History Behind The Card: German Zeppelin Type
Card #23 of 50, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1910
Name: Count Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin, 1838 – 1917, Konstanz, Germany
Next to the Red Baron, Count von Zeppelin is arguably the most famous German aviation person. As such, this particular blog is as much about von Zeppelin the man as it is about his creation the zeppelin.
By the way, obviously I could have shown you a better card of the zeppelin above, but it’s the only one I have from the 50-card Wills’s Aviation Tobacco Card series – and while I do have the same card from other series, I wouldn’t want to appear deceiving. Obviously I’ll have to pick up a better quality card one day.
The Count, who actually has more names than myself, was a German general and later an aircraft manufacturer and founder of the Zeppelin Airship Company.
As a youth, back in 1853, von Zeppelin left home to go to a school in Stuttgart, Germany, before becoming in 1855 a cadet at the military school in Ludwigsburg (about 12-kilometers from Stuttgart) and then starting his army career as an officer at the Kingdom of Württemberg, then a state of Germany.
He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in 1858 and was then given the chance to leave and study science, engineering and chemistry at Tübingen kind of near Stuttgart.
When the Prussian army began getting ready to become involved in the Austro-Sardinian War in 1859, his schooling was interruptedm and he was called to the Ingenieurkorps – the Prussian engineering corps.
Now… here’s where it gets cool!
In 1863 von Zeppelin left Germany and traveled to the United States that weren’t quite so united, to act as an observer for the North – the Union Army – during the American Civil War.
He was also later part of an expedition with Russians and Native American Indians searching for the source of the Mississippi river and -ta-dah! – made his first ascent with John Steiner’s captive (tethered) balloon with the Union Army Balloon Corps, which was a civilian detachment.
The Corps consisted of American balloonists (then called aeronauts) who had seven special-built tethered, gas-filled balloons used for reconnaissance on the southern Confederate Army.
During the Peninsular Campaign, he visited the balloon camp of Thaddeus S. C. Lowe who sent von Zeppelin to another balloon camp where the German-born balloonist John Steiner could talk with him.
Von Zeppelin made his first balloon ascent at Saint Paul, Minnesota, and this was, of course, the inspiration for his interest in aviation… although not just yet.
Back home by 1865, von Zeppelin was appointed adjutant of the King of Württemberg and again as general staff officer in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866.
He was awarded the Ritterkreuz (Knight’s Cross) of the Order of Distinguished Service of Württemberg.
In the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 (those Prussians sure seemed to love to go to war), von Zeppelin was part of a reconnaissance mission behind enemy lines – narrowly avoided capture – which made him famous in Germany for his heroics.
Between 1882 and 1885, von Zeppelin was commander of the 19th Uhlans in Ulm, and then appointed envoy of Württemberg in Berlin. In 1890 he gave up this post to return to army service, being given command of a Prussian cavalry brigade. His handling of this at the 1890 autumn maneuvers was not without major criticism, so much so that he was forced to retire from the Army, but with the rank of Generalleutnant.
Now, though it is documented in von Zeppelin’s diary entry of March 25, 1874 – some nine years after his first balloon flight – this was his first written conceptualization for a large dirigible.
He had been inspired by a speech from Heinrich von Stephan on the subject of “World Postal Services and Air Travel”. The diary entry discussed the basic idea of a large rigidly-framed outer envelope containing a number of separate gasbags.
After his forced resignation from the army at the age of 52, von Zeppelin devoted his full attention to airships, and even hired engineer Theodor Gross to tests materials and available engines. Propellers were also tested, as well as how to ensure he received the highest purity level of hydrogen gas from suppliers.
By 1891, a confident von Zeppelin wrote to the Prussian royalty to state that he was ready to build his aircraft, but the very next day after such a bold proclamation he was ready to quit after realizing his calculations had failed to consider the effects of air resistance.
His spirits perked up, however after learning of the work of Rudolf Hans Bartsch von Sigsfeld, making light but powerful engines – but again, he later learned that those claims were overly optimistic.
To his credit, von Zeppelin asked supporter Max von Duttenhofer to encourage Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft to try and create more efficient engines – the French had them, why shouldn’t the Germans or the Prussians?
Despite these setbacks Zeppelin’s organization had refined his idea: a rigid aluminum framework covered in a fabric envelope; separate multiple internal gas cells, each free to expand and contract thus obviating the need for ballonets; modular frame allowing addition of sections and gas cells; controls, engines and gondola rigidly attached.
These plans were later refined by engineer Theodore Kober… and by 1893, the Kober-von Zeppelin aircraft designs were sent to the Prussian Airship Service – which being part of the government – agreed to look at it in 1894.
