The largest airship ever made was the LZ 129 Hindenburg, a German passenger airship built in 1936 for transatlantic flights. The Hindenburg went down in flames during one of the most spectacular and well-publicized transit accidents of modern times just 14 months after it was built, in May 1937, marking the end of the so-called "Age of Airships."
During its operating lifetime, the Hindenburg crossed the Atlantic 35 times, including seven round trips to Rio de Janeiro and ten round trips to New York. The last trip, from Germany to New York, ended in disaster as the world's largest airship was trying to dock in New Jersey. Though this seriously damaged the popularity of airships, they have begun to make a resurgence in modern times, though the largest airship as of 2010, the Bullet 580, is still significantly smaller than the Hindenburg.
The largest airship ever made in both length and volume, the Hindenburg had a length of 804 feet (245 m), a width of 135 feet (41 m), and a volume of about seven million cubic feet (200,000 cubic meters). In comparison, the Bullet 580 is about 235 feet (about 71 m) long and 65 feet (about 19 m) in diameter. The Hindenburg was composed of 17 gas cells compartmentalized by cotton coated with an impermeable material that served as a seal, and was filled with flammable hydrogen, which probably contributed to the fire that destroyed it. In total, the world's largest airship had a lift of 1.1 meganewtons, or 247,100 pounds, which was its approximate weight. The craft could carry 90 passengers and crew and had a maximum speed of 80 mph (135 km/h), which allowed it to cross the Atlantic in three days, a record at the time.
Before the Hindenburg, airships had been built for slightly over two centuries, since in 1784 the French Montgolfier brothers built a hot-air balloon and became the first confirmed airship passengers. It wasn't until 1853 that the first full-sized — about 145 feet (44 m) in length — airship was built, which led to the start of the "Golden Age of Airships" in 1900. This was inaugurated by the construction of the LZ 1 Zeppelin, which was the first of the Zeppelins, the most successful class of airships in history. Because heavier-than-air flight was not invented until 1903, and its usage for significant amounts of passengers remained impractical until the development of commercial jet engines in the early 1950s, airships were the world's leader in transporting passengers through the air, until their popularity waned after the Hindenburg disaster in 1937.