Wednesday, January 21, 2009

George Grant


Age: 63

Residence: London, England

Occupation: Assistant manager, Wm. H. Müller & Co.

Location at time of fire: Passenger decks, portside dining room


George Grant was an assistant manager for Wm. H. Müller & Co., general passenger agents for the Hamburg-America steamship line, and oversaw the company's London office.

Born in London in November of 1873, Grant was part of a rather large family. His mother, Adeline Freer, and his father, George Henry Togo Grant, had married at Lambeth on January 20, 1867. Their first daughter, Sarah, was born in 1868, followed by Samuel (1869), William (1871), Thirza Elizabeth (1872), George (1873), Albert Edward (1875), and Emily Adeline (1876). Sadly, Adeline Grant and little Emily both died within a year of the baby’s birth, with Adeline passing away in the spring of 1877. George Sr. remarried the following year, wedding Adeline’s sister, Charlotte Elizabeth Freer, on December 9, 1878 at St. Phillips Church in Battersea. The two had one child together, Ernest, who was born in 1882.

George Sr., spent most of his career in the railway business, working for the LB&SC Railway (a position he had originally landed on the recommendation of his brother-in-law, the well-known civil engineer George Parker Bidder.) George Sr.’s sister, Elizabeth, ran their father’s business (William Grant had been a newsagent and a publisher of topographical maps until his death in 1860) and she had married Bartholomew Parker Bidder in 1862.

George Sr. passed away from acute lobar pneumonia exhaustion on December 12, 1889 at the age of 42. Young George Grant was only 15 years old at the time, but managed to secure a position as a house porter for a wealthy family from Westminster. Not long afterward, he began to become close with his cousin, Elizabeth Catherine Bidder (born in 1872.) In 1896 the two married in Wandsworth, where they moved into a late Victorian terraced home at 37 Swanage Road. Their first child, Marjorie Elizabeth, was born in 1899. Two more daughters would follow: Elsie in 1901 and Muriel in 1908. Marjorie, unfortunately, passed away in 1919 at the age of 20.

By the turn of the century, George Grant was working for Wm. H. Müller & Co. as a shipping and tourist clerk. His job often required him to be away from home, as in 1908 when he sailed to New York aboard the SS Amerika to observe the services and amenities for the passengers and to write up a report on his observations. Grant’s career advanced, and by the mid-1930s he had moved into his role as assistant manager in charge of the London office.

George Grant was aboard the Hindenburg's first North American flight of the 1937 season as a guest of the Deutsche Zeppelin Reederei, for which Wm. H. Müller & Co. also handled passenger bookings. As he had done previously on voyages like the one aboard the Amerika, Grant would observe the Hindenburg's onboard operations, specifically those involving passenger accommodation, and would then write a report on the trip for the DZR. He was also using this as an opportunity to visit his brother Albert, who had emigrated to the United States around 1900 and, with his wife Helen, resided in Winthrop, MA, near Boston.

Of the flight itself, Grant later remarked, "From the commencement of the voyage, everything was extremely satisfactory in every particular." He did, however, feel that the passengers' mode of dress onboard was "perhaps rather too free and easy," with no concerted effort made to wear evening dress to dinner, and with many passengers coming to dinner still dressed "as they were lounging."

Grant spent much of the flight working on a novel he was writing, as well as jotting down preliminary notes for his report for the Zeppelin Company. On the second day of the flight Grant, along with several other passengers, took part in a tour of the ship led by "one of the ship's officers" (possibly ship’s physician Dr. Kurt Rüdiger or Captain Lehmann, both of whom often conducted tours.) Grant and the others were led aft along the lower catwalk as far back as the engineers' control room amidships, where they stuck their heads in for a quick look. The group then proceeded forward to the radio room and the control car. Grant noted particularly that "as far as I could see, everything possible had been done for safety and efficiency."

On the final day of the flight, George Grant spent much of the morning typing out notes for his DZR report, working as quickly as he could so that he would be able to relax and enjoy the journey over the New England coast and New York. Later in the day, as the Hindenburg approached its landing field at Lakehurst at approximately 7:00 PM, Grant stood near one of the observation windows on the port side of the passenger decks along with other passengers. As he later related to a reporter from the Philadelphia Public Ledger, "We were all very gay and shaking hands and promising to see each other again. The steward had served a platter of sandwiches, which we were munching. We were like one big, happy family. Our baggage was all piled up, ready for the customs men. We were laughing and gay, looking forward to landing – and then it happened. In the twinkling of an eye, it happened."

Grant location
George Grant's location in the portside dining room at the time of the fire.

Suddenly Grant felt a powerful shock run through the ship at the same moment that he heard an explosion. Said Grant later of the moment "It was then nothing but a regular shamble, as it seemed as if the entire structure of the airship was collapsing." It all happened so quickly that Grant, understandably disoriented, erroneously thought that the ship had accidentally struck the ground heavily and then caught fire. In reality the ship had burst into flame in midair and was now dropping stern-first to the ground. Grant slid along the floor of the promenade deck toward the rear wall of the dining salon and was, in his words, "shot into a heap with the chairs." Many of the rest of the passengers and stewards ended up in that same heap, and then according to Grant "before you could say 'Jack,' almost, you could see flames."

