Scenes From Hell

Herb Morrison - Hindenburg Disaster, 1937

One of the most famous broadcasts in the history of radio journalism is Herb Morrison’s 1937 eyewitness report of the explosion and crash of the German passenger airship, Hindenburg. On May 6, 1937, while preparing to land at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey, the Hindenburg burst into flames and crashed to the ground, killing thirty-five of the ninety-seven people on board and one member of the ground crew.

Chicago radio station WLS had sent reporter Herb Morrison and sound engineer Charles Nehlsen to record the landing which was being celebrated as the first anniversary of the inauguration of transatlantic passenger service and the opening of the 1937 season. Morrison’s professional demeanor as he described the landing gave way to an emotional outburst of exclamations after the Hindenburg caught fire. Shaken and horrified, Morrison continued to record, struggling to compose himself as a hellish scene of fiery death unfolded before his eyes.

Excerpts from audio recording of radio report on the Hindenburg disaster, May 6, 1937

Reporter Herb Morrison:

“It’s fire and it crashing! . . . This is the worst of the worst catastrophes in the world! Oh, it’s crashing . . . oh, four or five hundred feet into the sky, and it’s a terrific crash, ladies and gentlemen. There’s smoke, and there’s flames, now, and the frame is crashing to the ground, not quite to the mooring mast. Oh, the humanity, and all the passengers screaming around here!

. . . I can’t talk, ladies and gentlemen. Honest, it’s just laying there, a mass of smoking wreckage, and everybody can hardly breathe and talk . . . Honest, I can hardly breathe. I’m going to step inside where I cannot see it. . . .”

An excerpt from the original recorded media is available in the Flash version of this exhibit.

Later in the broadcast, as reporter Herb Morrison learned that there were survivors, he said, “I hope that it isn’t as bad as I made it sound at the very beginning.” Years later, Morrison recalled that he yelled “Oh, the humanity,” because he thought everyone on board had died; in fact, sixty-two of the people on board survived.

Portions of the broadcast were aired for the first time the following day. The original disks on which the recording were made were donated to the National Archives by WLS, Chicago’s Prairie Farmer radio station, and are among the holdings of the Special Media Archives—Donated Materials.

Donated Materials in the National Archives [200.1084]


Hindenburg explosion, May 6, 1937

National Archives, Records of the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) [306-NT-116817]


Herb Morrison, photograph appeared in Stand By magazine, published by WLS, May 15, 1937

Courtesy of Library of American Broadcasting, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland