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Fascinating facts about Ferdinand von Zeppelin inventor of the rigid dirigible in 1900. Ferdinand Zeppelin
On July 2, 1900 the first rigid dirigible (zeppelin) made its maiden flight. It carried five persons; it attained an altitude of 1300 ft and flew a distance of 3.75 miles in 17 minutes. The success of this and future military and civilian Zeppelins were to have a lasting effect on airpower strategists and Ferdinand Graf Zeppelin will always be remembered for the graceful mammoths of the sky which he pioneered.
Inventor: Ferdinand Adolf August Heinrich von Zeppelin, (Count)
Ferdinand von Zeppelin photo courtesy Zeppelin Museum
Criteria: First to patent. First practical. Entrepreneur.
Birth: July 8, 1838 in Konstanz, Baden, Germany
Death: March 8, 1917 in Berlin, Germany
Nationality: German
Invention: dirigible, rigid
Zeppelin airship photo courtesy Zeppelin Museum
Function: noun / dir·i·gi·ble
Definition: A large dirigible balloon consisting of a long, cylindrical, covered framework containing compartments or cells filled with gas, and of various structures for holding the engines, passengers, etc.
Patent: 621,195 (US) issued March 14, 1899
1838 Ferdinand von Zeppelin born in Konstanz, Baden, Germany
1858 After Ludwigsburg Military Academy and University of Tübingen he enters the Prussian Army
1863 Assigned to America during the U.S. Civil War, flies balloon for first time
1864 Returns to Germany with a keen interest in human flight
1869 Marries Isaballa Freiin von Wolff, who bears him a child ten years later
1887 Ppblished a comprehensive plan for a civil air transportation system
1891 Retires from the Prussian Army as a brigadier general
1897 Zeppelin files U.S. patent application for a Navigable Balloon
1899 Zeppelin awarded patent for Navigable balloon
1900 On July 2, first rigid dirig8ble (zeppelin) flies carring five passangers a distance of 3,75 miles
1908 A zeppelin airship provided the first commercial air service for passengers
1917 Zeppelin died on March 6, in Berlin Germany
CAPS:Zeppelin, Ferdinand von Zeppelin,
Ferdinand Adolf August Heinrich von Zeppelin, Graf Zeppelin, Ferdinand Graf Zeppelin, Hugo Eckener, ARY, zeppelin, dirigible, rigid dirigible, airship, navigable balloon, SIP, history, biography, inventor, invention.
Ferdinand von Zeppelin was the inventor of the rigid drigible or airship balloon. He was born July 8, 1838, in Konstanz, Baden, Germany, and educated at the Ludwigsburg Military Academy and the University of Tübingen. He entered the Prussian army in 1858. Zeppelin went to the United States in 1863 to work as a military observer for the Union army in the American Civil War and later explored the headwaters of the Mississippi River, making his first balloon flight while he was in Minnesota.

He returned to Germany at the end of the war with a
keen interest in balloon flight and devoted himself to the design and construction of airships.. He married, in 1869, to Isaballa Freiin von Wolff from Livonia; they had a daughter, Hella, born in Ulm in 1879. In 1887, he published a comprehensive plan for a civil air transportation system based on large lighter-then-air ships. Zeppelin retired from the army in 1891 with the rank of brigadier general. He subsequently founded an airship factory at Friedrichshafen using his own funds. Zeppelin proceeded to devote the remainder of his life to the design and construction of engine-powered dirigibles.

He completed his first rigid dirigible in 1900.  This ship had a rigid frame and served as the prototype of many subsequent models.  The first zeppelin airship consisted of a row of 17 gas cells individually covered in rubberized cloth; the whole was confined in a cylindrical framework covered with smooth surfaced cotton cloth.  It was about about 420 ft long and 38 ft in diameter; the hydrogen-gas capacity totaled 399,000 cu ft.  The ship was steered by forward and aft rudders and was driven by two 15-hp Daimler internal-combustion engines, each rotating two propellers. Passengers, crew, and engine were carried in two aluminum gondolas suspended forward and aft.  At its first trial, on July 2, 1900, the airship carried five persons; it attained an altitude of 1300 ft  and flew a distance of 3.75 miles in 17 minutes.

Despite many setbacks, Zeppelin continued his research and in 1908 he established at Friederichshafen the Zeppelin Foundation for the development of aerial navigation and the manufacture of airships. That same year, one of his airships provided the first commercial air service for passengers. Zeppelins were making routine commercial mail and passenger flights over Germany, with a remarkable safety record despite the risks in using highly flammable hydrogen gas to inflate the airships. Up until 1914 the German Aviation Association (Deutsche Luftschifffahrtsgesellschaft or DELAG) transported nearly 35,000 people on over 1500 flights without an incident.

During World War I, zeppelins were used in German air raids over Britain and France but were found to be vulnerable to antiaircraft fire.
Zeppelin aircraft were effectively removed from front line service at Verdun in 1916, as improved Allied aircraft succeeded in achieving a higher destruction rate. Even so, newer models were introduced that could fly higher and higher, although this impacted their bombing accuracy. Their use was more or less discontinued in 1917 as Allied bombers demonstrated a consistent ability to destroy the airships.

