THE ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY IN THE FAILURE
OF THE RIGID AIRSHIP AS AN INVENTION
PRICE BRADSIIAT, JR,
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE COUNCIL OF
THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL
FULFILLMENT OF THL; REQUIRE!EiNTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Cci.1 i ht 1I.'
AC. NN' i l. I
Fir t Lhi.." n in his undl;r *c ing mt:ur. I t ender(ed
to the- mn3m:be '. s of lthe w it;r ' co.x n.t e to Dr. Willia
Woodruff, ti:c chair' oan, w ],, besides r-,:s:&li'-: and crit-
ici.ing tly:he ma-nuscript, provided oncouragemen-t vhen it
was nost nceade1; to Admiral Anthony L. Danja, who granted
me tihe use of nis person-al ccl.iection o newspaper clip-
pings concern ng the Akron. and Lhb- Macon; to Dr. John 1:.
Mahon, who provided funds to permit research in the LTA
Society library in. Akror,, Ohio; and to Dr. uGPorge D.
WIvhius., ODr- T. Ashby HalTnond, a-.' Dr. Shannon McCune
whose to erant forhearancc hca been greatly appreciated.
I would also like tu thank MW.. S. L. Builer of the
Iiiterlibra.ty Loan section of the Unive-rsity of Florida
Library and h:. statt for their rcoaseless efforts on my
eb]-Tlf .,h-e.i se mv upp' c ltio n 's extended to Messrs.
Ray Jor-ns an; David Sheloy of tih' Ulnivecsrty of Florida
Library for r heir ass i sta et i21 finding, obscure reference
mates.a e ancrid to the' st .r of i.he IngiJnrering Library
fo *- L e-i.r a
.o'anks aI.C also tLind Li :cL. to tre most coope)oative
PLOTS of the' Pr,, PCO 1:" L. , t p.:br, Qf Co0 -
gre s, r ', (he Nati.W 1. .i cjivc .C Los ind per-
nmission ; ,-. of il .] -r _v' O r.' .I h]ervin-. is
repracucd",. I wCAou2d e p ci! i ly liko: tf, ;' cknowl -(3g? .,ry
dOWbt to Mr. SmiLi of t!e Nn.y anC O(ld ,i _itory 1Braw~ch,
and M.: 2: l.-.i y .f the M:','odrn'.' U:iL i.t r2 l..::^cl : f the
la.tion. Archiv-Bs .iy thin]i, alr.o tu the ti'e Un iversity
of :ashi-gton Press in C. a:-tlc foi -"; .;- pCorn'ssion to
re-p,;oduce photor~'rihuie; mat-:cri'. .
My appreciation is alsc extodt.-c to Mrs. Nancy
IMcDavid ECo. typing the finall iian:;scr, j -p.
Fina.ll;y, my deepes-t -iatltudil is exrteurdcd co my
wife Mkarc;arie of whom I can hI..-S.Ptly y ste thit without
her i- co-.;uld not have beoefa d re.
TAB i OF1 CO, K'
a~ ] ;o,.].$" ] c '- . . . . . . .
List of Figuces ....
Mon,:t.e::.r Counv'er sion T . . .
v i j
ac . . . . . . . ix
Chapter i Introduction ...... .. .
Sor;e T'ure-thoughts on ti.' Proccss ;nd
DiIfsioi of Inv.ritionr . . ... 1
Of the Airship Itself: A Technoiogical
Primer. . . . . . . . .
'The Rigid AirFhip Conside.e0 Agai'ns
the Backgroun3 of Previous Dc, e'loprents
in T' ansp.rLtatioe .. . . . 19
Chapter JI The' Lau.-ching of the Alia' Age . 24
Chapter II From Theoretical Ideas to Practical
Apiicalion-.-The Pro]'lair of :inanc.ia;. l 1ackJnc;. 52
Chnater iV The Phoonix: Frtn Feilu-: to
Success. . . . . . . . 8
Chapter- V The Rigid tirship in WaL ....... .118
Ch;-apter VI Competitors and Copiers .. . . 148
Cc-rr.; nv . . . ... . . .. 148
Bi .i. in . . . . . . . .. . 56
F 'j. ; c ,-. .. . . . . .. . . . 178
Uni!te States . . . . . . . 179
ChacLter VtI Tin" Place oW the Aircshi
M J tita'-y Avi atio n.
Italy . . . . .
F ance . . . . .
ritain . . . . . .
inl tp, Stat s c . . . .
J p n- . . . . . . .
Chanptc r V1 'Thc T'IL.' -. .f Ai'-- n Po-' ..
C.:rmo iai A i tion. . . . . . 22??7
. . . . . . vii
c' ny . . .... 27
Br i ain rl . .. . . . 2
U,;J; ted StL t .
('jaF'.ter JX Concl:u'.:1ons ..... . . . ;'0
Airshi r . . .. . .. . . 26i
Airs i o: . . . . . . . . . 77
lectcJ BiL:l iograph . . . . . . 2 4
Biogra ic S ch. . . . . . . . 296
Fli.u. e 2 . . . . . .... . . . ..61
Fj'lr-e 2 . . . - -
Figq re 3 . . . ... .- 7
Fi.urc 4 . . . . . . . . 74
Fi'uce 5 ..... .. - . 0 - .10
M014L2 IUtx c n.e. 7. ,ntn
!or t-ih sa}e of cavcuiiiicce I have left the sF fs
of ircoucy cited iin this par-'!r in .tamis cf n:iuionia cur-
rency. For ,;ost of the period cotm red (.x'xptr for Lhe
postwar Germain inflation that Lan-cd the :i.ark vit Lually
worthl~.ss in Novelhbc r, 192) thi fclowing converr.ion
table approxji.at-es the exchange rate for Britain and
Germny with the United States:
British pound $4.80 U. S.
Germdin mark .25 U. S.
Abstract of Disj Ltati.ni Pi .~:-ented to thle
Gr,'oijatc Council of the UC'iversity o. F'lori.d'
iT: ]'aro lial Pulfi'lmCnli of ihe RhquirmcTnLts for I he
Degree of doctorr of Philosophy
TIlE ROLE OF TECHiNOOC' N THE FAiZ.jURE
Or T'E RTGfID AIRSlIP AS AN TNVN;TION
Price lradshaw, Jr.
Cldi roman : William \oodruf f
Major Depa:r rent: History
The prciioinence of itechnologv in Western society has
been recognized by such proHinent social scientists as
Arnold J. To-..nbae and Pitirii A. Sorokin. Although these
Tmen disadgre as to the Lcut-ua sinificance of technology,
Loth recogni,- the importance of the role of invention
iri teechnology. S. Coluin ;il fillan has analyzed the in-
vcl.iv;e proc,.-s, dCe:ons trai tng that the success of an
invention ils pe-ipdecnt or a combination of factors. This
0c.01'bination of factors has been examined many times from
the vicw'.poi.' :.- its effect on a successful invention.
An c:.\~a. .iLti of the cnoi.bi.ntiocn of factors from the
pers ', C'- c v i 1 j l-.ct on 0 an Ji 1 L-ntion l11t .failed,
hcwev.:-, !prr,'ide:; amn thlirwise. unobtilainable opportunity
to in c'.igate the nail.r of each of these factors an.c
dete'mLr:; .c' hjIj w rc e ul t:;at:Jly \:,:,i-ponsi.L- c for causing
th', J.iic -io t) fai l,
Jn tne f..-i.c Ef trancrspii.rt, tCi; rigid i, rship is
;e.aly con-.id:ed to be ran ir'vetion that failed. Yet
of all h t te Lch:lo icac: rcssonoqes to the' challenging
probl.im of flight in the early 20th century, only the
rigid airship seemed to provide a means of large capacity
lonrg distance transportation. Why did it fail?
Of necessity, an exaC..inLi tion of the' forty years of
develor.rmct of this inventi),n in context covers a wide
range of the factors mnnntioned above. Nevertheless, it
is possible to investigate each without isolating it
from' itl:: relationship with the others. For example, in
the pericc of experitmental development before 1908, the
lack of financial backing caused Count von Zeppelin
to abandon his work on airships on two occasions. Eckener
ovcrc. :erm thi s problem;: by making t he rigid airship the
subject-' (;nd i symbl ) of Ge riman national pride. The
riygd ajr;.,hip Ibecameo the only transport invention fi-
nanced by publ i.',! cont:rilbuti.0ons. During horld W'ar I,
the nmaiin chal...eni fc]ing the aiijrsips of ihe German
Naval. Division waOS c) mpe:it, ion fr..om. the r-;pid ly devol-
oping airplane. Th' Wie gave C .real itmp'tu' to the dif-
sion oi i'. (,i'.i irsh'l, ', ,' :. :M. .'.' "t ':,!d ;c~.~.n a
virl'- a1 G(P iia n ;onopo.!. ly; this; pr i ccr(-;o ; o1 tF ch!no'1orj .cal
diLffus;on cu]rmin.1t-;.d whcr. th,-. A] .1i:, Look what 8.0 left
of the Germ n n-aval airhi.p fj7oiec ain divide\ it dimong
thIImse e\ es.
Howo'.ver, th: a tt-'mps ct,: Wh. far to (oni niu* a
ligid ai-ir-sp I.'-og-am in .r~a n.0, to cat:ab li.h owe in France
anC. the UniLted States. an o i ---i': -t ijsI one in Cer:1t;ny
all founierJ J o thiie S.a.;e rock t:.'it had pgued the rJiid
airship from tl-h very begjinni nte tclinologicoa i:srdemquacy.
Because the technology of .r:he airship was imperfectLy
understood, the postwar atte.p,,ts to use military or
civil airship trc;ans-po-t couid not be fieed o.e the onus
of disaster. The F. 3", t h- Dix/'id', th Shena''o-h,
the Akroni, and the -a Maco :;--al ; rrc I-ost due to iech-
nological shr:rtcomingi s.
Governments forr.rnl ,y -;i-ll2ng Lo supq-port airshLp
development could not continue to do -o i;i the face of
the often spF'ic, u] arjy grscsomre disiast.0.Ls that were
headlinie Tn''s. Thus, b'ecaius e':di iio,,il fin-ncial backing
was not for uicoing, th Ltechrnolus og' cliilJ]enge could
not be rnc:t. The riiid :.i sha stood' coi-ndcmnicd not in
p0inciple i)'flt i1 p. ici rc.
ESrme Forectino'l.i'tts on the Pi rcosS and
j'. iL ..r I: T r i. Jon
The process cf invention, which is generally regarded
in -he West as one of the prime movers of change, occupies
a central position in our society. To the sociologist,
Pjti-rim A. Soro;in, technological invention "comprised the
mosti productive and basic field of our modern culture."l
While few would deny this, there is, nevertheless, little
agrim,e;:nt ccoicerring the circumstances in which technologi-
cal invention and innovation take place.
According to Sorokin invention has achieved the im-
portanca: in t<'Oiern culture that it has only because this
culLure happens to be past the zenith of iLs sensate stage
of development, in which empiricism is the determinant of
tru- ii." As >:e move deeper inLo the twilight of this par-
LicJ.o!lrI soc i... ilura. paradiuim, te-.chno] logical invention
wj! become Lr. .; and less capz'b] of solving problems and
pic.-atinifa n. aids bLecase the cult rural pattern will no
l'nrer plztv the proper nourishment for further develop-
maci C in tU]. :I.r Ca. The 1 leation-hip between bWesl-1rn
crlLur- a;.. L;iue accept an" : :. ctdo. t.;on of t(ech;-iI loqic;il
j n t 'j i .is therefore"t s -tri7-- a cat a.; i.i one, making o.r
civilization different qT; n- tit. bI t. L,.t in kind f'-o.
those- t-.t h'e Gon- ,efor( .
