January 1923: High Hopes for Blimps

A helium-filled behemoth once looked like the future of air travel


“A large portion of the people in the United States will soon be flying in dirigibles,” an Army official told Popular Science as construction on the Navy´s ZR-1-considered a sure forerunner of even bigger, purely commercial airships-neared completion. Expected to rival trains for comfort and airplanes for speed, the vessels would be kept aloft by helium, making them safer than their hydrogen-filled predecessors. Unfortunately, Depression-era financial constraints and the public´s loss of faith after the 1937 Hindenburg disaster grounded passenger blimps for the rest of the century. But now there´s a new craft on the horizon, which, dare we say, just might be tomorrow´s airliner.

On-Set Sunlight

Designed to provide film studios with sunshine on demand, this lamp mea-sured one foot in diameter, making it the largest lightbulb in the world. The 30,000-watt monster consumed a third the amount of power required to run a trolley car and contained enough tungsten filament to illuminate 55,000 household lamps.

Floodwater Fears

New Orleans officials proposed a 6,000-foot-wide spillway to prevent Mississippi River flooding from drowning the city. The $4-million undertaking never materialized, although a similar project was completed after the Great Flood of 1927 drove 700,000 Southerners from their homes.