The most well traveled airship in history.
The craft of the zeppelin design were so successful, that the word zeppelin in casual use came to refer to all rigid airships. Zeppelins are quite distinct from the non-rigid type of airships commonly known as blimps.
In addition to founding the airship construction business, in the early 20th century, Count von Zeppelin also founded the world's first commercial airline called DELAG. Both business were based in Friedrichshafen, Germany.
The zeppelin airships were lighter-than-air craft using a rigid frame construction with an aerodynamic outer envelope and several separate balloons called 'cells' containing the lighter-than-air gas hydrogen completely within the frame. A comparatively small compartment for passengers and crew was built into the bottom of the frame. Several internal combustion engines provided motive power.
The elderly Count was replaced as head of the Zeppelin business by Hugo Eckener. Eckener was both a master of publicity as well as an extremely skilled airship captain. It was under Eckener's guidance that the Zeppelins reached their zenith.
The Zeppelin business was successful up to the 1930s and included long-distance routes from Germany to the United States and South America. The most successful airship of this period was the Graf Zeppelin which flew over 1 million miles including the first circumnavigation of the globe via airship.
The Great Depression and the rise of the Nazi party in Germany both contributed to the demise of the passenger carrying airships. In particular, Eckener and the Nazis had an intense and mutual loathing. The Zeppelin business was nationalized by the German Government in the mid-1930s and closed down a few years later following the Hindenburg disaster, in which the company's flagship zeppelin caught fire during a landing.
However, during approximately 20 years of private operation as an airline, it was at least somewhat profitable, and had a perfect safety record until the Hindenburg fire.
Zeppelins were used as long range bombers against England during World War I but were not notably successful. Their slow speed, large size, and highly flammable hydrogen lifting gas made them easy targets for anti-aircraft guns as well as gunfire from airplanes.
most likely the USS Macon which was built in the
United States by the Goodyear-Zeppelin company in the 1930s,
at what appears to be the
airfield later named Moffet Field, in
Santa Clara, California
Public domain image from NASA''
Airships using the Zeppelin construction method are sometimes referred to as zeppelins even if they had no connection to the Zeppelin business. Several airships of this kind were built in the USA, Britain, Italy, and the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1923, the first American-build rigid dirigible (and was covered with an aluminum-painted fabric), the Shenandoah ("daughter of the stars") [ZR-1]. The Zeppelin was christened on August 20 in Lakehurst, New Jersey and was first to use helium gas. It was tested in flight on September 3. It could carry a large amount of fuel to cruise 5,000 miles at an average speed of 65 mph. A series of fatal crashes halted the Zeppelin construction method.
The history of Zeppelins is of particular interest to stamp collectors. From 1909 through 1939, Zeppelins carried mail during their international flights, including covers (envelopes with stamps attached and canceled) prepared by and for collectors. Many nations issued high-denomination Zeppelin stamps, intended for franking of Zeppelin mail. Among the rarest of Zeppelin covers are those carried during the fateful flight of the Hindenburg; those which survived are invariably charred along the margins, and are worth thousands of dollars. See also stamp collecting, philately, Philatelic Investment .
Not to be confused with Led Zeppelin, a famous rock band who took their name by substituting "zeppelin" in the expression "lead balloon".