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1937 - Hindenbrg Disaster

Hindenburg Disaster - having travelled from Germany to America, the German airship 'Hindenberg' caught fire while attempting to dock, killing 35 of 97 passengers and one person on the ground

The Hindenburg disaster at Lakehurst, New Jersey on May 6, 1937 brought an end to the age of the rigid airship.The disaster killed 35 persons on the airship, and one member of the ground crew, but miraculously 62 of the 97 passengers and crew survived. After more than 30 years of passenger travel on commercial zeppelins — in which tens of thousands of passengers flew over a million miles, on more than 2,000 flights, without a single injury — the era of the passenger airship came to an end in a few fiery minutes.

Almost 80 years of research and scientific tests support the same conclusion reached by the original German and American accident investigations in 1937: It seems clear that the Hindenburg disaster was caused by an electrostatic discharge (i.e., a spark) that ignited leaking hydrogen.

The spark was most likely caused by a difference in electric potential between the airship and the surrounding air: The airship was approximately 60 meters (about 200 feet) above the airfield in an electrically charged atmosphere, but the ship’s metal framework was grounded by its landing line; the difference in electric potential likely caused a spark to jump from the ship’s fabric covering (which had the ability to hold a charge) to the ship’s framework (which was grounded through the landing line). 

The cause of the hydrogen leak is more of a mystery, but we know the ship experienced a significant leakage of hydrogen before the disaster. No evidence of sabotage was ever found, and no convincing theory of sabotaged has ever been advanced.

One thing is clear: the disaster had nothing to do with the zeppelin’s fabric covering. Hindenburg was just one of many hydrogen airships destroyed by fire because of their flammable lifting gas, and suggestions about the alleged flammability of the ship’s outer covering have been repeatedly debunked. The simple truth is that Hindenburg was destroyed in 32 seconds because it was inflated with hydrogen.

The disaster was the subject of spectacular newsreel coverage, photographs, and Herbert Morrison’s recorded radio eyewitness reports from the landing field, which were broadcast the next day. The event shattered public confidence in the giant, passenger-carrying rigid airship and marked the abrupt end of the airship era.


Further Reading

Wikipedia - The Hindenburg Disaster

Eyewitness to HistoryRadio reporter Herbert Morrison describes the explosion of the Hindenburg

1937 - Toffs and Toughs

Toffs & Toughs - iconic image of Harrow school boys standing next to working-class youths illustrates British class system

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“Toffs and Toughs” is a 1937 photograph of five boys: two dressed in the Harrow School uniform including waistcoat, top hat, boutonnière, and cane; and three nearby wearing the plain clothes of pre-war working class youths. The picture was taken by Jimmy Sime on 9 July 1937 outside the Grace Gates at Lord’s Cricket Ground during the Eton vs Harrow cricket match.

The Harrovians were Peter Wagner and Thomas “Tim” Dyson, who had arranged to be at Grace Gates at 2 pm, where Wagner’s father would pick them up and drive them to Russ Hill, the Wagners’ country home in Surrey, for the weekend. The other three boys were George Salmon, Jack Catlin, and George Young, 13-year-old pupils at the local Church of England primary school. All three had been to the dentist that morning and then decided to skip school and hang around instead outside Lord’s, where the Eton-Harrow match offered money-making opportunities to any boy willing to open taxi doors and carry bags, or to return seat cushions to their hirers and claim the three penny deposit.

Tim Dyson (the rich boy staring toward the camera) has the saddest story of them. A year after Sime took his picture, his parents arranged for their son to join them for his summer holidays at their army quarters in Trimulgherry, India. Dyson began to feel very ill while traveling and was diagnose with diphtheria. Tim died in Trimulgherry on 26 August 1938, aged 16. His father was captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore and died in a Korean prison camp on 22 November 1942, four years after he buried his only child.

Peter Wagner entered the family stockbroking firm, married, and had three daughters; he became mentally unstable in the 1970s and died in Hellingly Hospital in 1984, aged 60.

George Young and George Salmon were each married when interviewed for the Daily Mail in 1998. Young started a window-cleaning business and set up his four sons in the same trade. Salmon, who still lived in Marylebone, died in 2000. Jack Catlin‘s family moved to Rickmansworth soon after 1937; he was widowed, remarried and lived in Weymouth.


Further Reading


Intelligent Life - Five Boys: The Story of a Picture

1937 - America Way

No Way Like the American Way - a bread line after a flood of the Ohio River submerged 70% of Louisville

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In early January 1937, the swollen banks of the Ohio River flooded more than seventy percent of Louisville, Kentucky, and its surrounding areas. With one hour’s notice, photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White caught the next plane to Louisville. She photographed the city from makeshift rafts, recording one of the largest natural disasters in American history which claimed close to 400 lives and left roughly one million people homeless across five states in the winter of that terrible year.

