In reading about the recent discovery of an undated film featuring Babe Ruth, we took notice of one of the clues that could yield the clip’s day or origin:
Two college professors separately proposed using the shadows of the flag poles (seen on the field) to determine the position of the sun and, with some serious mathematics, the date of the game. Others noted what appears to be a dirigible in the background over the Bronx and suggested locating dirigible flight schedules.
We stumbled over that dirigible bit, in large part because we very much doubt that late 1920s dirigible flights were frequent enough to merit schedules. But could we be wrong? Could it be that the waning days of the Coolidge Era resembled the fictional world of Watchmen, at least in terms of the preferred means of aerial transport?
A little digging confirmed our suspicions that airship flights were, indeed, a rarity in 1928—although, granted, New York was a destination for transatlantic voyages, and thus that blob in the background could feasibly be a dirigible. But what really jumped out at us during our research was the revelation that airships were considered genuine rivals to airplanes in the late 1920s. This snippet from the great Popular Science article makes the case:
It is an old struggle, this between lighter-than-air and heavier-than-air craft. Which will be the most valuable to man? Who is going to answer? Scientists? Manufacturers? Adventurers? Theorists? None of them: but bookkeppers.For the question has resolved itself into that uncompromising unit of transportation auditors, the ton-mile cost. After due allowance for speed, which type of aircraft will carry a ton of freight a mile for the least amount of money?
More than half the energy expended by an airplane is employed solely to keep the machine in the air. An airship, on the other hand, spends none of its power lifting itself or its load. This vital difference is cited by adherents of lighter-than-air machines as the chief reason why dirigible balloons will win the favor of capital for large scale aerial transportation.
More goodies throughout the piece, whose publication coincided with the debut of Germany’s 127th dirigible, the Graf Zeppelin. Most ominous, perhaps, is the article’s assertion that the Graf Zeppelin will be powered by something called “etan”—”a form of hydrogen gas having the weight of air.” A fateful concept, perhaps?