By June of 1895, the Prussian Air Service agreed to provide minimal funding… but by July of the same year, rescinded and whole-heartedly rejected the design.
That’s the government for you – nearly two years of nothing.
The actual patent for Kuber’s design called the aircraft an ‘airship train’ or ‘Lenkbarer Luftfahrzug mit mehreren hintereinanderen angeordneten Tragkörpern‘, which translates from Germans as a ‘Steerable airship-train with several carrier structures arranged one behind another.’
The patent description includes:
- an airship consisting of three rigid sections flexibly connected;
- the front section, intended to contain the crew and engines, was 117.35-meters (385-feet) long and a gas capacity of 9514 cubic meters (336,000 cubic feet);
- the middle section was 16-meters (52 feet 6 inches) long with an intended useful load of 599-kilograms (1,320-pounds);
- the end section was 39.93-meters (131-feet) long with an intended load of 1996-kilograms (4,400-pounds).
By the time 1896 rolled around, construction by the Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Luftschiffart had begun on the world’s first successful rigid airship, the craft that would be known as Zeppelin LZ 1.
But it was mostly just done via von Zeppelin’s money. In fact, in 1898, he created the Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Luftschiffahrt (Society for the Promotion of Airship Flight), contributing more than half of its 800,000 mark share-capital himself.
On July 2, 1900 the zeppelin LZ 1 (LZ = Luftschiff Zeppelin or Airship Zeppelin) flew for the first time from a floating hangar on Lake Constance in Germany – flying for 20 minutes, but becoming damaged upon landing.
This first zeppelin is described as being 125-meter (410-feet) long and 11.89-meters (39-feet) in diameter with its 17 sections divided by 16 24-sided polygonal rings separated by spaces of 7.92-meters (26-feet). The rings, stage and wire bracing were manufactured from wolframium (better known as tungsten) though all subsequent models built for the German government were replaced by wood and steel.
The zeppelin’s fabric was proofed with a grey quality of rubber that gave it a very high resistance to gas leakage. The first model had a volume of 9,943.46-cubic meters (351,150-cubic feet) of hydrogen gas giving the LZ 1 a lift of 11,176.52-kilograms (11-tons). A space of 0.61-meters (2-feet) was present between the internal and external balloon to help protect it from the heat of the sun.
Over the framing and between the chambers ramie (natural fiber also known as China grass) netting was used to add strength to the zeppelin’s structure and fabric. The nose of the LZ 1 nose was capped with a sheet of aluminum bow plate.
There were two boat-like cars at each end of the stiffening keel, where along with a latticed framework along the balloon’s underside, it would allow it to float on water. Each of these cars were 6.5-meters x 1.82-meters x 1-meter (21.32-feet x 5.96-feet x 3.28-feet) and are connected to each other via a 99.36-meter (326-foot) long passage with a cable stretched from car to car with a sliding weight that was used to adjust the trim both fore and aft.
The LZ 1 was powered by a pair of Daimler engines capable of putting out 15 horsepower each at 700-revolutions per minute. A motor was located within each car, and each drove two four-bladed propellers enabling it to achieve a speed no greater than 28-kilometers per hour (17-miles per hour) and could only travel for very short distances.
Later Zeppelin models were quite large, some propelled with 350-horsepower motors able to control six or three or two-bladed props, enabling them to reach speeds up to 48.28-kilometers per hour (30-miles per hour) for distances as great as 1,528-kilometers (~950-miles).
After repairs and some modifications, two further flights were made by the LZ1 in October 1900, However the airship was not considered successful enough to justify investment by the government, and since the experiments had exhausted Count Zeppelins funds, he was forced to suspend his work.
Five years later, von Zeppelin was at it again, commencing the build on the LZ 2 in April of 1905. Completed on November 30, 1905, as it was being taken out of the hangar it was damaged. Yup… the bows were pulled into the water, which damaged the forward control surfaces.
Repairs were made and completed by January 17, 1906, when the LZ 2 made its only flight.
This craft sounds like a jinx! As too much ballast was released upon take-off, the LZ 2 shot upwards quickly, to a height of 427-meters (1,500-feet) – which isn’t all that high, but a wind caught it.
At first the zeppelin could handle this wind, but a forward engine died after over-heating, and then the second engine failed when a clutch spring broke.
Now with nothing to control it, the LZ 2 was blown around by the wind, coming down fairly hard, with even more damage caused when it was being moored, as it buffeted against some trees damaging the stern.
Okay… no biggie, right? Well, still moored the next night the winds kicked up and damaged it badly enough that it was dismantled. One and done.
I’m not sure where von Zeppelin was getting his money, but the LZ 3 began construction in May of 1906.