One of the most famous pictures she took shows African-American men, women and children lined up outside a flood relief agency. In striking contrast to their grim faces, the billboard for the National Association of Manufacturers above them depicts a smiling white family of four (and their dog) riding in a car under a banner with the ultimately ironic slogan “World’s Highest Standard of Living. There’s no way like the American Way”. Although, the country was dealing with a depression and local lives are even further complicated by being displaced from their homes, the individuals photographed are dressed pretty well. Women have beautiful long pea coats, clean hats; heels and two women are even shown wearing hosiery in great condition. The men are depicted wearing nice long coats, non-wrinkled pants and all of which are wearing hats.

The billboard is an archetype that carries some notable social and political implications. The father-mother-son-daughter (and even pet terrier) unit embodied the American nuclear family, as outlined by countless hegemonic institutions, including magazine publications and advertising agencies. Produced by The National Association of Manufacturers, thousands of billboard scenes, like the one above, aimed at spreading hope across the United States by advocating the American Dream. Bourke-White’s The Louisville Flood remains an iconic image of the Great Depression, embodying an era that began with the stock market crash in 1929 and ended with the onslaughts of World War II in 1941.


Further Reading


Russ Sanderlin - The American Way

Mashable - 'The American Way' (1937-40)

1937 - Secnd Sino-Japanese war

Second Sino-Japanese War -   dispute between Japanese and Chinese troops at Marco Polo Bridge escalates into all-out war, lasting until 1945

The Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45) had a significant impact on the course of the Chinese Revolution. Known in China as the ‘War of Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression’, it was a catastrophic conflict for the Chinese people, causing up to 20 million casualties. It also had serious political repercussions for the nationalist Guomindang and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Japan’s invasion of China in the early 1930s and the war that followed capped off decades of antagonism between the two nations.

Full-scale war between China and Japan began in July 1937, following an incident near the Marco Polo Bridge in Wanping, near Beijing. After Japanese troops opened fire on local soldiers a brief ceasefire was negotiated, however, both sides increased military numbers in the region. When the Japanese launched an invasion in late July, the Nationalists and CCP were seven months into a shaky alliance, dubbed the Second United Front. The Nationalist armies attempted to resist the invasion but were quickly overcome by the technological supremacy and preparedness of the Japanese. China’s underdeveloped industries were incapable of supplying munitions or engineering quickly or in sufficient quantities. Unlike the Japanese, the Chinese military had no tanks and only a few aircraft. The first phase of the war was a blitzkrieg of Japanese victories as their forces moved swiftly along China’s east coast. Almost a half million Japanese troops moved against Shanghai, Nanjing and other locations in mainland China, while Japanese military planes bombarded regions where their foot soldiers could not penetrate. In late 1937 the Nationalist government was forced to retreat from its capital, Nanjing, to Chongqing in western China.

Japanese troops were notorious for their brutal treatment of civilians and military prisoners. The Japanese occupation of Nanjing from December 1937, often referred to as the ‘Rape of Nanjing’, is the most infamous example of Japanese brutality in China. Estimates suggest that the Japanese massacred 300,000 people in and around the city, many of them civilians. Vast swathes of China were decimated by Japan’s ‘scorched earth’ warfare, epitomised by the slogan “kill all, loot all, destroy all”.

In June 1938 Nationalsit president Jiang Jeishi ordered the dykes of the Yellow River dam to be blown, a desperate attempt to slow the advance of the Japanese invasion. While this ploy worked, it also caused a devastating flood that killed between 500,000 to one million Chinese civilians, rendered up to ten million homeless and ruined millions of acres of important farmland. The resulting food shortages, famine and human suffering only contributed to rising peasant hatred of Jiang Jieshi and the Nationalist regime. Other problems confronting Jiang and the Guomindang government were widespread corruption, rising inflation and high desertion rates caused by poor treatment of Nationalist soldiers, most of whom were unwilling conscripts.

Beyond 1938 the Sino-Japanese war reached a virtual stalemate. China’s geographical size, her lack of infrastructure and scattered pockets of resistance all helped to slow the Japanese advance. By 1940 the Japanese controlled the entire north-eastern coast and areas up to 400 miles inland. They installed a puppet government in Nanjing under Wang Jingwei, a former Guomindang leader and political rival to Jiang Jieshi. Foreign assistance for the Chinese finally came after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour in December 1941. As the United States was drawn into World War II, China became an important theatre in the war against the Japanese.

The Second Sino-Japanese War came to an end in August 1945, after the United States detonated nuclear weapons over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Russian troops invaded from the north and suppressed Japanese forces in Manchuria, while Japanese forces in China were ordered to surrender to Jiang Jieshi and the Nationalists. When Japan was finally defeated in 1945, China was on the winning side, but lay devastated, having suffered some 15 million deaths, massive destruction of industrial infrastructure and agricultural production, and the shattering of the tentative modernization begun by the Nationalist government.


Further Reading


Asia-Pacific Journal - China and Japan at War: Suffering and Survival (1937-1945)

History.comNanking Massacre

Eyewitness to HistoryThe Rape of Nanking

The GuardianChina's War with Japan: The Struggle for Survival

BBC - In Our Time: The Sino-Japanese War

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