I disL.i zc contrast tL tL)e views of Soroki:n, the
hit;i:ori an A: ro~iJ J. Toynre sees tch;ioloiy cl i c nvetiton
and innovation as a soc.ireal for e witlheit par1 )ll.cl in
the histories of other : c:ivilizat.ions.3 Biy p1ovidiin the
means whre)i-ey Western l man nas imac.tred hibi environre.'it
technological invention and innovation ha-s comoounded and
accelcrdted the rate of social chang" so drarc'atically
that Western civilization miiht i.est be dcs,"ribed as a
society of subsocieties in cont.an' aid pcrmanert .er frint
The process of invention and vcsc tern civij zstion muoually
interact to produce a society without, precedent.
Sorokin and Toynbee are but two of the many scholars
whose attention have been drawn t to technological ij venliorn
and who concern themselves to uncirrsta.nd its w-ori.an1ei an;.-d
ramij ications from several perspcctives, including the
origins, difflsioni, and especially the com :mEi-'ial success
of 5 nvcontions.
It is to the latter aspect--the ac-ccep;-ance or rejection
of an invention--that ;e have addressed ourselves in this
dissertation. For the rigid airthp'.p--the topic of this
dissertatio.---is generally regarded as one of the classical
"failures" o0: invention and innovation. By 1908, the first
practi(cal rigid c irsh ,ip Wcs. 1.l.yJiL'j 2;ca 2y by 1914,
th.e /Zppelin airships had c.ru if--d mcre tha;i 19J,000 passon-
ge:s and completed 107,000 i.iles 2lri.n 1,588 flights
wi hout a mishap;4 by 1918, 1he d .ir-i-ji.le had proven. its
worth as ;j soe scunt and had exc-cuted military feats with-
out co.ca:a,:isnc; by 1921, every major 'W-stern power exceptt
Rus;.ia) had the 1beginningr o.C an airship fleet; by the
early '30's, regular transatlantic flights were being made.
And then? And then, just when it seemed that the dirigible's
future was assured, there was a reverse of fortune which
by 1940 ;had carried the last great dirigible to the scrap-
heap. Our o-wn interest in the airship began years ago.
In writing this dissertation we have tried to answer a
question that has plagued us personally: how did it come
about that what might have been such a brilliant success
should have proved to be such a spectacular failure?
Despiz.e ir.s rather obvious importance, the question
of whv so;iim. inventions succeed while others do not in any
given so city nuas elicited very little in the way of
scho.irly attempts to provide a detailed answer. To
place one's trust in such explanations as "necessity is
the mother ofl i ventionu" in to avoid diffcreuntiating a.-ung
Tihe wiolei- multitude of pnsLl!.aLts ipon vhich a society
Yexists .s "'-el] axs tLhe iyriad of forces operating withi-n
S. Column Gjlfilla in his Ifunda:;,e-C.l study of the
interplay of societal forces and the process of invention,
points out that an invention has an essentially evolu-
tionary nature; it is the product of the application of
previous experience to new and different situations tc
bring into existence, either by design or by chance,
something new and useful. But this prior experience,
even though it is taken apart and reassembrled much in
tile manner of building blocks, is st.ll a manifestation
of thu civilization th&t produces it because cultural
techniques cannot be dissociated from the group of con-
ceptions, the sociocultural paradigm, that produced them.
No civilization can produce inventions totally without
connection to its own sociocultural heritage, and the
inLroduction by others of inventions alien to a given
culture has ;i.stori caly led to comparat vely massive
upheaval in, if not ouLright dcsLrnction of, that culture.
History is replete witlh examples of this simple
truth. No one perhaps was more aware of it than the
Indian leader Mahativa Gandhi, ;,Josei resultant attempts
to reverse the indus:tr ali.zation of Indian textile manu-
factu::c noveltheless proved futile.
Pro ,o'-inly di.srlupti'j i''An- ions a con C'froil rom within
a society ans ell as from w.i-hout, In 33235 the editor of
a Bratlsh journal warneSd that ra;.il:oads would "give an
unnat-iral i.mpetlJs to society, do' l troy all the relations
which exist between man anjd r.an, overthrow all nmercantile
regulations, and create, at the peril of life, all sorts
of confusion and distress."' At the time, he was probably
considered to be somewhi.t of a stjify conservative--a
generation later, ludicrously so. The fact thlat he was
almost totally correct was essentially meaningless at that
time, for the world he sought to pre.srve was gone,
whether new; techniques may penetrate cultures more
easily than nevw ideas is an open question on which both
Sorokin and Toynbee, amona others, have had much to say,
Sorokin advocates that ideas may transfer more readily
than techniques, based upon two arguments. An idea can
pass from individual to individual and undergo modifica-
tion faster, thus making it seem less alien. Secondly,
ideas may beco-e sufficiently mutated to serve a purpose
entirely diftei.ent from that which spawned it. These
factors romuote ease of transmission and adaptability
Toynbae argues that techniques can pass from one
civilization to another because they can be absorbed in
liim.ed numbers, vith little or no reiorence to the culture
of Co-r ain." i' hurrow Sorokin's c-ncepL of a civilization
bei,.g coiriosed of a set of congeries as well as systems
of ideas and techniques, the borrowing civilization might
inccrrporaLe the new technique into an already extant
system ac, for example, a new military tactic which might
be learned. Another possibility is that the civilization
might use the technique without reference to any system:
that is, as a congeries. However, unlike ideas, tech-
niques are seldom sufficiently mutable to serve different
purposes in different societies. Although a technique
may be adopted by a civilization that is "ready" for it, an-
other may be completely ignored, if the cultural patterns
of that civilization impede its entry and assimilation.
If an innovation lacks relevancy to the needs of a
civilization it will either pass into oblivion or be
utilized in an entirely different way. The wheel is one
of the prime basic components of contemporary culture,
but archeological finds indicate that early northern
Europeans thought of it only as a handy device to make
opening or rising a gate easier and the Incas regarded
it as a toy of sufficient interest to amuse the very
Nevertheless, this does not imply that both ideas
and techniques may not be adopted out of their original
contexts, channeling thought and effort into new areas
heretofore denied or neglected in the development of the
adopting civilization. Because the redirecting process
takes:- ?a:l. I ul.h in the fti;li:. ;vrk if new con textt. however,
the end product usually hbe-s li-tti- resemb lance to its
Because an invention i.s -voiu.ionn-.ry in nature and
because: culIturos tied :o develop along simiilar- lines and
encounter similar problems, it is not surprising that
many of the samec technological innovations have been
invented at dicferenL times in different civilizations
or simultaneously in different parl-s of one civilization.
If kno.7ledge of a problem requiring a technical innovation
for solution pervades a large segientit of a society, then
it is likely that several different inventions, quite
possibly based upon dissimilar prircicles and noi re-
sembling each other in the least, :ill be produced in
'I'he Yociologist, MaLtthew FMeiuko, has observed that
civilizations absorb id-as and techniques in proportion
to three factors, giver in, order of declining importance:
their relevancy to problems (Uecounr.tred by tho adopting
civilizat Lon; the civilization's receiving capability;
and the force of the presentation.10 Alchough written
in reference to the sori1etal as similation of material of
external origin Melko's criteria relate equai ly well to
the reception of ideas and techniques produced within.
Whether an invenLion spring front the cteativ'e mind of
a :naij.V .con or had to beo mnorrtd from a distant shore
seems to make very lit'. e differe-oe; a relevant innova-
tion will be inicor;jor; Led, an i rr-lov ant one will not.
If the various systems and congeries of a culture
are in relative harmony with each other, it is in a state
of stability that discourages the adoption of new ideas
and techniques involving change, and the momentum of that
stability will persist until some cataclysmic event occurs.
A society in flux, however, tends to accept innovations
in any of its institutions more readily regardless of
their point of origin because of the systemic inter-
connection of all the institutions of that society; the
shifting and re-coalescing of the composition of one
effects adjustments in the others as well. This was clear
to the Britj:i journal editor who made the prediction
concerning the consequences of the construction of the
railroad: a change in the system of land transportation
would bring aion: L changes in "the pace of life," societal
relationship. arid commerce, to say nothing of the demise
and restr.ct'tring of other institutions about which he
could not even uuess.
Toynben e signss force of presentation a considerably
more importan.L role than Mclko does in his arguments.ll
As they both wji.te about it in the context of one civili-
zation affec.ling ancLher, such factors as distance,
cor duunicatio.-, ad (especially for Toynbee) the internal
condition of the pi j(jcting l ocieiy .Ire relevant points
of imJoy Lance. In i rm o- f t. assc' at ion of technologi-
cal invent'.ons irom within, howcvriL, only communication
retains its importance. If an innovation is produced in
an isolated area, it is unlikely to have much of an impact
on the soc,3t-y as a whole. The m.ultliplic.ity of inven-
tion, at any given time, however, as (diifi-Ilan points out,
nullifies this possibility to a large degree.
Other factors arise to displace distance and the
internal condition of the projecting society. There must
exist the prerequisite technical ability to produce iL
in the quP1atity needde, a miea-ns of working with it, a
method of making, it known to potential users, financial
backing and management; public: willingness to accept (at
least to a certain extent), and, in some cases, accumu-
lated capital in te form of extant plant and other facili-
ties. So ess -ntial are these preconditions that Gilfillan
includes most of theTm in his definition of an invention.
Moreover, each of these has its own elemental parts,
any of which if modified alters dra,-rsically the degree
to i.:hichi an invenLion Js accr-ptLabl to a society; the
absence or cr. n the pre encc of one of these elements in
an .aternatively developed form will have a definite
effect on: the success or failure of a given invention.
One often rcads or hears of an invention that was,
or is, "'herd of it. t inm-.." i !hoh his is a rather
vague Yphrase thc'Lt can man scvcra' th'ingLs, it aptly fits
the situation where someone conceivcs an idea the impie-
ment-ation of which lies v(vyoni the technical capabilities
ot his society and epoch. It may even be that working
prototypes can he constriLcted bat thai because of expense,
inadequacy of mantrials, or getnhre5 noreliAbiliti the
invention never achiev-s acceptanno. Simil early, if there
is no means of working with the invention, then it cannot
For any innovation to succeed, it must be exposed
to those wiho might reasonably be j ntr-.ested in using it;
consequently, there must exist sone means of doing this,
either through de.ionst.ration, advertisement, or notoriety.
The Wrights put their machine into the air in December,
1903, yet it was not until almost five years later that
they were able to interest a potential buyer in it,
Usually, too, this necessity of promoting the invention
through advertising or demonstrating it at least several
times is but one of a large number of expenses that occur.
AdditiFcnially there may also be the costs of constructing
various models and conducting tests (an expensive matter
when they are full-scale models), as well as obtaining
working roor. and paying whatever staff is required. Some
sort of financial backing, therefore, must be found. As
the bankrolling of an invention in likely to be provided
by a party already havjin. a substa;nti investment of
accu'r-unated capital in the general field of the invention,
it will perfo'rc- dovetail with the equipment representing
Inadequate presentation is the reason (plus the lack
of publlic dccep-ance of the idea) why the backers of coast-
to-coast unit I-rains of containerized cargo do not seem
to be able to "sell" their idea in the United States
today. Existing plant consists of box cars, not container
flats; mixed freights, not unit trains; and several rail
lines, each jealous of its share of the fee. The "public"
ranges from staunchly conservative railroad presidents to
unionized crew men whose inflexible work rules make it
difficult for such a train to be adopted. So one of the
innovations that might provide the salvation for the
moribund American railroads languishes in limbo.
Moreover, few important inventions have been adopted
without entrepreneurial promotion. Electrical telegraphy
was invented simultaneously by several different men,
but Samuel F. B. Morse is the name most closely connected
with this innovation because he was able to lobby Congress
for the appropriation that initiated acceptance of his
system. Like Edison, he was unusual in that he was both
inventor and entrepreneur. In most cases, the entrepreneur
undertakes the promotion of an invention created by someone
else. in this connectci oi, on" hi-is ot to think of the
ilccisspry rel]ai.'ionhi] p bt..e:in iWatt and Boulton or Howe
and Singer. Likewise, a rapid projection of the inven-
tion is vital to it.s aczoption, No one is goini to advocate
or tk':e up an invcntiion if another serving the same pur-
pose is already in widesproeac us:e.
