JONNY PHILLIPS: One of the gases used extensively for early balloon flights was hydrogen and this is because it's so easy to make, and we're going to show you how.
RICHARD AMBROSE: We're passing an electrical current from a 6 volt battery through a column of water and we're splitting the water into its component parts - hydrogen and oxygen. From the positive end of the battery we create oxygen...from the negative end of the battery we create hydrogen. It's a process called electrolysis.
JONNY PHILLIPS: And in fact the father of electricity himself, the Victorian scientist Michael Faraday, invented rubberised balloons to store the hydrogen produced during his experiments. I bet you didn't know that?
VO: The big advantage of a lighter than air gas like hydrogen is that once you've filled your balloon, it floats, it's as simple as that. No heat is required.
JONNY PHILLIPS: And because hydrogen in large quantities produces a lot of lift, it wasn't long before people were attaching machinery to balloons too achieve power flight. These power balloons became known as airships. Originally they were hand or even steam powered, but the real breakthrough came with the development of the internal combustion engine.
VO: At the turn of the 20th Century, the German, Count Von Zeppelin, showed what was possible with this new form of transport. It wasn't long before the British and Americans were following his lead.
30 years before the arrival of trans-Atlantic civilian passenger planes, airships dominated long-distance travel.
For most of that time, they had a surprisingly good safety record, but all that changed with a series of high profile disasters. The most famous being the Hindenburg.
But despite its notoriety, an amazing two thirds of the passengers and crew survived. It was however, the final nail in the coffin that ended the use of hydrogen in airships for good.
Their small descendants are still around today, but they're now filled with a much safer gas: Helium.