Skip to main content

The Akron

This is an interesting photograph of the Airship Akron, just before its departure and shortly before its fatal crash.

airship disaster

The Doomed Airship Just Before Its Last Flight

The Akron was a dirigible built by pioneering American photographer, inventor, adventurer  and early aviator Chester Melvin Vaniman (1866-1912)  As a photographer, Vaniman was known as a daredevil willing to take enormous risks to get the right camera angle. He was known to have scaled tall buildings, built tall poles, and even gone up in balloons to get aerial shots. Vaniman hoped to be the first to cross the Atlantic in an airship.

Melvin Vaniman

A Photograph of Vaniman with His Cat Kiddo, Who Accompanied Him on Many of His Voyages

Vaniman built the Akron in an effort to be the first to cross the Atlantic in a dirigible. But on its first attempt the Akron exploded on July 2, 1912, the Akron exploded just off the shore of New Jersey, killing Vaniman and his crew.

This vintage photo shows the Akron still moored to the ground, before it took off on its first and final voyage. The picture is interesting, not only because it records some of the final hours of the doomed airship but also because of the crowds that came to see it off. We see an interesting cross section of an America in transition: horse drawn carriages mingle with parked cars and motorcycles, while a giant airship – which would prove to be an evolutionary dead end in terms of aviation – looms in the foreground.

The Disaster

The Akron took off from Atlantic City in front of the crowd of 750 people that had assembled to watch the start of its voyage across the Atlantic. A few minutes later, as the great airship began moving out onto the ocean, it suddenly exploded and fell into the ocean in front of the stunned spectators. An investigation revealed that the gas envelope had ruptured.

Vaniman and his four crew members all lost their lives.

Vaniman’s Akron is not to be confused with the US Navy airship of the same name.

Find this content useful? Share it with your friends!
Victor Doppelt

Victor Doppelt

Victor Doppelt explores the world of yesterday through vintage photographs and informative articles.