Indeed, rhe comup]ec.ity and diversity of the factors
upon which depend the success or fa-ilure of an inv-ntion
make it difficult to give specific reasons why one inven-
tion succeeds and another fails; peirl-aps because of this,
the attempt is rarely made, Nevertheeoss, some factors
do have greater significance than others in the birth,
life, and death of an invention. For some invra:ntions
there are factors of such a criticaL nature. that thev
are, in effect, the sine gua non for the success of those
inventions. In the case of the rigia airship we are con-
vinced that technology (as it applied to the materials
and the techniques used in the construction and mainten-
ance of aircraft) was the decisive factor determining the
at least temporary rejec:t.on of this form of transport,
Yet we hasten to add that technology althoughh of para-
mount cimpol tance) cannot be the ultimate determining
factor foe any invention in and of its'-lf, for technology
is but a facilitative device by means of whiich a society
expresses its values. To state that technology was the
ians.;urmlou!ctbl- impediment to the genrira-l adoption of the
rigid'. ai.:hiip is to raisa tne question why society, either
in groups or individually, did not persevere and overcome
the problems involved--a question that cannot be answered
without inquiring into a society's system of values and
Of the Airshin Itself:
A Technological Primer
To say that the acceptance or rejection of the diri-
gible depended upon technological factors is meaningless
unless we provide at least an outline of the technical
features of the invention we are discussing. To this
end, we shall begin our investigation by first setting
down the characteristics of the three types of aeronauti-
cal vehicles generally classed as airships: (a) non-
rigids, (b) semi-rlgids, and (c) rigid frame. As the
greatest attention in these ages will be given to the
rigid airship, it is necessary and desirable that we should
enlarge upon its technical details.
The principal determinant that makes a dirigible
balloon an airship is that the latter has been shaped in
sore .manner to provide the least resistance to motion through
the air in the desired direction. The constructional
method oi. deteirmiinig canO z-aintaininy this shape is the
means .'hereby each alir:ship may be classified as non-
rigid, :s;ci-rigid, or rigid.
The non-riqid airship, commonly called the blimp,
consists of a gasbag from which is suspended usually one
car for 1both the crew and the engine or engines. Such
an airship has only a small capacity for gas and hence
little lifting power, a problem aggravated by the inability
of the gasbag (or envelope) to resist very large shear
or ending forces. The shape of the gasbag depends pri-
marily on the pressure of the lifting gas it contains;
thus,_ the ability of the blimp to make headway after
descending from a high altitude is seriously impaired
because the increased atmospheric pressure causes the
envelope to lose its desired shape and offer more re-
siscance unless the increased atmospheric pressure is
offset bv jumping air into separate compartments in the
gasbag to increase internal pressure. Likewise, the use of
gas pressure to maintain the shape of the envelope severely
limits the top airspeed as it is quite possible that the
nose of the blimp might be flattened or even blown inward
should --he external pressure there become too great.
The second type of airship (unlike the blimp which
was used by virtually every major nation) found greatest
acceptance as an airship design in Italy. It is essen-
tially a blirap sti ffc;ied by a keel running most, if not
all, of the length of the bar.e of the Ienvlope. Wh Ifi
this; Iceel offers greater resistance to the shear and
bending forces (thus incLcasin'g the carrying capac;:.ty
of the senm-rigid), it also permits (because of the
longitudiinal stiffening of the bag) an airship to be
built larger and to fly faster than the rnon-rigid type,
The largest cype of dirigible is the rigid airship.
The containers of the gas that provide the lifting power
are held in a rigid structure that maintains the shape
of this type of airship; in addition, the frame resists
both shear and bending forces as well as gas and air
pressure. Hence, the form of the ship remains unaffected
by either high speeds or loss of gas in one of the com.-
The two principal coiLiponents of the external frame-
,work of the rigid airship are (a) the transverse frames,
polygonal "rings" of straight girders, the number of which
is determined by the designer as the number of sides the
-ship will have, and (b) the longitudinal girders that,
by means of fixed joints, held these frames a predeter-
minJed nisrtaince apart, forming "bays" between the frames.
Of these gircers, or-ly those at the very front of the
ship, hnown as the bow cap, are curved. Steel wire di-
agonally braces Uie ruichangular panels formed by the
girdoi'e and Ifram~s. Additional wires, called radial
.ire(s, hbac he hjoirnts c alternate (or every third)
trnanver se ir:maes to a central i.'::ja1 cal;' .Inering the
lengi:h of t'he ship to prevent any possible dis trtion of
the f.-amec. All metal parts have a coat of resin-h-ascd
varn:ish ct prevent corrosion.
'his tubular skeleton structure, rounded at thp bow
and tapered aft to produce a strea,;lir:ed form, supports
an outer cover of doped fabric :lde in sections with
eele-ts .for lacking together. Fins a' the tail section
to provide ongitudinal stability and support for the
rudders and elevators are also covered with doped fabric.
The lifting gas is contained in separate conpart-
nents. each of which occupies one of the chambers formed
by the hull of the ship and two of the transverse frames
with radial -wire bracing. As a safety measure designed to
reduce the conduction of the heat of the sun to the gas,
there is a built-in gap between the bag and the hull.
The bag of each compartment, with some variation from
ship to ship, is generally made of cotton fabric coated
on the inside wilh: rubber. This coat of latex becomes
the adhering agent for an extremely thin memrbranous
material, either goldbeater's skin or a synthetic
substitute, which in turn receivers coat cf waterproofing
agent. A special tape secures the seams of the bag as
well as the joints around both the automatic and the
manual valves, which empty into vertical exhaust passages.
Access to all seccions of the ship is provided by
the corridor that passes through the length of the airship
at is keal. The long tu3dinal framework around this
corridor supports whatever load the airship carries and
furnishes the location for the fuel tanks, crew's quarters,
bag; of water ablla:t, and the payload. This corridor
acls gives entry to the control cabin. Although not
prc;ise1 y the same in every airship, the control cabin or
car from which the commander navigates the ship is gen-
erally forward of midships and is built into or suspended
from the section of girderwork that forms the keel of the
vessel (see diagram next page).
Usually four to six gasoline engines provide the
propulsive power for a rigid airship. Suspended or located
inboard in pairs on the underside of the vessel, these
engines drive two-bladed push propellers. In addition to
horizontal movement, a skillful commander could also obtain
some aerodynamic lift (in addition to the aerostatic lift
provided by the gas) from these engines by using the
.rudders to put the ship up at the bow.
The preceding passages have described the rigid
airship at its highest stage of development; as initially
conceived, it differed considerably from this in many
respects, even as the role for which it was invented
differed from thai. i which .it ahijevd its cjrcatest
The Riqgi Airship Considered Ag-Winst the
BackgSround of Previous Developments in Transportation
Pricr to the i9th century, the ability of men to take
-their goods or themselves from one place to another was
largely restricted to the methods used since ancient times.
The single significant advance in land transportation
since the advent of the Romanr read was the draught collar
that permitted the domesticated beast to pull a larger
load without strangling itself; yet this was of little or
no value for transportation outside smell areas of Europe
where the Roman roads remained usable. The principal
-method of cross-country transport remained pack animals.
Most bulk goods were shipped c.n watercourses, The increas-
ing volume requiring ove -lan.d transport made the construc-
tion of canals and turnpij.ke feasible or a national scale
in the second ihalf of the .18th century, Nevertheless,
transportation costs remained high rnd the natural
obstacles that hindered the movement of connerce and
restrained econcrnic activity remained.
Thie application of. stGcln pov1er in the 1800's to
land transportation, in ithe form of .iallroadas, made long-
distance overland carriage practical in Europe and North
Amer-ica. Europeans and Americanis reported railroads with
almost as much enthusiasm as they built therm for them-
selves The colonization and economic penetration of
Asia, Africa, Australia, and Latin America brought rail-
roads in its wake; they were the primary ceans Europeans
used to direct the economic development of these areas
along the parallel lines of steel that connected the
producers of bulk commodities with markets..
.But this extension of railroad lines in continents
other than Europe, North America, and to a lesser extent,
Asia, depended to a growing degree on a concurrent
transformation of the method of propulsion in yet another
field of transportation: oceanic carriage.
Although the overall effect of steam engines on
oceanic travel was less dramatic than that of the advent
of the locomotive and flanged wheel on land, it obviously
was of fundamental importance. Although paddle-wheeled
riverboats quickly established their worth upon the rivers
of North America, the somewhat primitive and awkward
engines of their early oceanic equivalents prohibited
them from competing with the relatively efficient sailing
vessels of that period. Subject to chronic mechanical
faiJlurl and unable to carry a profitable cargo and
ultfici ent -fCae for their engines, early steamships were
not cotrercial successes. Nevertheless, their superior
speed was not-.J, and, as this feature became important
with the establishment of scheduled packet lines, craft
with both steam engines and sails gradually displaced
those relyiig upon sails alone. This trend was hastened
through the adoption of iron and then steel for the hull,
thus making possible the construction of larger, stronger,
.ighter, more durable hulls that were more resistant to
In time, screw proper lers supplanted paddle wheels
entirely while compound triple- and quadruple-expansion
high-pressure engines reduced fuel consumption consider-
ably. With greater regularity, dependability, and falling
costs, steam-powered vessels slowly but steadily displaced
their vind-powered predecessors until by 1900 over 60 per
-cent of the world's recorded shipping fleets were steam
vessels and the last major sailing ships were losing their
places on the wool and wheat run to Australia as well.
Not only did greater speed and regularity on land
and sea reduce the cost of shipping traditional bulk
cargoes such as grain, fibers, and minerals; of equal
importance is the fact that they also made it possible to
carry heretofore prohibited perishable goods. Shipping
cattle from the grasslands of Texas and the ranges in the
western Ujniltc-. States io n"eat-packin; plants in Kansas
City or Chicago and uhe prepared :eat from thert- to
markets ailonc the east coast became quite profitable; as
did, for irntance, the construction of railroads to bring
such a perishable item as the banan'- to the Atlantic
coast of Central America.
Notwtlh.-standing the great changes wrought by the
application of steam power to transporta-ion, significant
drawbacks still existed, especially on land. Railroads
had to follow a winding watercourse or the often-contorted
natural contours of the land. Swamps and mountains barred
their paths. Moreover, building rai lrcrds -w.as a tremen-
dously expensive undertaking. In a combined water--land
shipping operation the tediously slow on- and off-loading
of goods was unavoidable. The answer, of course, to some
of these problems, was to take to the air, But then, to
do that required a conjunction of circumstances only some
of which were favorable (not least the unprecedented
expansion of the world economy). There were better things
to do with one's money in the 19th centLnr than put it
behind the dreams of those few visionaries who saw a
great deal of man's destiry unfolding not on the earth
and the seas but in the sky.
1. PiLirim A. Sorokin, Social and Cultural Dynamics,
Vol. II (New York: Bedminster Press, 1962), p. 169.
2. Ibid., p. 180.
3. Arnold J. Toynbee, A Study of History, Vol. II
(2nd ed.; London: Oxford University Press, 1961), pp. 527--8.
4. Edward Horton, The Age of the Airship (Chicago;
Henry Regnery Co., 1973), p. 34.
5. S. Colum Gilfillan, The Sociology of Invention
(Cambridge, Mass.: M. I. T. Press, 1970), pp. 6, 131.
6. Toynbee, A Study of History, Vol. VIII (London:
Oxford University Press, 1939), p. 215.
7. Herbert J. Muller, The Children of Frankenstein:
A Primer on Modern Technology and Human Values (Bloomington,
Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1970), p. 45.
8. Matthew Melko, "The Interaction of Civilizations:
An Essay," Journal of World History, Vol. XI, No. 4 (1969),
9. Toynbee, Study, V (1961), pp. 139-98.
10. Melkc, "Interaction," p. 561.
11. Toynbee, Study, IV (1961), pp. 137-98.
12. Gilfillan, Sociology, p. 6.
THL LASUNCHIiNG OF TIE AERIAL AGE
The idea of being able to soar through the air has
always occupied the imagination of man, So far as we know,
the sly has held a position of prime importance in all
civiiizations. From it care both the sunshine and the rain
.necessary for the cultivation of the crops that supplied
the basis for civilization itself. For many societies the
sky (or the top of a mountain just underneath the sky) was
the traditional abode of some of the most important gods
whose influence was felt in the everyday life of the people.