The second Grant saw fire burning its way into the dining salon, he got to his feet and began helping people around him to stand up, shouting "Come, everybody! Jump!" Unfortunately many of those nearby were dazed and didn't immediately grasp what was happening. Others, however, were already jumping out of the ship. Grant later remarked, "The windows were made of celluloid and the first passenger cleared right through." Grant then made his way to a nearby window and jumped from a height of 15-20 feet. He landed safely in the sand below, but as he was picking himself up another person (possibly Dr. Rüdiger) jumped out of the same window and landed heavily on Grant, who was quickly grabbed by two members of the ground crew and helped away from the wreckage with a broken right ankle and an injured back.

George Grant was taken to the air station's infirmary for first aid, and then to the Royal Pines Hotel and Clinic in Pinewald where he telephoned his brother Albert in Winthrop, MA, to tell him that he was okay. He also asked Albert to send his wife and daughters in London a telegram, which read: "Ship crashed. I'm safe. Lost all kit." Such was Grant's state of mind in those hazy first hours after his brush with death that foremost in his mind, aside from his family, was the fact that his luggage had been destroyed in the fire.

While at Royal Pines, Grant was interviewed about his escape by several area newspapers and a newsreel crew. To the Philadelphia Public Ledger he recalled, "My wife and two daughters had urged me not to take the trip. They seemed to have what you'd call feminine intuition. Well, it was my first trip to the States by air. I have visited several times by boat."

"And in the future?" asked the reporter.

Grant replied, "By boat, I guess."

The next day, Grant was transferred from Royal Pines to Lenox Hill Hospital in New York where he lay for some weeks recovering from his injuries, reflecting on the flight "from beginning to end," and puzzling over how the disaster could have possibly occurred since while one was aboard the ship, in his words, "you felt safe as could be."

At the request of the US Commerce Department's Board of Inquiry into the Hindenburg disaster, Grant dictated a letter containing his impressions of the disaster, dated May 26th, 1937. Two days later on May 28th, investigators came to Lenox Hill to interview other survivors, and Grant gave them an official testimony from his hospital bed.

Grant then spent the next two months in the hospital, lying on his back and recovering from his injuries. Traveling as a guest of the Hamburg-America Line, Grant's wife, Elizabeth, sailed to New York aboard the steamship Hansa, arriving on July 30th. George and Elizabeth Grant then returned to England together on the Hansa's next eastbound voyage, arriving at Southampton on August 12, 1937. Grant hobbled down the ship’s gangway leaning on a cane, his suit concealing a bandaged ankle and a metal corset to support his injured back. Grant would wear the corset for the rest of his life, and the younger members of his family would later recall how, when they were children, he would have them rap on his chest with their knuckles and the corset would make a hollow, metallic sound.

George Grant - Arrival in England
George Grant arrives home in England, August 12, 1937

George Grant passed away 8 years later in 1945 at St. James Hospital, Balham, London at the age of 70. His wife Elizabeth continued to live in their family home on Swanage Road. Their daughter Elsie had died at the age fo 43 in 1944, the year before George passed. Their remaining daughter Muriel had married Frank Brisk in 1939, and as Elizabeth advanced in years, the couple moved into the Swanage Road home with her in 1959. Elizabeth Grant lived to the age of 93, and passed in 1965. Muriel Grant Brisk lived until 1992, when she was 84.


George Grant's notes for his never-completed report to the Zeppelin Company survived the Hindenburg fire, as he had folded them up and placed them in his coat pocket after he was done typing them out. A copy was sent to the Board of Inquiry and subsequently ended up in the United States National Archives. It is reproduced here exactly as it appears on the original document, aside from minor formatting changes and a few bracketed editorial notes.

May 6th, 1937
Off the New England Coast.

Notes on a voyage of the AIRSHIP "HINDENBURG"
under the Command of Captain Pruss.

1. On May 3rd, passengers assembled at the Frankfurterhof [sic.] at 4 p.m. for the necessary formalities. All baggage was thoroughly examined by the Zoll [customs] Officers, practically every package being opened. Busses left the Hotel at 7 p.m. and arrived at the Air Station, a distance of 12 km. in about 25 minutes, where upon arrival every passenger had to pass the Dovision [sic.] Officials, who were very strict and exacting in every way.

2. The "HINDENBURG" was already out of its huge shed, being moored fore and aft to two traveling waggons on rails, on which sat a large number of young men, holding same in position. A band stood at the entrance to the airship and played the usual farewell tunes. It was indeed very remarkable in the manner the great vessel was manoevered into the air, without it hardly being noticed by those onboard.