Count Zeppelin died March 8, 1917, before the end of World War I. He therefore did not witness either the provisional shutdown of the Zeppelin project due to the Treaty of Versailles or the second resurgence of the zeppelins under his successor Hugo Eckener.

After the war they were widely used in commercial flights.  However, safety problems that led to accidents, including the crash of the Hindenburg in 1937, brought on the end of the zeppelin's popularity.

The Zeppelin qualities of streamlined-shape, light rigid framework, and maneuvering power, made them successful when heavier than air machines were yet undeveloped. His quest for a light metal led directly to the invention of Duraluminum, which was to later make the all-metal airframe practical.


The Entrepreneur    from The Great Idea Finder
Transportation History   from The Great Idea Finder

The History of Science and Technology
by Bryan Bunch, Alexander Hellemans / Hardcover: 768 pages / Houghton Mifflin Company; (2004)
Highly browsable yet richly detailed, expertly researched and indexed, The History of Science and Technology is the perfect desktop reference for both the science novice and the technologically advanced reader alike.
Zeppelin!: Germany and the Airship, 1900-1939
by Guillaume De Syon / Hardcover: 295 pages / Johns Hopkins Univ Press (December 2001)
These phenomenal rigid, lighter-than-air craft—the invention of Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin (1838-1917)—approached the size of a small village. Although they moved slowly, there was no mistaking their exciting—or ominous—potential.
The Great Dirigibles: Their Triumphs and Disasters
by John Toland / Paperback: 352 pages / Dover Publications; Revised edition (June 1, 1972)
The story of the Great Dirigibles)is sure to please even the most knowledgeable airship reader. Toland investigates the origins of airships and includes many of the pre-Zeppelin era narratives. The book is full of first hand accounts and includes an excellent index and an acknowledgement section (which will be of interest to serious readers)

Zeppelins: German Airships 1900-40
by Charles Stephenson, Ian Palmer / Paperback: 48 pages  / Osprey Publishing (July 25, 2004)
On 2 July 1900 the people of Friedrichshafen, Germany, witnessed a momentous occasion - the first flight of LZ 1, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin's first airship. Although deemed a failure, a succession of better craft (LZ2 to 10) enabled the Zeppelin to expand into the consumer market of airship travel, whilst also providing military craft for the German Army and Navy.

DVD / 1 Volume Set / 50 Minutes / History Channel / 73282 / Less than $25.00
They are among the most romantic machines ever built, enormous craft held aloft by lighter-than-air gas trapped beneath their vast skins. In the 20th century, they have played a vital role in war, transportation and commerce?and been involved in one of the most famous tragedies of all time.


This web site gives you a place to begin learning, both the history and the future, of Zeppelin airships.
First World War: Who's Who
Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin (1838-1917) was born in Konstanz, Baden on 8 April 1838 and was the first large-scale builder of the rigid dirigibles which eventually became synonymous with his name.
Zeppelin Museum
The Zeppelin Museum brings all aspects of the history and technology of airship flight to life. Here you may experience the great dimensions of the "Giants of the air".
Centennial of Flight
Zeppelin died on March 8, 1917 in Berlin, Germany. After the war, they were used in commercial flights until the crash of the Hindenburg in 1937. From the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission
International Aerospace Hall of Fame
Pioneer Airship Designer, Born Kostantz, Baden, Germany. Inducted into Hall of Fame in 1975.

Aviation History (Timeline)
From the Montgolfier Brothers construct the first lighter-than-air vehicle (a balloon) in 1873 through 2003 and the celebration of Aviation first century. Special consideration to Charles Lindberg at the Foundation Web site that bears his name.

Ferdinand von Zeppelin
In 1898 Zeppelin, with a team of 30 workmen, had assembled his first airship. The main principle of Zeppelin's invention was that hydrogen-filled gas-bags were carried inside a steel skeleton.

The Goodyear Blimp
The blimp tradition began in 1925 when Goodyear built its first helium-filled public relations airship, the Pilgrim. The tire company painted its name on the side and began barnstorming the United States. Humble beginnings to an illustrious history.

Airship and Blimp Resources
The main focus is on contemporary development, rather than history. Explore this site and you will see why airships are destined to a bright future.

AIRSHIP: DJ's Zeppelin Page
Provides photographs of and ephemera from airships . Maintained by Daniel J. Grossman.
Airship Association
The Airship Association - the only worldwide body catering solely for people interested in powered lighter-than-air aviation.

"All of the biggest technological inventions created by man - the airplane, the automobile, the computer - says little about his intelligence, but speaks volumes about his laziness." - Mark Kennedy


  • The Zeppelin Airships still fly today. The newest was built in 1997.
  • In modern common usage, zeppelin, dirigible and airship are used interchangeably for any type of rigid airship, with the terms blimp or airship alone used to describe non-rigid airships.
  • In modern technical usage, airship is the term used for all aircraft of this type with zeppelin referring only to aircraft of that manufacture and blimp referring only to non-rigid airships.
  • Graf is a title, translated as Count, not a first or middle name. The female form is Gräfin. When "Graf" or its translation "Count" is used, it is correct to omit the "von." Thus, "Ferdinand von Zeppelin," but "Graf Zeppelin."
Designated trademarks and brands are the property of their respective owners.
Reference Sources in BOLD Type. This page revised September 12, 2006.

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