Usually, whenever the gods appeared, they came from the
heavens and were observed (when they departed) to return
there to resume their watchfulness over the affairs of the
mortals bound to the surface of the earth. Consequently,
there was a close connection in the mind of man between the
ability to fly and the possession of other powers normally
attribute- to the gods, such as immortality and invinci-
Little wonder that most of the schemes proposed through
the ages to get man into the air had as their aim political
or military power, From Greek mythology comos the tale of
Daedalus, who supposedly consLructed wings for his son and
himself to escape from an island ruled by a tyrant; only
the hubris of his son, who aspired to imitate the gods,
prevented his plan from working to perfection,
Roger B.?con (1214--92), a Franciscan monk, speculated
on: the possibility of flight in lis wDork Do mirabili
potestae artist et nature written about 1250 (although not
published until almost three centuries later), In it are
to be found references to hollow copper spheres filled with
a light gas ("aetheria a.ir") that would float in air,
as well as tc a device Lst ;no:l.d enable a man to propel
himself above the ground by turning a crank.i
By the latter part of the 13th century Europeans had
-acquired knowledge of the kite, either discovering it for
-themselves or learning of it from the Chinese, to whom it
might have been known for many centuries. These kites
were of two basic types: (a) the familiar plane-surface
kite usually in the shape of a diamond or pentagon and (b)
the wind-sock kite usually adorned with fins and decord-ions
to resemble a dragon. It is possible that the Chinese
placed small I oil Jamps i-n the rpen ends of some of these
dragon kites, and that air warned by the flames actually
made them tethered balloons. Their aeronautical dis-
coveries were virtually uselJes; to the Chinese who, as
Neeedh-a has pointed out, nad little l nd of many of their
technoIog i cal insights.
Another approach to unraveling the mystery of flight
was taken by that creative genj use Leonardo da Vinci (1.452-
1519), Among the military engineering plans and sketches
of paintings in his notebooks are sorme designs for flying
machines capable of carrying men aloft. Like the plane-
surface kites, his devices depended upon aerodynamic prin--
ciples for their lifting capabilities: that is, they flew
by exerting pressure against the resistance of the air
-rather than being buoyed to a point of equilibrium with the
surrounding atmosphere (aerostatic principle). Evangelista
Torriceli scientifically demonstrated the latter principle
*with the barometer he constructed in 1643. Within three
decades, Fra Francesco de Lana, a 17th century Jesuit
priest, proposed a platform suspended from four or more
balloon-like copper spheres from which the air had been
removed, thus enabling i- to float. While professing
abhorrence of the idea, the good cleric suggested that this
device irould enable its user to overcome the defenses of
fortified cities and bombard their inhabitants into sub-
At the court of the king of Portugal in 1709 Father
Bartolonme Lourengo de Gusmao (1685-1724) inflated a ball
with hot air and let it float to the ceiling. He made an
unsuccessf'.l appeal to the Crown for a grant to build an
airship u;f his design that would operate on the demon-
strated principle. Its mostr unique feature was a large
magnetically operated bellows meant to propel the craft
by blowing air into a sail spread above the gondola.
However, it was not until near the end of the 18th
century that man annulled tjie hitherto apparently unbreak-
able bond that chained him to the earth. Experiments to
escape the previously immutable pull of the force of gravity
were begun in the latter part of 1782 by two French brothers,
Joseph Mi. (1740-1810) and Jacques E. (1745-99) Montgolfier.
Having observed that smoke (hot air) tended to rise, they
constructed a small oblong paper bag that floated to the
ceiling of their apartment when it was filled with the
gases rising from an open hearth. They then built several
larger balloons. On September 12, 1783, Jacques Montgolfier
demonstrated their discovery before the members of the
Royal Academy of Sciences in Paris.
This flight a;d the one which followed (as a demon-
stration for the Moonarch and his family) were unmanned;
although the second Lrial ca tried a sheep, a rooster, and
a duck, all of which were found to be unharmed when the
aerial vehicle returned 'L; earth. On October 15, 1783,
Pilatre de Rozier (1756-86), an associate of the Montgolfiers
who had established a reputation fcr performing hazardous
feats, made a trial flight in a tethered balloon. On
November 21. accompanied by Francois-Laurent d'Arlandes,
who had interceded wj th th;- King to obtain permission for
the flight, de Rozier made the first recorded aerial
voya q ge.
Despite The relative success of the manned ascensions
in the Montgolfier ballJoons, both the participants and the
spectators cf these and later flights regarded the hot-
air, coal-gas:, or hydrogen ballonn (developed by Professor
Jacaues Charles, a close rival of the M:ontgol fliers) as a
scientific curiosity or carnival atLr,,cL-ion. It was all
but useless as a form of transportation. There was, in
fact, little the pilot could do to control his direction
-of flicht once he entrusted his craft and himself to the
winds. His ability to nake a safe return to earth depended
very largely on chance.
Yet, experiments in air flight never ceased. Indeed,
the onset of modern war in the 18th century increased them.
Hard-pressed to find ways of defeating the armies of the
first coalition, and perhaps influenced by Benjamin Franklin
(who had observed one of the Montyolfiers' flights) and
Andr6 Giraud de Villette (who had ascended with de Rozier),
the French republican government legislated the first
military aerial observation unit into existence on April 2,
1794. Captain Jean Marie-Joseph Ccutelle accepted command
of the Compagnie D'Aerostiers. After being rapidly trans-
ported to the front, the unit had but a few opportunities
to perfect its technique before it was called upon to
provide reconnaissance for the engjagenent with the Austri.ac-
that bc:alte known as the Battle of 'leurus. its balloon,
the -Entrep.ronant. remained aloft some nine hours with- the
observers aboard transmitting; valuable information about
enemy intentions and troop movements
The exploits of Coutelle's Cc raae.ngni D'Aerost.ec[s
notwilthstanding, the large unwieldy gas generator and the
bulky ra:i materials needed to supply it prevented the
acceptance- of the hydrogen balloon as an adjunct to the
more conventional reconnaissance methods. Not until the
American Civil var did balloonists such as Thaddeus Lowe
demonstrate the real practicality of the balloon as an
observation platform. Prom shortly after the outbreak of
the war in 1861, Lowe and other "aeronauts" (as they styled
themselves), convinced that aerial observation would give
Federal armies a tremendous advantage (as well as bringing
themselves everlasting fame), strove to establish a balloon
corps. Despite the difficulties inherent in transporting
and inflating the cluinms balloons, Lowe secured an appoint-
mlone as a balloonist to the Army of the Potomac; the others
pursued their interests as "aeroirauts" under the patronage
of various field co~maanders.0
UntiL 1863 (when Lowe resigned in protest), the
commanders of the Army of the Potomac received valuable
intelligence tel egraphed from Lowe's balloons. In
addition, the appearances of these craft hovering above
the Federal positions evoked unease -moong the Confederate
generai*s Failing to destroy tie Union balloons by ar-
tillery fire, the Confederates beg-n to construct balloons
themselves. The first of these was inflated and launched
at Yorktio:wn, Virginia, in 1862. Being made of cotton rather
than silk, it was too heavy and too poorly insulated to
get far off the ground; still, its single scared passenger
(a reluctant Confederate "volunteer") was able to send
valuable information to those on the ground by using a
Some mystery surrounds the second Confederate aerostat,
known as be "silk dress balloon." A perhaps apocryphal
story attributed to Confederate General James Longstreet
relates that the Southern military, having no silk (a scarce
item in the South) for a balloon, launched a patriotic
drive to secure enough silk dresses to enable Captain Langdon
Cheves of Savannah to construct one, Whether this actually
occurred is doubtful.13 The multi-colored appearance of
the ballJ;on whichh may have been the origin of the "silk
dress" story) probably resulted from Cheves having to use
stipjs of silk that were neither the same color nor pattern.
Whatever its origin, the balloon was brought to Rich-
mond ,,here it was inflated in June, 1862, and towed to the
front lines. Once in the possession of Lee's Army of
Northern Virginia, it was taken up daily to observe the
movree-nt: of the Union forces Ii the latter part of June,
when the Federals reached Malvern }ill, the Confederates
began se-ndring their aerostat down the James Rivet on an
armed Lugboat., the C.S.S. Teaser. They made several
ascents front the decI- of this craft before it ran aground
and a Federal gunboat, the U.S.S. Maritanza, put an end
to L-he operation by capturing both balloon and boat.14
Thus ended Confederate ballooning.
Despite their seeming technical advantages and better
fortunes, the Federals were also compelled to abandon the
use of balloons. "here were few civilian aeronauts (balloon-
ing was considered strictly a civilian occupation and the
Army would have nothing to do with it), and the pay of six
dollars a day provided little incentive to risk one's life
in the flimsy contraption which, when free to float, was
at the mercy of the winds and might fall into enemy hands,
and, when tethered, was an easy target for improved ar-
tillery and rifle fire. Yet the value of these balloons
was sunTmed up by Confederate General E. Porter Alexander
when he wrote:
We could never build another balloon (after the
loss of Dr. Cheves' creation on the James), but
my experience wl:th this gave me a high idea of the
possible efficiency of balloons in active campaigns.
Especially did we find, too, that the balloons of
the enemy forced upon us constant troublesome pre-
cautions in efforts to conceal our marches.15
The use of tethered balloons as aerial observation
posts in the American Civil War was brief, with only
intermittent and quali:j fi c success-. !'oi some time cye the
dream of controlled flight was to rc'i.aii. unfulfilled. Even
when the force of gravity hacd 'hecn ovrccome (as it was dur-
ing the Civil War), the pro.bl:-.., of direction and speed
3oseph t.nongol.fi.er had o:xpr es(.ed his ideas on the
problem of steering a balloon in October, 17C3:
To finrd a force with which we could keep the
craft aloft, we turned to fire. The first idea
that cane to us was the force of reaction, some-
thing which can be harnessed without machinery or
expense. All it requires is that one or more
openings be made in the craft on the side opposite
the direction in which you wish to move. When
the gas escapes through these openings, this part
of the fabric ceases to be inflated and so the
balance of the inside area is altered .. .16
Other pioneers conducted experiments with paddles, oars,
sails, and still other contrivances rigged to provide
sufficient "reaction" to propel and steer the aircraft,
All proved to be impracticable -methods of control, Atten-
tion then shifted to the idea of taking aloft some sort of
power unit that could provide controllable motion even
against the wind. To keep i-cight to the absolute minimum
many experim-Lnters concentrated on developing a system of
propulsion utilizing the muscles of the human body through
some peddle or cranking arranqer.iant. Others, realizing
that human po;:er was insuffic ent, tried to solve this
problem by the use of ma-hines.
The pioneer 21' .lij .=c- dvel.opna ,- WVias Sir George
Cay:ly (1773-1857). KnY::n for his work in aerodynamics,
Cayle-y was one of the first .to appreciate that balloon
navigability depended upon the deve opment of an engine with
a considerably higher power to Xwe;ight ratio than was then
available. Aware that clumsy reciprocating steam enqines
required consjiesra.ble modification for this pJurpose, from
1805 to 1806 he experimented with a hot-air engine as well
as one utilizing a gunpowder-driven piston in anticipation
of the internal combustion engine.7 In 1816, he returned
to the steam engine and incorporated it as the propulsive
unit in a design for a dirigible with separate gas compart-
ments in a rigid frame. The steami engine being the marvel
of the 19-th century, as well as the principal form of
cmchanized motive power, it was perhaps only natural that
Cayley and others should have thought of it as a means of
propelling a balloon.
Securing an efficient method of propulsion was, how-
ever, only one of the problems confronting early flight.
Not least inIportaant was how to make the balloon dirigible.
