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December 2002 - Nr. 12


The Editor
Winter Air
Elizabeth Kuehn
Hier O.K. Berlin!
K-W and Beyond
Art Transcends...
Herwig Wandschneider
Never Forgotten
Dick reports...
Sybille reports
Ham Se det jehört?
Cultural Landsmarks...
To the Comic Book
Christkind Eröffnet...
Märklin's Model Trains
Familienfest Weihnachten
Not Just Fun
Begehbares Bild
Renewable Energy
Karneval Eröffnung
Airship Inventor
Loriot Begeistert
Peter Ustinov

Airship Inventor Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin

  TWIG - He was a man of many talents and two careers: first soldier, then inventor. Though he achieved the rank of general, it was his invention that brought him fame. In 1900, at the age of 62, Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin constructed the world’s first rigid airship. By 1914 his company, Deutsche Luftschifffahrts AG, had seven vessels in its fleet, and more than 34,000 people had experienced the thrill of air travel on his bulky yet strangely graceful invention, the zeppelin.

Zeppelin’s achievement was the product of a long-held dream. In 1863, during a leave from the Prussian army, he had been an observer with Union forces in the American Civil War. While in the United States, he had taken his first balloon ride. The experience stuck with him: he began to toy with the idea of building a more durable flying machine. Nearly 30 years later, after retiring from the military, he began the project in earnest.

Zeppelin envisioned a motor-driven, rigid airship that could be accurately steered. Kaiser Wilhelm II called a commission of experts to review the idea, and came to the conclusion that it was impracticable. Yet in 1894, Zeppelin obtained a patent for a "navigable air train" (lenkbarer Luftzug), and four years later he established a corporation for the promotion of airship travel, drawing half the capital for the enterprise from his own funds.

On July 2, 1900, Zeppelin’s dream was realized: His airship took its maiden flight over Lake Constance, reaching an altitude of 13,000 feet and traveling three and a half miles in 17 minutes. The first zeppelin, known as the LZ1, had a firm cigar-shaped frame, covered with cloth and filled with 17 gas "cells" (rubberized cloth containers filled with hydrogen) and an aluminum gondola carrying passengers and crew. It was driven by two propellers, and large rudders were used to shift direction and altitude.

The technology worked, but the business enterprise sputtered. Zeppelin found few investors and quickly depleted his own savings. His second airship, the LZ2, was destroyed by a hurricane in 1906. He sold the third to the German military for some 5 million marks in 1908, enough to keep the industry going for another decade or so.

By the time Zeppelin died in 1917, his invention had already proved less useful than the military had hoped. Yet two more rigid airships following his model were built after the First World War. During its nine years of service, the Graf Zeppelin crossed the Atlantic 139 times and made an around-the-world tour, though it rarely traveled faster than 75 mph. The largest airship ever, the Hindenburg, was about 800 feet long. In 1937, in Lakehurst, New Jersey, an on board explosion destroyed the ship, and the era of the zeppelin came to a close.


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