disaster, called a "Pathegram" by Eugene Castle of Castle Films. Another edit popularized on video-sharing sites like YouTube uses footage of the Disaster from Paramount and Movietone Newsreel with Herb Morrison's recording. The Pathe and Universal Newsreels are freely available from government archives.

Four newsreel teams were in attendance at the time of the disaster. They were positioned close to each other and adjacent to the mooring mast for the airship. As a result, the newsreels do not show the mooring mast for the airship to be moored (other mooring masts appear in the background in many of the reels), unlike many of the press photographs which were taken further away and show the mast. None of the newsreel captured the initial signs of disaster as most cameras were focused on the ground crew at the start of the fire. At least one film taken by a spectator is known to exist, showing a side view of the stern on fire and the tail crashing to the ground.

In 1997, the original reels were selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

The Newsreels[edit]

There are four known newsreels of the fire, released by Pathé News, Paramount News, Movietone News, and Universal Newsreel. A fifth reel is of unknown origin. There is an additional known amateur footage of the fire, filmed from the spectator area, giving a side-rear view of the disaster. This footage was not broadcast until May 2014 by NBC.


Cameraman William Deeke filmed the landing as seen in this reel, using a C.E. Akeley Pancake Camera. The footage shows the Hindenburg making a sharp turn while dropping ballast three times before skidding to port and dropping her lines. Deeke had focused the camera on the ground crew before he stopped filming, but when the ship exploded, his camera was already in focus on the airship. However, when he started to film as the fire started, the camera malfunctioned and it became necessary to set up a hand crank, which he only started to use when ship's tail was on the ground and the side collapsed inward. As a result the Pathe reel is actually the shortest in showing the fire sequence. The footage also suffers from slight camera shake. The newsreel was edited to show the ground crew shot prior to the fire with an explosion sound effect, as if, the ship was exploding while the camera was focused to the ground. Two distinct still frames flash between the ground crew scene and the footage of the fire; these appear to be from footage taken earlier of the ship's landing approach which was edited out of the final reel.[2]

In the early 1990s, some of the footage was colorized and released as part of the series "Greatest Headlines of the Century".

Fox Movietone[edit]

Filmed by Al Gold, the Movietone News camera aimed at the ground crew when the fire broke out. It only started to roll again as the tail touched the ground. Soundman Addison Tice was present as well, and recorded some of the audio of the disaster. Although the explosion sound in the newsreel was simulated, the actual recorded audio can be heard, including someone saying "you're alright now Al!".

Universal/Hearst News of the Day[edit]

The Universal cameraman stationed at the air field left early due to the bad weather and went to see a Broadway play. However, James J. Seeley filmed the disaster for Hearst's News of the Day and Universal used his footage of the fire for their report. Universal did, however, film some aerial shots of the airship over New York which was later mixed with some aerial shots the Hearst crew had filmed. One scene, of passengers looking out of the windows, was taken from Universal's 1936 newsreel of one of the Hindenburg's previous transatlantic crossings.

This newsreel filmed the most of the fire out of the known footage. Aimed at the ground crew, the ship explodes and in five seconds (the time it took for the stern to be consumed by the fire) the camera pans upward filming the fire as the tail drops down and the nose burns like a blowtorch. It does not show what is happening below the burning airship as it crashes as the camera focuses more on the fire itself until the bow nears the ground.[3]

The Hearst News of the Day Newsreel is much rarer than the Universal reel.[4] A high quality government archive copy of the Universal version also appeared online (which also includes the Universal Newsreel the wreckage a few days after, and the Pathe newsreel). Compared to the Universal edit, the Hearst newsreel has some different shots of the airship over New York and also shows footage of passengers inside the ship from 1936. The same narration is used in the Gaumont British News report which uses footage from both Universal/Hearst and Movietone. Another redub of the newsreel is the "Victoria Record".


Starting slightly after the Universal reel, this reel was filmed by Tommy Cravens using an Eyemo, which gave a telephoto view. It shows a close-up view of the fire and people running away from the airship. This footage also shows the erasing of the ship's name as it crashes to the ground.


This footage has been shown in numerous documentaries. It is of poor quality and is rather shaky and filmed from about the same time the Pathé reel started filming. It is possible this footage was taken by Navy Personnel on the scene or a second cameraman for one of the newsreel teams. Although it was filmed on the port side of the ship like the other videos, it has often been shown mirrored.[5]


  1. ^ Eugene W. Castle of Castle Films, Pathe, Universal Newsreel (1937). "Hindenburg Explodes (1937)". Internet Archive. Retrieved 2010-07-05. 
  2. ^ William Deeke of Pathé News (1937). "Actual Zeppelin Crash!". British Pathé online archive. Archived from the original on 2010-03-17. Retrieved 2010-07-05. 
  3. ^ "Hindenburg Explodes, Scores Dead - Special Release". YouTube. 1937-05-10. Retrieved 2010-07-05. 
  4. ^ "First Films Of The Hindenburg Disaster". News of the Day. Retrieved 9 July 2012. 
  5. ^ [1]

External links[edit]