Wingfoot Air Express – The first airship crash

Wingfoot Air Express – The first airship crash

On Monday, July 21, 1919, the Wingfoot Air Express (owned by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company) crashed into the Illinois Trust and Savings Building in Chicago, killing 13 people. It was the worst airship disaster in the US until the Zeppelin Hindenburg airship crashed in 1937. Of the 13 dead, one was a crew member, two were passengers, while the remaining 10 were bank employees in the building below.

The Wingfoot Air Express was carrying passengers from Grant Park to White City Amusement Park when, at an altitude of about 1,200 feet, the craft caught fire over the Chicago Loop. After the crew realized the airship was lost, the pilot and chief engineer parachuted to safety along with a third man, who broke both legs and later died in hospital.

The Illinois Trust & Savings Bank building at the corner of LaSalle Street and Jackson Boulevard houses 150 employees who close after business (the fire is reported to have started at 4:55 p.m.) in the main banking hall. The main hall was lit by a large skylight, and the wreckage of the Wingfoot Air Express slammed directly into the bank’s skylight, causing flaming debris to fall into the hall below. In addition to the ten officers killed, 27 officers were also injured.

After the disaster, the Chicago City Council banned hydrogen-filled airships from flying over populated areas 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 working at the bank, in an accident that left all staff and employees in mourning.


A mass of flaming wreckage appeared out of the clear sky and crashed through the large skylight of this bank, bringing death and injury to the Illinois Trust family. A great airship floating above the loop ignited a thousand feet in the air and hurtled like a flaming comet down to earth. The finger of fate had chosen the skylight of this building among the hundreds of flat roofs around, upon which the airship was to strike.

This great tragedy resulted in the death of ten employees of the bank and the injury of twenty-seven others, leaving an unforgettable shadow on the entire institution. Clerks and staff were busy wrapping up the day on July 21st. It was a big day. Monday almost invariably brings more work than the other days of the week. Many of the employees were already on their way home. Those still at work were putting the finishing touches on the day’s work and would be heading home very soon.

Suddenly, as if the whole roof were collapsing, there was a great crash, and down through the skylight came the huge, fiery airship of twisted iron and heavy machinery, past the balcony and down to the first floor on the heads of the employees who were working under the great skylight.

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

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