The Zeppelin

The Zeppelin was a cigar-shaped rigid airship. In 1874 the German cavalry general, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, pioneered its rigid design. Its basic form was that of a long cylinder with tapered ends. It was on this day in history, on July 2, 1900, that the first Zeppelin, the LZ 1, made its maiden voyage. It flew across the Bodensee (Lake Constance) in Germany. The initial prototype was 420 feet long. Eventually, the term “zeppelin” came to refer to all rigid airships.

Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin

Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin

Count Ferdinand continued to improve the design of the LZ 1, and by 1910 his airships were flown commercially. By the middle of 1914, they had carried over 34,000 passengers on over 1,500 flights. The popularity of the Zeppelin peaked during the 1930s when they were flown on regular transatlantic flights between Germany and North America, and between Germany and Brazil. At one point, the count even toyed with the idea of connecting several independent airships to form a steerable airship train.

After Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin died in 1917, his successor, Hugo Eckener, took command of the business. He worked hard at reestablishing to company’s lead in rigid airship design in the wake of World War I, but political issues made it difficult. Then, in 1937, one of the Zepplins, the Hindenburg, landed in Lakehurst in New Jersey, after having completed another transatlantic flight, when its tail caught on fire. Within seconds, it burst into flames, killing many passengers and crewmembers. The event led to the demise of the Zeppelin.


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