TRANSATLANTIC FLIGHTS TO BE THE SUBJECT OF NEXT TWO WOLFSONIAN LIBRARY EXHIBITS

This week’s blog post comes to you courtesy of Dr. Nicolae Harsanyi and me as we are in the process of making selections and researching materials to be included in the next two library exhibits. Dr. Harsanyi will be looking at lighter-than-aircraft (like the Hindenburg and other airships), while I will be looking at the flight of a squadron of Italian seaplanes flown under the command of Italo Balbo to the Century of Progress International Exposition in Chicago in 1933. here in the Wolfsonian library. Here is Dr. Harsanyi’s report:

TWO RADIO-TELEGRAPHED MESSAGES AND A FLIGHT

On Tuesday, April 1st, 1936, the radio operator on board the airship Hindenburg received a message from Sir Francis Claude Shelmerdine, Director General of Civil Aviation. Colonel Shelmerdine conveyed the disappointment of Londoners who expected to watch the giant airship fly over the city.

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The Hindenburg, or LZ129, was built at the Zeppelin Airship Works in Friedrichshafen, on the shore of Lake Constance in southern Germany. Construction of the airship began in 1931 and, after its completion in early 1936, it made its first trial flight on March 4, 1936. Powered by four diesel engines, the airship had a maximum speed of 84 miles per hour and a cruising speed of 78 miles per hour with a range of 8,750 miles.  The dimensions of the Hindenburg made it the largest aircraft ever built, being 803 feet long, 146 feet high and having a maximum diameter of 135 feet. When inflated with seven million cubic feet of hydrogen, the Hindenburg had a total lift of 472,940 pounds.

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On that day at 5.28 am the Hindenburg, under the command of Ernst Lehmann, set out from Friedrichshafen on its South American maiden flight. The airship wound its way over Stuttgart, the Rhine Valley, the Netherlands, the English Channel, and then south over the Bay of Biscay into the Atlantic Ocean because the French government denied it airspace over France.

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The highlight of the Hindenburg was the two-level passenger quarters which were located completely within the forward part of the hull. It included 25 passenger cabins, a spacious dining room, a reading and writing room, a smoking room with bar, and a lounge complete with an aluminum framed piano.

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View of the interior of a cabin

Owing to the cramped space of the cabins, passengers were supposed to spend most of their time in the common spaces which offered more room and comfort. All the furniture was made of aluminum. Notice the map of the wall of the lounge featuring the airship over the Atlantic bound for South America:

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The dining room was a compatible replica of dining rooms on ocean liners:

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The reading and writing room even had a book-case with two shelves; however because of the weight constraints, both the dimension of the book-case and the number of available books were symbolic.

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The entrance to the smoking room and bar had a revolving door with an airlock – it was the only room where smoking was permitted.

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On April 3rd the Hindenburg reached Rio de Janeiro and received the following radio-telegraphed telegram:

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Tidewater Oil Company, based in Kolkata, India, supplied the lubricants for the four engines of the airship.

More images and artifacts will be included in an upcoming library display on giant airships.

CROCIERA AEREA DEL DECENNALE, 1933

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As the museum will be featuring Italian materials in our main gallery floors in the fall, I am also preparing a complementary show for the library foyer. This exhibit will highlight our collection of materials related to a transatlantic flight made by Italo Balbo, the Italian Black Shirt leader and Mussolini’s Minster responsible for the establishment of the Fascist government’s new air force.

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In the winter months of 1930/1931, Balbo had led a dozen Savoia-Machetti S.55 seaplanes from Italy to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Wolfsonian-FIU museum and rare books and special collections library possesses a number of vintage postcards and posters celebrating the flight.

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This same historic flight was commemorated in a Futurist painting by Alfredo Gauro Ambrosi (1901-1945) in the Wolfsonian museum holdings.

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For the transatlantic flight celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Fascist revolution, Balbo commanded a squadron of twenty-four “flying boats” on a round-trip transatlantic flight from Italy to the Chicago world’s fair in the summer of 1933, also celebrated in propaganda posters and postcards.

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In addition to postcards, pamphlets, and other printed ephemera, the Wolfsonian-FIU library also possesses an archive of rare photographs and other ephemera documenting the squadron’s stop-over in Reykjavík, Iceland en route to the Century of Progress International Exposition.

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The Italian pavilion built for the world’s fair was designed with an airplane wing as part of its façade.

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To mark the occasion of his landing, the city of Chicago celebrated the aviator’s feat by organizing a parade in his honor and by renaming Seventh Street Balbo Drive. President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented Balbo with the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Sioux Indian delegation at the fair presented him with a feather headdress and adopted him as “Chief Flying Eagle.” This fragment of a documentary captures some of the excitement generated by the historic flight:

~ by "The Chief" on March 30, 2013.

One Response to “TRANSATLANTIC FLIGHTS TO BE THE SUBJECT OF NEXT TWO WOLFSONIAN LIBRARY EXHIBITS”

  1. Great Blog. Congratulations!

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