The spierical cr pear-shaped envelope of the free balloon
achieves and retains its shape because of equal pressure
from all sides; yet once the attempt to move the balloon
against or across the wind is made, it becomes a source of
resistance. A nurmSr of solutions were forthcoming, but
evcnlataily most adopted the idea that the bag should be
elornoted into an ellipsoid, cyl.i:drical, or cigar shape
having its major axis pqr.llel (qcern ally) to the ground;
liues attached to both enJs of the envelope provided the
necessary triangulated rigidity between the balloon and the
This stretching of thec envelope destroyed the inherent
stability of the round ballouo byT introducing coiiplicating
but necessary factors such as weight distribution and
maintenance of the original shape of the gasbag. If the
weight carried aloft was concentrated in one position,
then unequal stresses would be applied to the lines with
the result that the envelope would either stand on end or
fold in the center. If loss of oas were to cause the
balloon to sag or crumple, the result would be the same.
One solution to a crumpling gasbag was proposed in
1783 by Jean Baptiste Marie rMeusnier (1754-93), an officer
in the French army. His device, known as a ballonet, is a
small balloon located inside the larger gasbag that could
be filled with air by a pump or compressor; when the gas
contractedd or leaked out, inflating the ballonet provided
compensation. Equipped with a safety valve, it could
also be used to keep the balloon from bursting, or reduce
the loss of gas resulting from a fall in external pressure.
Meuisnier's invention was incorporated into the first
elongated balloon to fly (in 1784). This was built by
the !Montoolfiers hydrogcrn b) lloon-advocating rival,
Jacquei;s A. C. Charles 1741C-1823) .nd Li.s associates
(the brothers A1ni and 'C.et tohebrt) under the direction
of the Duc de Chartrfes. BecaneO the ballonet was placed
in. a position that prevented thla valving of gas at altitude,
the flight almost ended in disaster. On a second attempt
the- brothers Ro.beirt built a cylindrical bali.oon that proved
no more dirigible than its predecessor; nevertheless, pri-
marily becaduse the ballonet kept the loss of hydrogen to a
minimum, on September 19, 1784, Cadet was able to fly from
Paris to bdthune, where lie landed in the midst of a fete
being given by the Prince de Ghistelles for the workers
on hi:s estate.19 The distance covered (approximately 150
ndies) in the few hours of the flight was unprecedented.
Within a year of its discovery the hydrogen balloon was
providing substantial periods of flying time. Almost all
serious experiments concentrated on its use to the detriment
of its hot-air rival, which was increasingly relegated to
the role of a sporting device.
As might be expected, for most of the 19th century
Europe remained the center of experiment and development
of controlled flight. Important was the contribution of
Henri Gifftrd (1825-82), a French mechanic who specialized
in the construction and improvement of light, comparatively
efficient steam engines. Having seen a model airship being
demonstrated at t.he Paris Hippodrome in 1850 he became con-
vinced that he could adapt one of his steam engines to serve
as a nower unit. In 1352, his v'wk in steam un.ts cul-
minated in the building of a five horsepower engine that
weighed approximately .O0 pounds. After persuading two of
his friends to provide sufficient fund for the venture,
Giffard designed an elongated aerostat around his engine.
The balloon he built had a football-shaped gasbag
144 feet long. A net cover-ing this envelope supported a
pole 66 feet long.from which was suspended the gondola
that housed the engine and its operator. On September 23,
1852, Giffard launched his ailship, which actually made
headway off the ground. However, the relatively small size
of the gasbag and the weight of the load prevented the
aerostat from gaining i l-ch altitude. Moreover. the three-
bladed 11-foot diameter propel.ler was capable of driving
the craft forward at a speed only slightly in excess of
six miles per hour.20
Encouraged, rather thar daunted, by the results of
this experiment, Giffard proceeded to build yet another
balloon. The gasbag of his second aircraft had a shape
more like a cigar, being some 230 feet long and 33 feet
across at its widest point amidships. With this exception,
the second cerostst was practically the same as the first.
Giffard mounted the same engine in it and, as before, took
the same essential precautionary measures or extending the
boiler smokestack far to the Lear and covering the stokehole
w tl a w ith re ;LSiL to p:ci'vruit an acii.-ntal spai-.k from ignit-
ing the hylrogre-n.
This bal.oon l.made only .ne' trial. fl.jght, during which
Giffard was abl to nmove -stld jly against the wind. The
attempt to descend, iho:iver, cIuscd the power cCr o tip
forwaj-d and put too r.muc h strain ou the suppc ting net
which caused the car to pl ummet to the ground. Ait.hugh
nei-ther Giffard nor anyone else was injured in the accident,
the experience discouraged pc-:tniial investors. Unable to
raise the necessary funds for his third dirigible (which
was intended to be airc'st ten times the length of the previ-
ous one) Giffard postponed tlie project until the onset of
blindness caused him; to give up the idea altogether.
His engine had proved too heavy: it could not provide
enough power to drive the combined mass of the balloon
and itself through the air against even light breezes.
In their efforts to overcome this problem, other
European experimenters seized upon new methods of power
generation. One of the principal forerunners of the internal
combustion engine had been patented in 1860. Twelve years
later an Aikstrian by the nanim of Pal Haeniein (1835-
1905) used 3t to propel a dirigible.
The envelope for iHaenlcin's airship had the shape of
the hulls of two ships, one inverted over the other,
measuring 164 feet in length with a maximum! diameter of
30 feet. The power car was cus;pnded just a few feet
bce-.eath the balloon. Hi, plan w s ton fill the gasbag with
coal-gas instead of hydriogein and dra;' upon this to fuel the
engine at the rate of 250 cubic feet per hour. As the-
capacity of ter balloon was some 85,000 cubic feet and the
lifting capability of coal-gas was fdr lower tblan that of
hydrogen, Iaenlein's aerostat suffered from a lack of lift
that could only get woise as the flight progressed. Never-
theless, tethered test flights were carried out on December
12 and 13, 1872, at Erunn, Moiavia, during which the airship
attained a speed of above nine miles per hour, Disappointed
and unable to raise funds to carry on, Haenlein ceased his
Almost a decade later, in 1881, one of Giffard's
countrymen, Gaston Tissandier (1843-99), took up the idea of
a mechanically powered aerostat. Like Giffard, his desire
to experiment with balloons stemmed from a general inter-
est in the source of motive power; like Haenlein, his pcwer
plant was one previously untried: in this instance, an
In Gaston Tissandier's view, the electric motor would
provide the ideal power plant for an airship. Having
neither flame nor exhaust, it qgeaLly reduced the possi-
bility of accidental ignition of the hydrogen in the gasbag.
It also avoided another drawback of the steam engine.
iihereas an airship propelled by steam was lighter at the
end oi Lhe journey (insorfijr i'c fuel ws cns:un;med) than at
its beg dining, one utiiiiJng clectir ic batteries had no
significant variance in weight,
Tn order to demonstrate the plausibility of his ideas,
Tissalndier constructed a m niatl.ire airship powered by a
small electric motor and batteries, which he exhibited at
the Parisian Electrical Exposition., of 8Ec1. During its
indoor trial flights tihe, little :jrship was able to move in
a predetermined direction at scimewhat over fivv e miles per
Confirmed in his belief, Tissandier began looking for
financial assistance to produce a larger ncodel capable of
carrying a man aloft. Unable to convey his enthusiasm to
any of the capitalists whom he approached, he eventually
obtained funds from his brother Albert (1839-96).
Realizing the need to reduce weight, Gaston designed
not unly his own more efficient and lighter potassium
bichromate batteries bnt also a one-and-a-half horsepower
motor, which was geared to a twin-bladed propeller at a
ratio of ten to one. Meanwhile, his brother Albert, now
having become enthralled with thie whole idea, supervised
the assemblage of the gasbag.
Their craft was launched on October 8, 1883. After
a successful flight, they landed in a field and anchored
their airship, planning to ascend again in the morning,
How-'vez, during the night., the batl.-e;.-; solution crystalli zed
fo-rcing thre brothers to abandon tr- whole idea. With
insufficient funds to co:itinue, to' Tissandiers withdrew
from further experiments in air flight.
The next.gorat. stimulus to the development of the
powered balloon was provided by the siege of Paris during
the latter stages of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1).
Having no other means of communication with the rest of
the unoccupied country, the besieged Parisians resorted to
building and sending out unpowered balloons that carried
trained carrier pigeons, correspondence, aid politically
important passengers (among others, Leon Gambetta, who
crganii.cd resistance to the invading Germans in the pro-
vinces and later became a central figure in the Third
Republic). To all, some 64 balloons were released during
favorable wind conditions; of these, only eight were lost,
two to the Prussian Army and six to the sea.
The sucr-'c nf this endeavor aroused the interest of
military men in hot.n FPrance and the newly formed German
Reich. The army balloon corps of each nation helped
dissemi-Lnte .;:o .ledge about experiments with airships,
which they st ort~-e(. sometimes to the extent of under-
writing the who e project, as the French military did
during the Fr rn:--Prussian War and in 1884-5.
In the for: instance, Dupuy de L6me (181]6-85), the
maianJe engjn.,ei- commissiored to desiign and build the craft,
incorporated the balJ o.1'-1c divocoaTcdc by Mc:,'.i er in the 3ate
18th century into a ,larger egy-sh:!"d main gas envelope. On
February 2, 1S72, his archi;:p ws gi ,cn its only test
flight. A Crea of eight iron cranked a shaft connected to
a larg.-o fou.r- ibldead propellecr. Despite their utmost exer-
tions, they couJl coax only a few;' r:ies per hour from their
massive, dwk vIard craft. De Lrme's usage of human muscle
for propulsive power restricted his vessel's greatest speed
severely; in fact, it moved no more rapidly than Giffard's
balloon had 20 years earlier.
As for the second experiment, in 1884, two French army
captains (Charles Renard [1847-1905] and Arthur C. Krebs
[b. 1850]) secured the financial backing of the French
balloon corps and, building upon the experience of de
Lome, took up where the Tissandier brothers had left off.
According to Renari, he anr Krebs had initially set forth
certain prerequisites for their airship: horizontal and
vertical acrodynrimiic stability, minimization cf forward
resistance, and ability to iove aginrst the wind.26 In
the event, the craft that e:crged from their plans embodied
several innovations. Unlike those of the Tissandiers and
de LOim, the gas envelope was strc ir.lined to a near point
at ei.hecr end, as was the bamooo and silk car suspended
beneath. The batteries, motor, and propeller occupied the
.Co.rward section of this gondola; at the rear was a large
rectangular rudd-cr; -he instruments were located in the
central section where thji (ilots sa't. In addition to
controlling the motor and rudder, tho aeronauuts could also
slide a woight toward cither end of the airship to main-
ta n hloizontal equili briun and lower a heavy rope, known
as a trail-rope, to reduce the risk of violent landing.
Duly christened La France, the airship was launched
on August 9, 1884, with Renard and Krabs at the helm. They
managed to steer their aercstat and bring it back to the
point of departure under its own power, having covered
about five miles in a little under 30 minutes."2 Although
they flew their airship several more tines, they were
compelled to conclude that the mayinmrm possible speed of
the craft---about 14 miles per hour--was quite insufficient
to be practical. Yet, they had demonstrated the possibility
of real aerial navigation.
Meanwhile e, the German Army, after a false start with
two hastily impiovised balloon companies at the siege of
Strasbourg .in 1870, had its interest sufficiently aroused
by news from France, and lighter-than-air advocates at home,
to establish its counterpart to the French balloon
corps in 1871.28 In 1891 the Prussian Airship Battalion
succeeded in completing the construction of an airship of a
new type. This vessel had t rigid aluminum gas envelope
consisting of .008 inch al uminum sheeting over a tubular
framework of the same metal; some 15G feet long and of an
llipt)tical cioss-s'ctiCon ('t ing 45 fcct in height and 39
feet in width), the ba'g had a coni e-il ncse and a rounded,
som ewhi concave stern. Its capacity was approximately
130,000 cubic feet. The originator of this design was the
Ausi ri-an engineer David Schwarz (1]56-97) who was working
at this time in berlin.