3. An excellent cold supper was served at 10 p.m. for which all passengers were more than ready.

4. A ground search-light is used when travelling over land, and this gives one a unique as well as a weird sight when passing over fields and woods. At KÖLN a parachute with mail attached was dropped and picked up below, this being visible from the Airship.

5. An excellently arranged passenger list is handed to each guest, giving the necessary information concerning meals, etc. Breakfast from 8 a.m., Lunch 12 noon, Tea 4 p.m. Supper 7 p.m. Meals are exceedingly well-served under the able direction of Chief Steward Kubis and his well-trained stewards.

6. The PUBLIC-ROOMS are especially well-arranged and comfortably furnished, with large observation windows, there being three central windows on either side which can be opened, affording passengers every opportunity of seeing anything of interest – such for instance – an ice field and a huge Iceberg, which were passed directly over when in view of Newfoundland.

THE STATEROOMS are well-fitted with good beds and bedding, with curtained space and hangers for clothing. The cellulose [sic.] washbasins, fitted with hot and cold water are rather shallow, and seem perhaps rather small after being used to deeper ones on board steamers. The cabin walls are covered with printed linen; but it is suggested that linen head covers be placed at the head of the beds, to avoid greasemarks being left behind by passengers. Additional rooms, which are outside and are more commodious have been fitted on the lower deck, just aft of the smoking room, and receiving direct daylight, should prove very popular. This brings up capacity to 70.

8. Although you can always feel there are engines, which is perhaps slightly more noticeable in the cabins, the movement of the Airship hardly varies. An occasional slight roll is therefore hardly perceptible. AIR SICKNESS is quite unknown, a strong point which cannot be too strongly emphasized.

9. DRINKS can be purchased on board at moderate prices and are served delightfully cool. Beer in bottles can be purchased in the Smoking Room.

10. WATER SUPPLY is the same for drinking and general purpose.

11. DRESS on BOARD. This is very unconventional and perhaps rather too free and easy, for many passengers make no difference in their attire from day to day.

In conclusion it is evident on all hands as to the thoughtful manner in which the passenger accomodation [sic.] has been arranged, including for instance the luminous electric switch cords and permanent waste paper boxes in the cabins.

12. NAVIGATION. An inspection of the navigation cabin, is sufficient in itself, to show that nothing has been left undone which tends to safe and efficient navigation under all weather conditions.

AIR TRAVEL has certainly come to stay and the "HINDENBURG" is likely to go down to posterity as a fore-runner of what may eventually become REGULAR WIDE WORLD TRAVEL by AIRSHIP.

Not even the most timid or nervous person need have any qualms about Airship Travel. It has been confirmed on this voyage that passengers who are always sea-sick on open liners, have been absolutely free from any sickness and so even have been able to enjoy their meals.



Special thanks to Stanley C. Jenkins for making inquiries into George Grant’s biographical details on one of the UK’s leading online genealogy forums, and also to Dr. Jane Cavell, whose genealogical research unearthed information on Mr. Grant’s life that expanded greatly upon my own research and upon that which Mr. Jenkins had conducted. (Jane and Stanley, I now have confirmation of George Grant’s vital statistics thanks to your generous assistance, and I am tremendously grateful to you both!)

Very special thanks, also, to Andy Grant, a relative of George Grant’s, who subsequently contacted me with further details about Mr. Grant’s life and that of his father, George Henry Togo Grant. Andy, himself a genealogist, had traced the history of the Grant family, and was able to help me to further refine this article and to correct a few errors.

These errors included a long-standing myth that George Grant was distantly related to U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant. This patently untrue claim has appeared in numerous books about the Hindenburg crash over the years, and it is Andy Grant’s belief that it probably originated in one of the countless newspaper articles written in the immediate aftermath of the disaster – many of which, unfortunately, tended to value sensationalism over verified fact.


Milan Zivancevic said...

Ha... I've recognized this fellow from the newsreel. He looked like he had couple of his front teeth knocked out. Thanks for the article.

Btw... couple of days ago I've sent an email - two, actually - to your address, - don't know if you've got it, but in any case ignore the two questions I've asked you there, since in the meantime I got answers from Dan (

Cheers, Milan

Anonymous said...

I am sure it would be possible to find out much more information on George Grant - where he was born, what he did in World War I, where he lived, etc - I will make a few investigations.

Patrick Russell said...

That would be fantastic. I seem to have found out about as much as I can with the resources I currently have available (official investigation testimony,, etc.) and have hoped that a member of his family might one day see this article and contact me with information about his earlier life, what he did after he returned from the States following his recovery from the Hindenburg disaster, etc.

If you do happen to find any leads where we might learn more about him, please email me at



Anonymous said...

There is now quite a lot of information in the George Grant thread on the Genealogy-Specialists.Com website. George seems to have worked for many years as a shipping clerk before his promition to an assistsnt manager. "Huncamunca" has discovered that he was baptised in St Thomas Church Lambeth on 9 November 1873, and died in London on 27 January 1945.

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