moo for gold

Gold beaters skin is made from the intestine of cows. In Egyptian times, a small piece of gold ingot would be placed between two of these membranes and beaten to create gold leaf. They were also used in book restoration and to keep zeppelins afloat.


The airship’s gasbags are made from a material called goldbeaters skin. It is a curious material that involves a long, mysterious and once secretive, process of manufacture.

Goldbeaters skin is made from the outer layer of the caecum, which is also called blind gut or even the appendix. The outer layers of the blind-gut are carefully stripped off into sheets, cleaned of fat, scraped with a blunt knife and then stretched over a frame. One quite remarkably quality of this material is that separate sheets can be joined or welded when wet by carefully rubbing the overlap of the two sheets. Several layers can be made this way as well, for example, airship gasbags usually consisted of up to seven layers of skin.


The Hindenburg had a gas capacity of nearly 212,000 cubic meters. So it becomes clear that these sheets, each one being painstakingly prepared by hand and fused with each other and done so in many layers, were also required in unimaginable quantities though only two sheets could be obtained from the intestine of one cow. The American military airship Shenandoah used 750,000 separate sheets of goldbeaters skin for its gasbags. Incidentally the gas-bags of the Hindenburg were over three times the capacity of those of the Shenandoah.


***The Hindenburg is perhaps the most famous zeppelin of all. Its many features included a special smoking room and of course a cocktail bar.

The smoking room was kept at higher than ambient pressure, so that no leaking hydrogen could enter the room, and the smoking room and its associated bar were separated from the rest of the ship by a double-door airlock. One electric lighter was provided, as no open flames were allowed aboard the ship.


In reality, the pressurization of the smoking room may have been as much for public relations as for safety. The smoking room was located on B Deck, at the bottom of the ship, and since hydrogen is lighter than air any leaking gas would have escaped upward. (It would have been very unlikely that free hydrogen could have settled downward to the level of the smoking room, and only a leak at the very bottom of the cell adjoining the smoking room in Bay 12 would have posed any significant risk.)

The Hindenburg’s bar was a small ante-room between the smoking room and the air-lock door leading to the corridor on B-Deck. This is where Hindenburg bartender Max Schulze served up LZ-129 Frosted Cocktails (gin and orange juice) and Maybach 12 cocktails (recipe lost to history).


The bar and smoking room were also the scene of a raucous party on the Hindenburg’s maiden voyage to America, where passenger Pauline Charteris (whose husband Leslie Charteris created “The Saint”) improvised a kirschwasser cocktail after the ship ran out of gin for martinis.

Ian Ogilvy as The Saint

***Taken from a fascinating site dedicated to airships, click here to read

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36 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Airships are an interesting subject – what a way to travel they must have been! Here’s something else interesting (or not, as the case may be). The Author Neville Shute, who went to live in Australia after the war, first gained some reputation as a talented designer – of airships. He worked closely with Barnes Wallis on the R100, which might have been successful were it not for the terrible disaster involving the R101. That left little appetite for airships in the UK….until Airship Industries in the 70’s and 80’s.

    As to Ian Ogilvy….

    • oh that is interesting, all I knew about Nevil Shute was that he wrote On The Beach and A Town Like Alice

      • Dreadful – I spelt his name wrong! See for the goods on a fascinating man.

      • I gueesed that Shute had been in the aircraft industry, after seeing the film of the book No Highway but I had no idea he was soo involved.

  2. Talk about high steaks!

  3. I love airships and have just finished a great sci-fi/steampunk novel in which a fleet of airships feature heavily: TERMINAL WORLD by Alastair Reynolds.

    As for gasbags I know a few…

    The King

    • Well I’m certain you’re not referring to either The Queen or her handmaiden

      • I’m quite the gas bag sometimes but I’m not made from any part of a cow. Do our American friends use that term for someone who talks alot?

  4. Zeppelins have always been fascinating for some reason. It’s a pity the Hindenburg incident had to happen.

    • I think a lot of us are fascinated by zeppelins

  5. Never knew so much about the Hindenburg. I wonder if it smelled like leather. And who knew about the bar?

    • I think it would have smelled of decadence 😉

  6. hydrogen fire is a bit of overkill for grilling meat, isn’t it?

    • especially since I like my meat blue

  7. I am surprised given the nostalgia someone hasn’t tried to do a start up of another airship like these.

    • I wish they would, I’d pay to fly in one

      • me too, for definite!

  8. I wonder why they didn’t use helium in zepplins after the Hindenburg.

    • Because the Americans controlled the stuff – and wouldn’t let Fritz and his lads have any!

  9. what is it about gasbags and saints, how they always seem to run together.

    check this out:

    • But where are the leather couches and the bar?

  10. Fascinating stuff Nursemyra. Some years ago I ended up driving an old friend of mine round to WWI zeppelin crash sites in SE England, I liked that the church at one place, Little Wigborough, still had quite a few pieces of the Zeppelin

    • Are they on display in a glass case?

  11. It would have been a wonderful way to travel in my opinion. I have to take a long hot air balloon ride one day….never have.

    • Have you seen the opening scene in Enduring Love ?

      • No, I haven’t. Good I guess?

      • Very powerful… someone falls out of a balloon….

  12. Airships may become necessary again if this dust cloud over Europe persists. And how bad will it be if the dust goes right around the globe to finally reach North America.

  13. I am making the new Hindenberg in my backyard, but I am smart, I ain’t using Hydrogen, I am using Methane instead.

    • So you’re just farting into the bag?

  14. Yes despite going up in flames the Hindenburg was a marvel of engineering in many ways. It was like the Titanic of the air. Yet both went down on their maiden voyages. I saw a special in which they said the could make a zeppelin much like it now and not have many of the issues that caused it to explode. Question is, who would want to fly on it?

  15. I have not run across this goldbeaters topic in my recent research… and I thought I was finished… but now back to the books. Dang… my eyes are bleary. (Cool post.)

  16. Man, Ian Ogilvy is such a little bitch.

  17. Cows, zeppelins and cocktails – your best post yet, Nurse Myra!


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