The gondola suspended beneath Schwar 's aluminum gasbag
was connected to it by aluminum girders. The two-cylinder
gasoline engine (also made of aluminum) transmitted its
twelve horsepower output via a belt system to two tractor
propellers mounted abreast orn it-her side of the gasbag at
the bow of the car and a third propeller above the stern
of the car that was movable upon its axis for control
purposes. The importance of Schwarz's innovation is that it
utilized the principle of rigid construction throughout.
Schwarz, however, having died early in 1897 before
finishing his creation, the German military decided to
carry th- work through to completion. In November, after
the final checks .were made, and the problem of filling the
rigid envelope v'as solved by using an extra interior air-
fi3lled linen bag that was withdrawn as gas was pumped into
the shell, a young officer by the name of Ernst Jagols
volunciered to ascend by himself from the Tempelhof Field
Upon reaching a height of ROO feet, he turned the
airs!hip into the wind and started Lrying to nmal- headway.
But the vessel could no r:._ve fori.-:ai against the 15 .ile-
per-hour wind, and the engine stoppc after the belts
slipped from their p-lleys. W.ith hi; fragile craft ditifting
before the wind, the amateur pilot hastily valved off a
large quantity of gas, caur.jng the airship to descend
rapidly. The resulting impact ismashedk part of the alumni.num;
before anyone could help, the wind ihad completel-y wreccled
the crippled ship.
It was at this time that tlh main whose name was to
become synvnoomous -ith the rigid airrsJip--Graf Ferdinand
von Zeppelin (18H38-1917)--beqan to make his influence felt.
A distinguished retired general of cavalry, he had witnessed
Jage]s' fall at the Templchof Field, He had, in fact, been
interested in air flight for more than a generation. In
1863, 'r.hi-le serving as an c-hserv'er of the A7merican Civil
War for the Ki-n' of W'r'-tebe.-g, he had ascended in a
balloon at Port Snel.li:g rnear St. Paul, Minnesota.31
A decade later, during the siege of Paris, Zeppelin's
position in the G'.-rman General Staff Headquarters at Villiers
near Paris had cico enabled him to observe the flights of
the balloonr. f-rom tihe besieged city. The importance of the
effect-; of the flight that carried Ga:i-atta out of Paris to
uLgrni" :>piAs I tihe poVinus WO o- WoL upoii him.i.
Zeppeolin hi,a:l, l.owvf igjavae l.:i-.t f'r th, impetus to
draw up the' i ;r". 1 ans ior a ci,-i'd dirigible to a 1it 74
pampA) c b/ f'..inrri ch v'' F tcph-r (it.i] -97) thu Gaermpn
Minister of losts. I L s:t:. Strphen's allusion t-o the fact
that cte qast ocean of rna'.vi,'lib air sv:-" oundint: the earth
lay wd, sted. and emr. pty C&- .. caec.d Zepe.lii to turn Is
thoughts to air transpot-,ation, 3
Rearcdless of the cata-lytic agent, the predom.inartly
military attitude of his mind and approach to his ideas--
so far as airshirps ;e.c concerned --are revealed in a routine
report he .wrote in 18,C as the military attached in Berlin
of the King of W:'.irttembcierg:
If airships are to be of e'ry 'eal use for -ilitary
purp-os<. it="" is="" imperative="" that="" these="" airships="" shall=""/>
b leable to navigate against very strong winds; they
must be able to re.-;a.n ini the air withoiut- lainding
for at .l' ast twenty-four hour-s, so that they can
perform really long reconnaissanc:. operations. These
air:sips must have a sizeable capacity fore personnel,
supplies, and ammunition. These three demianrds would
require e:tensi,,v balloon compartments for the
necess-ry cas. ir othec words: large ai ships wlll
be in- adO ,
Following are the n.iin factors: in tr- dcvelopteont
of dirigible airshl.ps: the shape oF tLhe irhi p b'est
suited to cut li-hrough the air must bhe det-rminied; a
way mist be found of risrng in the aiir without btitng
forced to th ow off balla'-t; a t-ry i'st, 1ik;wi. e, be
disco-v ered of dotcc dlng .q without bein; forced t to
vn'lve off andr thus waste) iquanliti-s of gas, if
it is possible to solve these probler,s succE-'s'rfl.y,
the i :ipoiarhance or aih_-ships in tih futuc- wiLi cot -
tainly be iomt. s 1ab4 lot o1iiy il th-i.'y be
import nt n. w:arf;ar2 ; they ...1l b.. uIr-' f.o civil .
Lranp.:3portati on (eirshiips: o::uld i cn-;-, ,ent the ishorte-st
jou.ineCy across mounL.it'S, ac.. ;. :i t hle ;ac, or betwe en
an:y _-Ot places); .:oecver, thy wil. a] so bhe used on
Cxprd itions of disc.o.very (to tih North Pole, to
After the Count'.s forced retij.lreent from the army
following the spring exercises in 1800 (alledgedly for
committing the Indiscretion of not letting the Kaiser's
chosen units win), he devoted his full times and energy
to the study ofi the problems involved in the construction
of an airship such as he had described-34 Needing an
assistant trained in technical problems, he engaged the
services of the engineer Theodor Kober. Their early ex-
periments with various propellers were conducted in a
motorboat on the Bodensee. In line with his conviction
that an airship must he large !o be practical, one of
Zeppelin's early blueprints depicts a vessel almost 420
feet long and 38.5 feet in diameter, with a capacity of
almost 400,000 cubic fe-t of gas. His plans also called
for a special hangar to be built on the Dodensee as the
Count preferred to experiment there.
At length, in 1893: after three years of patient
concentrated work, plans were sufficiently complete to
serve as a bcsis for the request for financial assistance
from the Germaan government. Ho ecvel Zeppelin's presenta-
tion of hit proposals at the Mil.istly of War were unsuccess-
ful. Undaunted at having ex:perien;ed v cool rcco.:plion
there, he tri-e other governmental depa'rtmnn-.ts, all to no
a-,- i Whe n he realized the futili y of further efforts
in this direction, he immediately decided to pettition the
Kaiser for a lhering before~ a select commission of scien-
tific experts. The report of this commission wou d be
made available to the Ministry of War. So confident was
.Zeppe.ln thaIt hie sought the appointment as chairman of the
comR.isPion of a renowned opponent of the idea of dirigibles,
Professor Hermann I,. P. von Helmholtz (1821-94).
Alas, the report, after the commission's initial
session in .March, 1894, was largely negative. Yet Helm-
holtz admitted that Zeppelin's plan was at least possible.
The Count was told to work out hi;- design in greater detail.
Before lie could complete this task, Helmholtz died. The
other members of the commission, after receiving and review-
ing Zeppelin's additions and revisions, rejected the whole
scheme as practically useless.3
Despite the shattering effect of this decision,
Zeppelin returned to Friedrichshafen to continue his work.
Two years later, in 1896, he sent an outline and explanation
of his4 work to the Association of German Engineers, re-
questing theii to determine what, if anything, was scien-
tifically wr.vrng with his ideas. Finding little to criti-
cize. the Eu ineers' Association issued a favorable report
to the }1p.:.s -,d called for public contributions to
finance tiLe ...unt's work. The Lollowing year (1897),
the KE.ineer.q Associatiorn Apoint'd a committee of experts
'to as it :",.elppolj.n with tfhe. cons t )i ILion iif an a.i. ship
a ccordt in to his design. 7
Th9' help Caunt von Zppe r<,eived both frc.om the
expcirt s nd the Cerinan engineers notwithstanding, tihe
primary obstacle remained insuffici.ient funds. All the
other essential procondiLtions for i vention--for example,
need manifestedd in the many tt'ermpts) knowledge of the
technical aspects (the hydrogqcn balloon and the internal
combustion engine), and public :iilingness to accept--
were present. Never suffering from a loss of confidence
in himi:elf or his ideas, Zeppelin decided to commit his not
inconsiderable personal fortune to the venture. In 189S,
he formed a limited liability corporation, the Aktiengesell-
schaft zur Forderung der Luttschiffahrt, to construct
rigid airships.38 His decision proved to be a landmark
in the history of the airship. Although his wealth was
soon consumed in the venture, by one means or another he
continued as director as well as principal stockholder
of the corporation until the world's first rigid airships
had been nuilt.
1. Chailcs ii. Gib!t-s-Simith, ed., AviatiL n: An His-
torical Suivoey from its Origin to the ind of World Wa. II
(Lo:;ndon. iMSO, 1970), p. 4-
2. ibLd., p. 3.
3. Joseph Needhan and Wang Ling, Science and CLvili-
zation in China, Vol. IV, part II (Cambridre: Unive3 sty
Press, 3965), pp. 586-7, 96-8.
4. ru-1gence Marion, Les ballcns et los voyages adriens
(Paris: Hache He & Co., 1881 pp. 15-8.
5. Gibbs-Smith, Aviation, p. 15.
6. John Wise, "The Birth of rli-ht," in Lighter-Than-
Air Flight, ca. by r. V. Glines (New York: FranITlr Warts,
Inc., 1965), p. 5.
7. Francois-Laurent c 'Arlanldes, "The First Aerial
Voyage," in L:ghter-Than-Air Flight, pp. 12-5.
8. A.Hildebrandt, Die Luftschitrahrt nach ihrer
geschichtlichen und gecenvwrtigLin Entwicklung (Munich:
R. Olde iourgY, 7T91T, p. STS.
9. Mary Hoehling, Thaddeiu Lcwe: America's One-Man
Air Corps (Chicago: Kinoston Hljuse;T195T, pp. 80-90.
10. Ibid., p. 90.
11. F. Stansbury Haydo'n, Aeronautics in the Union and
Confederate Armies, with a Survl y of iljtary Aeronautics
Prior to 1I1, Vol.T 3W TialtcTmore: Johns liokins Pross,
Tr4Ty, p 358".
12. John Randolph Bvryan, "Balloon Usied for Scout Duty,"
Southern Historical Society Papers (Ricihmond: 1905),
13. Letter, Cheves to Squiros, as cited in J. Duane
Squires, "Aeronau tics in thl Civil Wa'r," Anerijcan Hijsorical
Review, Vol. XLII (1937), p. 644.
1?. !%. Porter 7iie~ande'r, Milirary Memoirs of a
Confederate (B.loomington, Ind, : i'n0iana Univers ity Press,
1962), p. 172.
15, IHid., pp. 172-3.
16. Quoted in C. V. Giines, ed. Lighter -Tian -Air
Flight, p. 151.
17. Robert Jackson, Airship7 (Garden City, N.Y.:
Douhleday & Co., 1973), pp. 24-..
18. L. T. C. Rolt, The Aeronauts, A History of Balloon-
ing, 1783-1903 (New York: Walker & Co., 1966, pp. 204-5.
10. Ibid., p. 58.
20. C. J. Hylander, "Stce:r!, electric and Man-Powered
Dirigibles," in Lighter-Than-Air Flight, p. 154.
21. Rolt, The Aeronauts, pp. 212-3.
22. Jackson, Airships, p. 35.
23. Hylander, "Stea , Dirigibles," in Lighter-
Thar-Air Flight, p. 156.
24. Ibid., pp. 156-7
25. Rolt, The Aeronauts, p. 211.
26. Chailes Renard, "Success at Last!" in Lighter-
Than-Air Flight, pp. 158-9.
28. John Fisher, Airlift 1870: The Balloon and Pigeon
Post in the Siege of Paris (London. Max Parrish, 1965),
29. Carl Berg, David Schwarz, Carl Berg, Graf Zeppelin:
Ein Beitroq zur Entsteibun d>r Zcpp lin-Luf-t hi ffahrt in
___________- i-~ u- ------------- -
Deutschland (Munich: By the Author, 1925), pp. 8-9.
30. Ibid., p. 11.
31. Margaret Goldsmith, Zeppelin: A Biography
(New York: Willia Morrow- & Co., 1931), p. 45.
