Fragments of the hydrogen cylinders

Hydrogen explosion in 1894 and the beginning of modern damage analysis


On 25 May 1894, more than 400 iron hydrogen storage tanks exploded on the Berlin-Tempelhof airstrip, leaving behind immense destruction. The Royal Prussian Mechanical-Technical Research Institute was asked to investigate the material properties and to prepare an expert report on how increased safety of such cylinders could be achieved for the future while safeguarding the interests of the airship service, such as by improving delivery specifications or appropriate material testing.

The studies were personally carried out by Director Prof. Adolf Martens and his deputy Prof. M. Rudeloff. They represent one of the first comprehensive failure case investigations in history and established BAM's long tradition in failure analysis. Martens and his colleague developed quite detailed specimen plans and examined original failure parts with special attention to conspicuous fracture appearance, but also carried out comparison experiments with hardened as well as annealed samples. Experienced investigators might identify some first routines how to conduct failure analyses and the importance of Adolf Martens as a pioneer in this field becomes clear.