Simanaitis Says

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THE HINDENBURG’S BABY GRAND

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.

A 1936 advertisement featuring the Hindenburg Blüthner. Image from David Crombie’s World Piano News.

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.

“A” Deck: The Dining Room with viewing promenade is shown on the left; the Lounge, Writing Room, and another promenade on the right; double-berth sleeping cabins in between. This and the following images from airships.net.

“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.)

A portion of the Hindenburg Lounge during a 1936 crossing, the Blüthner in the background.

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 Hindenburg Blüthner.

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

4 comments on “THE HINDENBURG’S BABY GRAND

  1. Frank Barrett
    June 15, 2018

    What other major piano-maker was invoved with large, dangerous machines that go fast? Steinway hooked up with Daimler to build the American Mercedes, on Long Island, no less. But of course, you already knew that. In fact, a book was published maybe 20 years ago on Steinway’ a,d it mentions their joint effort.

    When I was editing and publishing The Star, Bluthner advertised with us for a short while.

  2. Frank Barrett
    June 15, 2018

    The Steinway Saga: An American Dynasty, by D.W. Fostle, published in 1995.

  3. jlalbrecht64
    June 16, 2018

    I love the wide range of topics on SS. Today it is air-ship pianos. You mentioned the airlock. Did you look into the Hindenburg design? Wouldn’t they need an airlock to the kitchen as well? I would guess they cooked hot meals, but maybe they had special ovens (no German jokes, please!) with the flame protected.

    • simanaitissays
      June 16, 2018

      Thanks for your kind words, JL. Sources suggest the Hindenburg’s Kitchen was all-electric and had no airlock.. The airship’s Electrical Room was airlock protected.

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