Preserving America: Airship Films Preserved

MACON CONSTRUCTION- The USS Macon under construction at the Good Year Zepplin Company, which was a subsidiary of Goodyear Tire and Rubber.


By Carla Charter

AKRON, OH. –  Fourteen rolls of nitrate films, portraying a unique piece of aviation history, have been digitized by the University of Akron thanks to grants provided by the National Film Preservation Foundation and the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Foundation.

The films document the construction and operation of the USS Akron and the USS Macon experimental helium airships for the United States Navy, built in the late 1920’s and early 1830’s. “These were their first flying aircraft carriers. They carried Sparrowhawk bi-planes, used for reconnaissance and search and rescue, which were launched from the belly of these airships,” according to S. Victor Fleischer, University Archivist and Head, Archival Services, Associate Professor of Bibliography at the University of Akron.

Airships were built by Good Year Tire and Rubber whose headquarters were in Akron.  “Goodyear acquired the patents of the Zeppelin company and acquired the Airship engineers from Germany including Dr. Karl Arnstein, the main engineer in the films,” Fleischer said.

The U.S.S. Akron crashed on April 4, 1933, off of the coast of New Jersey, killing 73 of the 76 crew members. It’s sister ship the Macon crashed off the of Big Sur in 1935.  “They had learned from the crash of the Akron and the Macon had life boats and life preservers so there was no loss of life,”  he continued.

The University of Akron houses the Goodyear Tire Rubber Collection.  “We have hundreds of boxes of corporate archives which contain documents as well as stills and negatives back to its founding,” Fleischer stated.

The collection also contains 3,000 film and video tapes. One hundred of these films have been identified as Nitrate films, a material that is so combustible, that they cannot even be projected as they might ignite.  “We chose those nitrates because of the fascination with airships,” he continued.  There are plans to continue digitizing the non-combustible 16 mm films from the collection and no plans in the future to digitize more nitrate films.

Along with many items from the Goodyear Collection that have been digitized, the University has also digitized items such as Civil War and World War I era Letters from Akron and Summit County as well as information on the Ohio and Erie Canal.

The digitized airship films can be seen at!moving%20image!2012*/field/all!type!title/mode/exact!all!all/conn/and!and!and/order/date



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