32. lugo Eckener, GrEr.l Z~_. e311in_ (Stuttgart: J. G.
Cott'.;che BDuchhl-iandJuwn Nachifoulyr, .1938), p. 101.
33. LuL.-.:hifi.f; -.eJi, s W rVit i.k Zpelins Eine
'cstZj U Zu 'ei'em 75 G i r stagric (Stutt cart; Koln Iiss)ions-
verlag Julius Hoft iofman, 191.3), p. 1.
34. Eckcner Gr.-a, pp. 102-3.
35. Germany, Mr'Ll..irgec i ]chtl]ichnn Forschungsam.,
Die d--utschen LuvftstroEit ilit vion ihrber Entstehung bs
SIi I ie Milit"rluftfahrt htis
Zu -o s .. Anl-aq"b. in t, Ltter,
"GeIrale'lnritnant z. Z. Gra- von Zeppelin an don Chef des
Generalstabes der Arm e,'" September 14, 1893 (Freiburg im
Breisgau: E. S. Kittler, 19(5), document 1il, pp. 13-4.
35. Germany, Mil]itcareschicht ichen Forschungsamt,
Die deutschen Luftstrcitkriafte, "Koummissionabericht iber
die r-ufung neuer Entwu Fe de.-j Grafen Zeppelins," March 2,
1895, document #17, pp. 24-6.
37. Eckener, Grat, pp. ]37--8.
38. Ibid., p. 140,
CA1P7'TE: I IT
FROM T;HEORPET/rICAl, IDEAS TO PR-CTIO.-.,I APPLICATION -.
T!:E PI'IPLEMI OrF F.Ti,.hNCIAL, BACKING
One oF tie rea-tstl diffticulties facing those who
wished to develop the (dirigible" was the reluctance of the
private and puob-1c investcrr to invest in the industry.
Inventors like Giffard (who realized that an airship must
be large to auconnmmodaie the propulsion unit and a practical
payload; found it impossible to convince private capit-alists
or the government Lthat thc industry offered profitable and
important prospects. This may, in part, be attributed to
ihe lack of business sense shown by some of the early
experimenters. Gaston Tissanrie f for example, found it
difficult to sell his ideas ev'en to his own brother Albert.
Yet Giffarrl was a successful engineer and inventor of some
means with friends jrn co .IeL-co and government, Renard and
Krebs (whose airship wa' l)uil. at a French military balloon
factory a'- Chalai v-Meudo.i v.ih money supp liod by the Third
Republic) seemed to have been aLle to sell their ideas to
members of the .F:-cnch gonvc.n-melnt; likewvi1s Schwarz (whose
alumni nur i dJirjyj.bie wa s co;0piplc-te-d under the sccics of the
Prussian Aillshi-p 1',ttal.io'n afcr- h.is deatl) Obviously
the money was avail]abl]- -.i t hos, rc spon sibie for its
dist.'ibution cold be convin cd-i of the practica'.ity of the
airship. Giffeid's failure in raj.s funds can, of course,
be put dowr. to the cra.;h of hin creconr airship in 1855.
Similarly, the experiments of Ren-'rd and Krebs were dis-
continued 'whenc it lec:amc evident that I.a France was navi-
gable only in the ightest breezes. Schwar!.'s airship bad
numerous mechanical deficiencies besides its slipping
drive belts. Technologically, the airships built by
these men had no practical value; their inventors had
created curiosities rather than inventions needing only
financial sppolt. What they had invented were test
models intended to bring famn. and perhaps fortune, rather
than something able to carry a payload from one place to
another, Their work had serious design, structural and
operational shortcomings; and those that served as the
basis for proposals for further development gave little
promise that anything significant would come of them.
Perhaps Count von Zeppelin was the exception; practi-
cal utility was the foundation of his concept. The de-
scriptions and sketches of his earliest Lnown mental image
of the rigid airship are drawn from entries in his diaries
made while he wa rec.uperatinc from a riding accident
about two months .afti-r r]enading Heinrich von Stephan's
pamphlet (1874). Beg.inniulng on UMac.ch 251, 1874, the entries
de:pi: t a d riqible of moin:t /o'o prop>orLions (in comparison
to its contemporaries) with 18 gas c-lls having a total
capacity in excess. of 706,000 cubic feet (over eight times
as much as La FPrnce 10 year-; later) The hull consisted
of rings and lonit-.tudinal braces v ilh an overall fabric
cover as irn his later airships. Slung beneath this struc-
ture were cabins fc-r 20 passengers, and holds for cargo
and mail.- A rather curious feature was the envisioned
use of adjustable inclined planes to provide aerodynamic
lift: the forward motion of the airship would cause these
planes to push the vessel upward until the desired altitude
was attained. Then either the inclination of the planes
or the speed would be reduced, permitting the craft to kite
until descent became desirable, at which time the planes
could be put in a"horizontal position and the speed
throttled.3 Although abandoned by the Count shortly there-
after, this idea.was actually put into practice later
when airship comm;7nders wanted to take off with their
vessels having negative buoyancy (i.e., when the airship
was too heavily loaded to floaL).
Tt'e practical difficulty of gas loss also drew Zeppe-
lin's early aitt int.ion. It appears that ie was well aware
of the relatively high degree of permeability of the balloon
fabric t-hen in 'ie, as well as the necessity to replenish
that gas which wa:- lost when it became imperative to valve
off at high altiiudos on 'x: kiended trips. His solution was
to provide Utbe tirbhip with some form of jas g'.icrtinr
eqlip:iment on bloard---an al).cogcethcr v.s tefiul scheme thla
was dropped because the gas g-ieernc tor and its raw mal crials
would wc thgh more than the- amountt of lydrogen it !produced
could ] jft.
Co.mnitt-ing snme! speculative ideas on airs'lips to a
diary was on thing; building and flying an airship was
anoLher. In any event, there were too few private sources
of capDi.tal in 19th century Germany willing to back a
pioneering undertaking. Consequently, most German inventors
(where they could) sought go-vernment financial assistance;
Colunt vcn Zeppelin ,war rno exception. Indeed, as an eld
military officer, he thought in national tenras. He was
obsessed with there idea of providing rigid airships not for
private gain, but for the German Reich, First, however, he
had to convince the government of t.e practicality of his
To this end, in 1891 he presented the Prussian War
Ministry with a design derived from basic ideas along the
lines set forth in his diary. Outlining his proposals in
a letter to Alfred von Schlieffen (Chief of the General
Staff), he requested that a technical officer be sent to
consult with him regarding his ideas Schlieffen sent
Captain von Tsch.di, the commander of the Prussian Airship
Battalion, to Stuttgart where at that. time ZappeLin was
deuvelopilig hiso airship ideas. Although no report e>.ists in
Tsch idi's nIelc ZFppol IC l w-'ot'e t tl-' Capt i.D h a'.d o n-
couraged him to proceed v'r th his planrs and exper iments,
The general description in Zeppeli.n's patent spUcij ifcation
of August 31, 1895, is the one definite pc-ce of information
that we have to go on as to vwhat Zc ppelin intended,
ihe "Deutschland" design, laid down in Ltl patent, had
thrcc sections connected with an elastic coupling. The
forward, powered section was approximately 385 feet long,
including a domed bow with a radius of 18 feet. The central
segment was 52.5 feet in lingti, and the rear unit was 113
feet long plus another 18 feet of hemispherical stern. The
rings (36 feet in diameter) of each section weie circles
of hollow aluminum tubing with a cross-section of somewhat
less than six inches. Four cylindrical beams of ti-e same
material located at the top, bottom, and center of both
sides provided the only longitudinal stiffening: the other
longitudinal members were wires, There being somewhat over
26 feet between the rings, the longitudinals could produce
little effective resisLance to compression or bending
forces, even when combined with wire netting in strategic
locations. A perpendicular brace on each ring formed, in
combination with the top and bottom longitudinal cylinders
and diagonal wire bracing between rings (through the gas
cells), a braced structure capable of withstanding signifi-
cant loads in the vertical plane. The material of the gas
cel is wos unspecified, but the oeutCer covering wa; to be of
silk f[b'ijc or "s iilar i.aL.erial." Each qas call was
equ-ipj pd with both manual (;,it the t op) and automatic (at
the bottom) valves for the rel easc of hydrogen, Suspended
beneath ihe hull and att-ched rigidly to it were several
open cars, and the two of these beneath the forward section
each he!d a Daimieo 11 horsepower engine weighing over half
a ton. 'each engine drove two small four-bladed propellers
located high on the side of the hull, Connecting these
cars with the others was a narrow walkway suspended on
wires. Control in the vertical plane was to be effected
by lining back and forth a heavy weight suspended beneath,
while a -aomparative]y tiny pair of rudders at the bow were
to give the pilot directional control.
When Zeppelin submitted this design to the Helmholtz
Commission (p. 46 above) for examination, he suffered a
setback in his quest for government support. The Commission
rejected the Count's scheme out of hand largely as a result
of the calculations of Professor Heinrich Mlller-Breslau
(1851-1925) of the Technical College at Charlottenburg,
whose background in bridge design made him an authority in
stress analysis. IHe wrote:
It fell to me to test the rigidity of the body
of the airship. The result of my calculations
were most unfavorable. The static calculations
of the eonineer entirus-ccd vith the working out of
the details of the dc ;ign were confined to the
investigation of a vmc.tiral] frameworl which
passed through the airship, dividing it into
two halves ,. .Nothing whatever had been done
in the way of providing for horizontal rigidity of
the airship, or for torsional moments ,
This ship, the rigidity of which was in a high
degree odpendent upon the pressure of the goas, was
to be anchored on the ground in the open. No
hangars were provided for.
It was of course: possible to strengthen the
framework, but owing to the very small useful life--
it was only 880 pounds---it cou3d be done only at
the expense of the engines, which were already too
With Zeppelin's plans so condemned, tha Coimmission
had little choice but to reject them. The Count's reaction
was a multi-page rebuttal that he sent Bronsart von Schellen-
dorf,the War Minister, on October 21, 1894, This document
further strained his relations with officers in the War
Ministry. Nevertheless, through the influence of his good
friend, King Wilhelm of Wurtteirberg, Zeppelin obtained a
In the hastily redrawn design a domed stern was added,
the vertical struts strengthened, and a braced framework
truss 18 feet wide attached to the top of the airship; all
this in an effort to circumvent MLller-Breslau's objec-
However, in solving some of his problems Zeppelin only
created others. As revised, the airship had a stronger but
a heavier supporting structure. In an effort to improve
lifting capability, the Count hnd substituted smaller nine
horsepower engines as a weight-saving measure. Basing his
calculations on a simple but erroneous formula involving
the pounds of thru.st. of the eng)inec' and the cross-sectional
area of the envelope, he expected his ship to attain a
speed of 19 miles per hour. 'This the Coa.missinn rejected
on the groincds that air resistance had been underestimated
and the efficiency of the engines and propellers over-
estirmated. Convinced that an airship must have at least a
speedd of 28 miles per hour to be of any practical value,
the CommissJon once again ruled against Zeppelin.
More than ever the Count was convinced that not until
he had built and flown an airship would he be likely to
obtain the government's backing. Only this could reverse
the adverse publicity genera Led by the Commission's reports.
Meanwhile, in 1896, he sent a complete copy of his latest
design to the Association of German Engineers for their
examination. While the friendly report they issued undid
some of the criticism expressed in the Commission's findings
it brought little money with which to launch a corporate
enterprise. Indeed, the capitalization of the firm (the
Akticngesellschaft zur Forderung der Luftschiffahrt)
founded by Zeppelin in 1898--800,000 M.--vas provided
primarily out of his own pocket. Thus ended for Zeppelin
an eight-year period of designing ai ships that never flew
and seeking money that was never forthcoming.
The new corporation began its activity with the
building of a floating hangar near MNanzell on the Bodensee.
