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IT WOULD seem incongruous to find a piano aboard an airship. But, for awhile, the Lounge of the Zeppelin LZ-129 Hindenburg featured a baby grand built by Julius Blüthner Pianofortefabrik of Leipzig, Germany. This was no ordinary baby grand piano; nor was Blüthner an ordinary piano-manufacturing company.
Rather than “no ordinary,” I was tempted to say “no fly-by-night.” On the other hand, the Hindenburg’s transatlantic crossing took 2 1/2 days (as opposed to a ship’s 5 to 10). Among the world’s piano manufacturers today, C. Bechstein, Blüthner, Bösendorfer, and Steinway & Sons are the “Big Four.”
Sherlockian and vintage racer Jim Donick alerted me to “The Hindenburg’s Blüthner—A Grand Piano in the Air,” in David Crombie’s World Piano News, December 13, 2017. Tidbits that follow come from this article and my usual Internet sleuthing.
Passenger accommodations aboard the Hindenburg were located on two decks within the lower portion of its dirigible structure. By contrast, passengers of the earlier Graf Zeppelin traveled in a gondola slung beneath the main structure.
The Hindenburg’s “A” Deck contained a large Dining Room with viewing promenade on the starboard side. A Lounge, Writing Room, and another viewing promenade were on the port side. Nestled in between were double-berth sleeping cabins, small but comparable to railway sleepers of the era.
“B” Deck contained Kitchen, crew facilities, Passenger Lavatories, and, through an airlock, access to a Bar and Smoking Room. This last area was maintained at higher than ambient pressure to preclude any stray hydrogen from encountering any ignition source.
During the 1936 season, the Hindenburg Lounge contained the Blüthner baby grand. The piano was removed for the 1937 season and, thus, was not involved in the May 6, 1937 Hindenburg disaster. (The piano’s appearance in the 1975 movie The Hindenburg is an historical oversight.)
Piano Technicalities. Blüthner recognized that the Hindenburg piano would be played in the intimacy of the dirigible’s Lounge, and thus concert-hall volume was not a design criterion. A typical piano has a cast iron “harp plate” between which its strings are held at high tension. Blüthner used thinner strings with reduced tension, thus permitting a harp plate of duralumin, a hardened aluminum alloy and considerably lighter than cast iron.
The Hindenburg Blüthner had rim, fallboard, and lid of the same material. Its legs and pedals-linking lyre were of duralumin tubing. This particular Blüthner was finished in pale pigskin and weighed just 356 lbs., compared with a typical baby grand’s 500 lbs. It was the first piano used aboard a commercial aircraft.
The Sound Quality of the Hindenburg Blüthner was reported to have a surprisingly large and full tone. A video, with commentary by Dan Grossman of airships.net, is thought to have been made in a mockup of the Hindenburg, not actually in its Lounge.
The Blüthner was removed from the Hindenburg early in 1937 and put on display at the company’s Leipzig headquarters. Alas, it was destroyed in an air raid of the factory in 1943. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018