100 Years Ago Today

A History Of Events And Happenings From Exactly One Hundred Years Ago

American Dirigible Explodes In New Jersey

Melvin Vaniman

Melvin Vaniman was born in Virden, Illinois in 1866. He attended Valparaiso University in Indiana. He was a music teacher and toured as an opera singer. After being stranded in Hawaii while on tour in 1901 he started experimenting with photography, especially panoramas. The Oceanic Steamship Company hired him to take photos in Australasia in the hope that his photos would encourage tourism.

Vaniman’s panoramic view of Haleiwa Hotel, Hawaii

Vaniman’s experimentation with panoramic views started an interest in ballooning and flight. In 1906 in Paris, France he built and tested his own triplane and in 1908 he achieved the first recorded successful triplane flight.

Vaniman’s triplane

Journalist Walter Wellman wanted to reach the North Pole by balloon and Vaniman became interested. From 1907 to 1910 Vaniman constructed two dirigibles but the pair were unsuccessful after two attempts to reach the North Pole.

Vaniman and Wellman’s airship AMERICA

Vaniman then bagan to pursue the goal of being the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air. With the help of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company of Akron, Ohio, Vaniman built a dirigible named the AKRON. This was the first American airship that could compare to the better known European airships. The AKRON had a trial run in November 1911.

Vaniman’s promotional card for the AKRON Trans-Atlantic Expedition

On July 2,1912 Vaniman and four crew members including his brother took off from Atlantic City, New Jersey in the AKRON. The dirigible was using flammable hydrogen gas. Once over the ocean, the AKRON exploded and the gondola plunged 750 feet into the sea. Vaniman and his crew were killed.

The AKRON on the day of it’s final flight
July 2, 1912




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