Jinx be damned, the LZ 3 was the same size and configuration as the LZ 2 – except that the new craft had a larger gas capacity.
Finished by year’s end, it was able to achieve flight speeds of 48-kilometers per hour (30 miles per hour) on its two flights, and in 1907 it got up to 58 kph (36 mph).
Deemed a success, the German government gave von Zeppelin an additional 500,000 marks to keep’em flying.
But the German government said it would only buy a zeppelin if it could sustain a flight for 24 hours.
No problem, right? Nope. There was no way the LZ 3 could attain that goal, so von Zeppelin began work on the larger LZ 4, flying for the first time on June 20, 1908.
Now… the test flights were well received – and even the public thought it was grand… and yet, no one was buying the craft… until it burned up in a fire after breaking free of its moorings during a storm.
It was then that a public collection was taken up to raise over 6-million German marks… money which went to create the Luftschiffbau-Zeppelin GmbH and the Zeppelin foundation (Zeppelin Stiftung). Luftschiffbau means airship manufacturer.
Following the destruction of LZ 4, the LZ 3, which had been damaged when the floating hangar broke free of its mooring during a storm, was repaired: at the same time, it was lengthened by eight meters.
It was re-inflated on October 21, 1908 and after a series of short test flights a flight lasting 5 hours 55 minutes on October 27 with the German Kaiser’s brother, Admiral Prince Heinrich, on board.
On November 7, with Crown Prince William as a passenger, the LZ 3 flew 80 kilometers (50 miles) to where the Kaiser was then staying. Guess what, he liked it! Hey Mikey!
Two days later, the LZ 3 was officially accepted by the German government, with von Zeppelin granted a visit to see the Kaiser on November 7 where a short demonstration flight over Lake Constance was made, with von Zeppelin being awarded the Order of the Black Eagle.
The LZ 3 was renamed the Z1 by the German government.
Although a replacement for the LZ 4, the LZ 5 zeppelin was built and accepted into the German Army service as L II.
But, Zeppelin’s relationship with the military authorities continued to be poor, and deteriorated considerably due to his criticism of the Army following the loss of the L II, which was carried away from its moorings and wrecked on April 25, 1910.
To save face, However, the business director of Luftschiffbau-Zeppelin GmbH, Alfred Colsman, figured that since the regular people loved the zeppelin, why not create a passenger-carrying business.
The passenger service – the Aviation Association (Deutsche Luftschiffahrtsgesellschaft or DELAG) – transported 37,250 people on over 1,600 flights without an incident. Within a few years the zeppelin revolution began creating the age of air transportation.
The zeppelin was effective during WWI, dropping bombs on people and targets – but only for a short while, as it was slow-moving, easy-to-spot and had a lot of hydrogen gas in it that exploded when hit by a hot projectile.
Still, after World War I, the zeppelin helped create the age of commercial air transportation.
In 1929, the LZ 127 (also known as the Graf Zeppelin. Graf, by the way, means ‘Count’ as in the noble title) had passenger Lady Grace Drummond-Hay on board when it flew from New York to Germany to Tokyo to Los Angeles to New York making her the first woman to circumnavigate the globe by air.
During its life, between 1928-1937, the LZ 127 zeppelin made 590 flights covering more than a million miles (1.6 million kilometers).
Of course, all of this ended with the aptly named Hindenburg disaster on May 6, 1937 when the LZ 129 Hindenburg caught fire and was destroyed in 60 seconds while it was attempting to dock at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey. Of the 97 on board, 35 people died, plus one person on the ground.
Here’s a film of the Hindenburg disaster, including the famous commentary of radio reporter Herbert Morrison.
If you look closely, you can see the zeppelin actually crash on someone and see that person pull themselves from the flaming craft.
Here’s some specs on the LZ 129 Hindenberg zeppelin:
- Crew: 40 to 61
- Capacity: 50–72 passengers
- Length: 245 meters (803 feet 10-inches)
- Diameter: 41.18 meters (135.1 feet 0-inches)
- Volume: 200,000 cubic meters (7,062,000 cubic feet)
- Powerplant: four Daimler-Benz DB 602 diesel engines, each pumping out 1,200 horsepower
- Maximum speed: 135 kph (85 mph)
Count von Zeppelin died in 1917 at the age of 78, 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. The unfinished World War II German aircraft carrier Graf Zeppelin, and two rigid airships, the world-circling LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin, and LZ 130 Graf Zeppelin II, twin to the Hindenburg, were named after him.
The British rock group Led Zeppelin‘s name derives from his airship as well. His granddaughter, Countess Eva von Zeppelin, even once threatened to sue Led Zeppelin for illegal use of their family name while performing in Copenhagen.