811.659 Helium/101: Telegram

The Ambassador in Germany (Wilson) to the Secretary of State

179. Prince Bismarck of the Foreign Office brought up with me the question of helium export. He recited the history of the case from his point of view stating that after the Hindenburg disaster21 the German Government had given orders to cease construction of zeppelins unless it could be arranged that helium would be forthcoming in necessary quantities to operate the dirigible. Negotiations were then undertaken with the United States and I believe in November last assurances were given by which the German Government was persuaded that helium could be purchased from the United States. They then resumed their work on the zeppelins and have gone to considerable expense in this connection. They had understood that authorization would be given to their application for export upon their declaration that the helium would not be used for war purposes. They were ready to fulfill all requirements which had been stipulated.

On March 31 a new set of regulations22 was, however, issued which provided both for the posting of a bond to guarantee the non-utilization of helium for war purposes and for control within Germany by American officers of the disposition of helium.

Both of these conditions Bismarck stated were impossible of acceptance for the reason that they both cast doubt upon the good faith of the German Government in making a promise not to use helium for war purposes.

Bismarck added that he most earnestly hoped that this matter could be worked out both because he wanted to see the dirigible service [Page 458]continued between the United States and this country and because he realized what a shock it would be to German public opinion if it had to be explained that a sudden recoil of policy on the part of the American Government had made it impossible to carry out the plans that had been laid.

I told him that I had had no news from Washington in respect to this matter other than that contained in the radio bulletin this morning to the effect that the President had requested further consideration by members of the Cabinet. I added that I would at once cable you regarding his observations. He said he would cable Dieckhoff23 again and hoped that I would do what I could in this connection.

I only know the details of the history of this matter from the German point of view, but I do know that the German Government is sincere in its belief that the new regulations would constitute an unfair departure from the original understanding and would regard them as evidence of an unfriendly attitude on the part of the United States Government toward Germany. Unless a prompt solution can be found in this matter I believe that so deep a resentment will be created not only among Party men but among Foreign Office men, on whom we must rely in discussion of our cases, that it would be difficult to obtain effective protection and fair treatment for American individuals and interests in the many cases that we are obliged to bring before the Foreign Office.

  1. The German Zeppelin Hindenburg exploded and burned at Lakehurst, New Jersey, in 1937.
  2. Federal Register, 1938, vol. 3, p. 699.
  3. Hans Heinrich Dieckhoff, German Ambassador in the United States.