During World War I, the United States military first observed Germany's use of zeppelins, a type of lighter-than-air airship. Once the war ended, the United States Navy determined that it would build three rigid airships. These airships would not be used to fight in future wars but instead would be able to scout enemy positions. The USS Shenandoah was the first of these zeppelins to be completed. Unlike other airships, which used hydrogen, the Shenandoah was inflated with helium. It completed its first flight on September 4, 1923. In 1924, the airship and its crew completed a round-trip voyage across the United States. The following year, the Shenandoah and its crew, led by Lieutenant Commander Zachary Landsdowne, began a goodwill tour of the Midwestern states.
On September 2, 1925, the Shenandoah was traveling across Noble County, Ohio, when it encountered a storm. Violent updrafts began to tear the airship apart. Landsdowne and six other crewmen were killed when the control car separated from the airship and crashed in a field. Six others fell to their deaths soon afterward. The bow and stern sections continued to travel, bumping into trees and buildings before finally coming to a rest. Of the forty-three people on board, fourteen did not survive. The crash sites attracted many looters, even with Ohio National Guard protection. As a result of investigations after the crash, the Navy redesigned future airships.
Today, the Shenandoah crash site is marked with a historical marker.