200 Plus

Lakehurst Rumors Become Fact

By THOMAS P. FARNER | Dec 04, 2019

Surf City — In the days following World War I, the nation looked for ways to benefit from the technological advancement it had created. The Trenton Times of April 5, 1919, announced Atlantic City’s plan to be part of the modern world.

“The World’s first ‘air port’ is being established here. It was announced today through joint action of the Aero Club of America, Aerial League of America and Atlantic City Aero Club. … Looking into the future, it is planned to create there a terminus for Trans-atlantic land and seaplanes and dirigible balloons: to have aircraft registered under the rules of the Department of Commerce and receive clearance papers in the same way ships do; to provide airplane business and pleasure facilities for persons who visit Atlantic City yearly.”

While Atlantic City talked of becoming the center of the aviation world, little-known events were taking place farther north. The New Jersey Courier of May 30 reported on one of them.

“The big dirigible that went over Toms River Tuesday, is said to have come from the naval aviation station at Cape May. It went on up to Lakehurst and landed at the Proving Ground camp, and after a half hour stay went back to Cape May. The gas envelope is said to have been of aluminum, about 200 feet long and 50 feet in diameter. There were two naval officers and a mechanic in the car. Some of the Lakehurst soldiers said the dirigible had engine trouble and came to Lakehurst looking for a place to light in, and men enough to hold the balloon while the repairs were being made. It landed just back of the garage at the Proving Grounds, the soldiers manned the ropes and held it while the mechanics made the repairs, and it went on its way to Cape May. … Rumor says that five or six hundred sailors will be at Camp Kendrick in a short time.”

In August, the Lakewood Times explained why sailors were arriving at Lakehurst.

“Since the close of the Lakehurst camps many rumors have been heard in connection with their future, and their destiny has been continuously aired by the city newspapers. Camp Kendrick was listed for sale at auction but withdrawn, report stating that it would be taken over for the navy. The past few weeks have found the rumors of the dirigible base afloat and the rumors it would seem are to be carried out in reality. Not only will Lakehurst be benefitted by the establishing of a permanent head quarters there, but Lakewood, Toms River and all Ocean County will also be benefited.”

The rumors were now fact.

“The destiny of the government camps at Lakehurst, according to news items published in Metropolitan papers this past week and credited with originating in Washington, seems assured of important growth and permanency. The dirigible hangar which the navy will erect at Lakehurst as the first permanent housing sheds for its proposed giant dirigibles will be larger than the concourse of the Union Railway Terminal at Washington, and the largest in the world. The work will be started at once, according to the report, and a vast army of workmen will be employed there. The selection of this site for the proposed project will mean a boom in the Lakehurst section and will place Lakehurst on the map of importance.”

By Sept. 4, the Tuckerton Beacon was able to announce, “From what little can be picked up, it is understood that Lakehurst is to be the operating base of the navy’s fleet of huge dirigible balloons, or blimps, which it is purposed to build at once. The reports further state that ten of the enormous balloons, are to be built in the next five years, if Congress can be coaxed into supplying the money, as they will cost at least a million and a half each. … As a part of this program, the navy will start immediately on the construction of two gigantic hangars near Lakehurst, N.J. These hangars will be the largest in the world, and are intended to house four of the large blimps planned. The last Naval Appropriation bill carried an item of $3,500,000 for the construction of these hangars. Lakehurst will be the operating base for the new dirigible fleet.

“The first ship is being purchased by the navy department in England, since the British government had progressed much farther in dirigible construction than any other country, with the possible exception of Germany. The second ship will be built by enlisted men under the direction of naval contractors and engineers after plans prepared by the navy department.”

On Oct. 3, The Harrisburg Evening Times told how quickly the project was proceeding.

“The local plant of the Bethlehem Steel Company has been awarded a contract to furnish materials for the largest dirigible hangar in the world, to be erected at Lakehurst, N.J. The contract was closed some time ago and was awarded to the Bethlehem Company by the Bureau of Yards and Docks of the Navy Department.

“The hangar will be 800 feet in length, 270 feet wide and 1180 feet in height, and will be able to accommodate the largest dirigible balloon made or can hold two large airplanes. Work has been started on the hangar in the Bridge and Construction Department. There will be four doors on the building and each will weight 1300 tons. The total weight of the building has been estimated at 8000 tons.”

A few days later, back in New Jersey, the Courier updated its readers.

“The contractors who are to build the big hangars for the biggest dirigible balloon yet known, at the naval station, formerly Camp Kendrick, at Lakehurst, are now at work, beginning in a small way. The contractors are Irwin and Leighton, who built Camp Irwin and Leighton, who built Camp Dix. They are advertising in this week’s Courier for laborers on a small scale, and the report is that the work will soon be broadened out.

“The railroad siding from the Central Railroad into the camp is being pushed rapidly, to allow the shipping of materials right up to the camp site.”

By early 1920, work was well underway. The Engineering News featured the project in its May article.

“At the Naval Air Station, Lakehurst, N.J., the United States Navy is now building a hangar for rigid dirigibles which has the largest clear roof area of any structure in this country, and is the largest hangar in the world. The Lakehurst hangar, which is to be used to house the largest airships now being considered for the United States, and also as a constructing shed for new dirigibles, was designed in 1919 and will be completed some time this year.”

While the hangar was a giant arch-shaped shed, “Of far greater novelty in design are the main doors at each end of the structure. The two ends are in duplicate and each has a two-leaf rolling, self-supporting door approximately the same shape as the arch opening: that is, 177 ft. high, 136 ft. long and 77 ft. deep These doors of structural steel framing covered with asbestos siding are electrically operated and travel on railway tracks running parallel to the ends of the shed clear beyond the arch and are designed to take wind pressure on each side.”

Opening the giant doors was a marvel.

“These doors are, as stated, mounted on standard-gage trucks which travel on two lines of track laid on a concrete base. They are driven by electric motors with cables. ... (H)and operation is provided to open and close the doors in case of the failing of the current or motor.”

There was another problem that had to be overcome and would make the hangar unique.

“Special attention had to be paid to the lighting of the shed because of the possible presence there of an explosive mixture due to the escape of hydrogen from the dirigible. Therefore, no wires or exposed connections are taken inside the shed. All lighting is through heavy glass covers in walls and floor and roof, with the connections well outside the structure and with gasproof glass covers. On account also of the gas which is used to fill the balloons, the lights in the skylights are of actinic glass which will cut out the detrimental rays.”

Ocean County would become the home of one of the largest buildings in the world and headquarters of the nation’s lighter than air fleet. As the 1920s began to roar, it would be Lakehurst, not Atlantic City, at the center of the aviation world.

Next Week: Filling the hangar.

tpfcjf@comcast.net

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.