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Wingfoot Air Express – The First Airship Disaster

On Monday 21st July 1919 the Wingfoot Air Express (owned by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company) crashed into the Illinois Trust and Savings Building in Chicago, with the loss of 13 lives. This was the worst Airship disaster in the USA until the Zeppelin Airship, Hindenburg crashed in 1937. Of the 13 who died, one was a crew member, two were passengers whilst the remaining 10 were bank employees in the building below.

The Wingfoot Air Express was carrying passengers from Grant Park to the White City Amusement Park when, at an altitude of about 1200ft, the craft caught fire above the Chicago Loop. Once the crew realised that the Airship was lost, the Pilot and the Chief Mechanic parachuted to safety along with a third person who broke both legs and later died in hospital.

The Illinois Trust & Savings Bank building on the corner of LaSalle Street and Jackson Boulevard, housed 150 employees who were closing up after the days business (the fire being reported to have started at 4:55pm) in the main banking hall. The main hall was illuminated by a large skylight and the remains of the Wingfoot Air Express struck the banks skylight directly causing flaming debris to fall through to the hall below. As well as the ten employees who were killed, 27 members of staff were also reported injured.

After the crash, Chicago City Council imposed a ban on hydrogen filled dirigibles from flying over populated parts of the city. The Airships home base, Grant Park Airstrip, was also closed shortly after the crash.

Published in honor of those who lost their lives while at their work in the bank, in a catastrophe that left all officers and employes grief striken.


Out of the clear sky came a mass of flaming wreckage which crashed through the big skylight of this bank, bringing death and injury into the Illinois Trust family. A big dirigible sailing over the loop caught fire a thousand feet in the air and came rushing like a flaming comet, down to earth. The finger of fate had selected the skylight of this building among the hundreds of flat roofs surrounding, on which the dirigible was to strike.

This great tragedy resulted in the death of ten of the bank’s people and the injury of twenty-seven others, leaving a never to be forgotten shadow over the entire institution. Employes and officers were busy closing up the day’s business on July 21st. It had been a big day. Monday almost invariably brings more business than other days of the week. Many of the employes already were on their way home. Those still at work were putting the final touches on the day’s work and would have departed for home very shortly.

Suddenly, as if the whole roof was caving in, there came a big crash and down through the skylight descended the huge, fiery blimp with its twisted iron and heavy mechanism, past the balcony and down to the first floor upon the heads of employes who were working underneath the large skylight.

from The Columns of the Illinois Trust & Savings Bank, Chicago [special memorial issue]: 3, July 1919,

Source by Duncan Rice



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