That Helium's Pretty Precious (But Used To Be Much More Precious)

The Hindenburg used hydrogen NOT because we hadn't yet figured out it's flammable. It was because helium used to be so rare.
That Helium's Pretty Precious (But Used To Be Much More Precious)

The balloons at the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade are filled with helium. That fact is obvious and trivial when you're a kid but somewhat terrifying when you're older. Helium is a non-renewable resource, you see, and once we release it into the atmosphere, we have no way of getting it back. We need helium for high-tech medical stuff, and scientists sometimes can't do their work because of helium shortages. It's enough that many people feel guilty even filling a few small balloons for birthday parties, let alone giant balloons of Garfield and Olaf.

You might even wonder if there's some way to just use hot air for those balloons, or hydrogen. Same deal with blimps, which are even huger than Macy's balloons and also use helium. Sure, there was a pretty famous and horrible disaster a century ago when we filled an airship with hydrogen, but there were pretty famous and horrible shipwrecks back then too, and that didn't stop us from sailing boats.

However, ships like the Hindenburg used hydrogen instead of helium not because we hadn't yet figured out hydrogen is flammable. It was because helium used to be so rare. Helium is finite even now, but it used to be much more rare. The first helium airship, the USS Shenandoah, used the majority of all the helium humanity had extracted—and the second ship, the Los Angeles, had to use helium from the Shenandoah, because we didn't have any other helium. 

We have access to a lot more helium now, and we in fact have more than we did even a few years ago, when we were panicking about the helium supply, because we've now spotted a few new massive sources. So, yes, the total amount of the element in the Earth is still finite and will run out one day, but for now, the problem's not as bad as we once thought it was.

At the moment, even medical technicians have found themselves no longer suffering from a helium shortage. This was thanks to a sudden drop in the demand of helium ... due to people skipping birthday parties. Yeah, we weren't kidding about birthday balloons being the real menace. 

This fact came from the One Cracked Fact newsletter. Want more like this, straight from your email inbox, without any ads or popups? Join here: 

Sign up for the Cracked Newsletter

Get the best of Cracked sent directly to your inbox!

Check out our evolving look at the helium crisis:

6 Important Things You Didn't Know We're Running Out Of

Goodyear Blimps And Macy's Thanksgiving Parade Balloons Will Soon Be Too Expensive To Inflate

What Does a Monkey's Voice Sound Like on Helium?

Follow Ryan Menezes on Twitter for more stuff no one should see. 

Top image: Rhododendrites/Wiki Commons

Scroll down for the next article
Forgot Password?