It was Zeppic in's ccnt-ention theft a,i J L-nlrp could "land"
more easily on the water and that a floating hangar anchored
at one end ;,'old swing with the breeze and always permit
entry and departure.13 On June 17, 1898, construction
of I.Z i (Luftschiff Zgepelin 1) began with the arrival of
the first aluminum parts,14
The cylindrical hull of this pioneering airship was
420 feet in length and 38.5 feet in diameter with symmetri-
cal tapering ends. However, the 24 longitudinal beams
connecting the 16 transverse rings were seriously defective
in design.5 They presented next to nothing in the way of
resistance to lateral or bending forces. Photographs (see
next page) of the LZ 1 with its cuter skin removed illus-
trate this problem. The rings actually were polygons with
24 sides braced with radial and chord wires. Except above
the two gondolas, the rings were spaced 26.2 feet apart;
above the gondolas they were 13.1 feet apart. Attached
to the longitudinals were the 17 aluminum-bronze alley
gas bag nets; inside each of these was a gas cell made of
light-weight cotton covered with a layer of rubber made by
the Ballonfabril August Riedinger of Augsburg,16 Each
gas cell wns equipped with an automatic safety relief valve
underneath; five of them had valves at the top that could
be controlled by the commander in the forward gondola.
The two gondolas were held close beneath the hul) by
aluminum struts some 105 feet :Fi o P-ither end. Solidly
Figure 2: Note deformation in girder running from upper center
to lower right. Reprinted by permission of the University of
Washington Press, from Giants in the Sky by Douglas Robinson,
built: of aluminum, these woee intixidwd to float on the water
when the airship camer to rent, but c-ch also had a wheel
protruding fcr-om the bottom in case the dirigible had to
be brought down over land. Each car contained a 14,2
horsepower ni.im]er four-cyl irder water-cooled engine weigh-
ing 850 pounds and its fuel. Po-wer was transmitted to
four-bladed propellers mounted on brackets high on both
sides of the hull by a bevel gear and long shaft arrange-
ment. The propellers, just under four feet in diameter,
turned at 1,200 revolutions per minute. The water used in
cooling the engines ran from one car to the other in tubing
along a shaky ramp suspended by wires.
Besides regulating the speed of the engines and
valving gas, the pilot could dump water ballast (kept in
the double-bottomed gondolas and inside the hull of the
ship) or winch a large weight along a line from one gondola
to the other. Directional control was provided by a pair
of rectangular rudders fcrwaard (above and below the bow)
and another pair mounted close to the sides of the airship
The completed metal frame weighedd some 1,470 pounds
less than the calculated weight of 10,570 pounds. With a
total gas volume of 399,000 cubic feet, the airship had a
lift under standard conditions of 27,400 pounds. Comparing
the lift witn tne v'eiqg.t of the metal skeleton, and estimiat-
ing the weight of the items yet to be added, Zeppelin hopud
i.;)- d u'ciful lift (of c.irgo, passe.c.j'.ngis, and ballaLt) of
nearly 4,200 pounds.17 However, h had badly overestimated
thc lifting capacity of his ship. The engines, gondolas,
gas cells and outer fabric of pcgamoid (in addition to
the hull frame) accounted for all iut 1,430 pounds of the
actual gross lift; water baljart accounted for 770 pounds
more. The acLual lift was considerably less than the cal-
culated lift because of such factors as the use of impure
hydrogen, and the inability to fill for undesirability of
filling) all the cells completely at lift off, Moreover,
when the gas cells were inflated on a trial basis several
days before the anticipated test flight date of July 1,
1900, the Riedinger cell maLecial was found to leak badly.
The purity of the ship's hydrogen could not be maintained.18
Nevertheless, an initial trial flight was set for
June 30,and (although the Count sought no publicity) word
of the impending event spread quickly through the villages
and to'ws on the Bodensee. Spectators lined the shore
and clambered aboard all manner of small craft to get a
better view. Difficulties with the method of inflation
arose, however, and the flight was postponed a day. The
next day an equally large crowd gathered to watch. After
some delay due to high wind the LZ 1 was "weighed off" and
backed on its pontoon out of the floating hangar, Once
the airship was clear of the hangar and pointing into the
wind, its engines were started. Those watching expected
it to take to the air any moment, las, Captain Hans
Bartsch von Sigqfeld, believing that the wind was still too
strong to fly an untested airchip, ordered the LZ 3 back
to its hangar.
Late the next dcay the wind abated sufficiently for
another attempt to be ,iadc. On this occasion, Count von
Zeppelin doffed his hat, called for silence, and led all
those within hearing in a short prayer. The large ship was
again drawn from its hangar. The LZ I_ having cleared the
shed, Zeppelin and a party of his friend climbed into the
gondolas. A few minutes after 8:00 P.M., all was ready
and the handling crew set the airship free from its
pontoon. However, those holding the lines at the stern
held on too long and the LZ rose with its bow pitched
at an upward angle. The sliding weight was pulled forward
to correct this, but the winch operating the weight cable
broke with the weight forward, making the bow heavy.
Shortly thereaftei., one engine died and considerable
ballast had to be released from the forward gondola to
prevent a headlong plunge into the lake. Despite the dis-
charge of water, it was still necessary to stop and reverse
course astern to maintain level flight. Of this, Zeppelin
Henceforth, the whole voyage consisted of alter-
nately going ahe.Id, and then astern, with the
scrc.ws, so as to prevent excesgJvj inclination.
A furLher reason for this alternate motion arose
front the circu'.mstance tha-t the? air ship, which
at first obeyed her helm well to starboard, ran
morc andr more to thb loft, o._ln~p, apjarently, to a
curve to larlboard, due to the drag of the
running _we .t. For this reason also, in order
to avoid beLng driven on over the land, it was
necessary to go astern with t-he screws whenever the
stern pointed toward the lane.21 (underscoring added)
After a quarter of an hour of maneuvering like this
above the Bodersee, Zeppelin decided to land. Valving off
a quantity of gas and dropping a little more ballast to
partially compensate, he brought the LZ 1 back to the sur-
face of the water 37 or 18 minutes after having left it.
A line was passed to a nearby boat, which took the dirigible
Thus ended the first flight of a rigid airship. The
LZ 1, the prototype of the many airships that would follow
it, had flown, was controllable (although it became less
so the longer the flight lasted), and had landed safely.
It hdcl thus demonstrated the possibilities inherent in a
large metal--framed rigid airship.
Yet the military observers (Captain Sigsfeld as War
Ministry representative and two other men from the Airship
Battalion) appointed by the Kaiser had concluded that the
LZ 1. was suit-able neither for military nor for civilian
use. Although they concentrated on the low speed
(8 milus par hour raxirmu; ) and the inadequate lift of the
airship (rather than its mechanical and structural weak-
nesses), their critirismas were generally valuable.
One of the cause of inadequate lift was the unsatis-
factory gas cell material, The primary cause of most of
the difficulties once the ship was airborne, however,
was the longitudinal aiuminuim I beams. The sliding
weight, added to the weight of the gondolas, caused the
beans in the lower section of the ship to compress, produc-
ing Zeppelin's "curve to larboard." A picture of the LZ 1
(see next page) shows what occurred. As the aluminum
girders warped and bent, the rudders began counteracting
each other, making the airship increasingly uncontrollable.
It was as well that the first test flight had been made
during a lull in the wind.
Undeterred, Zeppelin began correcting the defects.
The I beams were not replaced as this would have entailed
rebuilding the LZ 1--an impossible course of action as
most of the initial 800,000 14, had been spent, Nevertheless,
the gangway bet.:een the gondolas was stiffened and attached
to the bottom of the hull by aluminum struts, thus forming
the first example of what was to become accepted generally
Figure 3: Note that the airship has buckled slightly amidships
with the forward section sagging due to girder failure. Photo-
graph from Luftschiffahrt by A. Hildebrandt, c 1909.
as an intt--gral c ajrt oi airship dc sign--the keel. The slid-
ing weight 'wae increased by 50 per cent and brought up
undc;rn.eat the ko, 'hioe cudders; aft were removed and
placed b&en~-ath the hull; simultaneously an elevator was
added below the low. Yet, as these modifications neared
completion, on September 24, 1900, some of the rings by
which the unin flated airship was suspended from the ceiling
broke' and the central section crumibled to the floor.23
This unfortunate damage was repaired with almost the
last of the funds available. By October 8 the LZ 1 was
reinflated. Its second flight occurred nine days later,
followed by a third a week after that. Because Zeppelin
realized that to be forced down on land would probably
be d sastrous, these flights were carried out above the
Bodensee. On;e again, the military observers present found
-themselves unable to reconunmLnd the dirigible to the Minister
of War. Despite the strgthegthened walkway, the frame was
weak, and the highest estimated speed had not exceeded 17
miles per hour. In this there may have been some conflict
of interest. All three observers were connected with the
program of -he Prussian Airship Battalion, and one of them
(Major H. Von GroIss) clashed with Zeppelin over the acqui-
sition of the patents on the Schw.aiiz airship (p. 41).24
This time, with iuinds of Zeppelin's joint stock
company all but gone the Count had no choice but to dis-
n)cntle Lhe 17, 1, have ihe hangar brought ashore, and lay
off all his work force except on engineer and two night
watchmen," By March, 3901, however, he had made an appeal
to the Association of German Engineers, which had supported
his initial effort. This time, however, the engineers
turned their backs on him. They did so because--by their
view---the unsuccessful dctmoinsratior flights of the LZ 1
had ended the matter.
Rebuffed but undaunted, Zeppelin then tried to raise
money by sanding a stamped blank money order to each in-
dividual on an almost. endless list of .he "Who's Who" in
the German Reich. The amount received, a mere 8,000 M.,
did not cover the expenses the Count had incurred in sending
out the letters. Virtually ignored by people of note, and
becoming desperate, Count von Zeppelin broke the bounds of
tradition by soliciting donations from the public. He
did thiu by-writing an appeal in a widely circulated journal
Die Woche.27 Its main theme centered on having a German
airship at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. Again, only
a small amount of money came in. This was apparently his
only attempt to secure public assistance.
Spurned by the government, by the engineers, by the
notables cf the Reich, and by the German public, Zeppelin
now turned to his old friend King Wilhelm of Whrttenmberg.
For reasons of friendship, rather than Lolief in Zeppelin's
invention, the King authorized a state lottery Lhat raised
124,000 M. Moreover although Wilhelm could not induce
the i'russi;an state governiLient to permit the sal- of the
lottery tickets within its borders, he did persuade them
to contribute another 50,000 . 2 Realizing that even the
combined! iotl of the sums at his disposal were about a
quarter of what he needed, the Count reluctantly mortgaged
his -;ife's estates in Livonia to raise 400,000 M. more.
He also persuaded Carl Berg to grant such generous credit
terms on the aluminum for the framework that it was prac--
tically a gift. Likewise, Gottlieb Daimler supplied the
engines chiefly for the publicity obtained.
Thus was Zeppelin able to build his second rigid air-
ship. His chief engineer, Ludwig Dtrr, had already been
preparing the design. Slightly smaller than the LZ 1,
the LZ 2 was to be some 414 feet long and 38.5 feet in
diameter.9 The 16-sided rings were to separate 1.6 gas
cells containing an aggregate of 366,200 cubic feet of hydro-
gen. The aluminum for the LZ 2 was alloyed with zinc and
copper for additional strength; unfortunately the alloy
lacked uniformity. The longitudinals, at Durr's suggestion,
were made of triangular section girders, a vast improvement
over the I beams of the LZ 1 that was to be retained with
only slight modifications over the years. The 850 pound,
14 horsepower engines of the LZ 1 illustrated the remarkable
development in this field when compared to tie 425 pound
units of 15 horsepower each the Daimler plant delivered
for the LZ 2. These com.pa:atively powerful engines drove
larger three-bladed propellers somewhat over seven feet in
Construction of the LZ 2 began in April, 1905, in the
rebuilt floating hangar that now rested on piles at the
edge of the Bodensee. Within seven months, it was ready
for its trial flight. On Noveimber 30, the airship was
towed from the shed. A knot in the tow rope, however,
jammed when the release mechanism was triggered and the
bow of the LZ 2 was pulled into the water, damaging the
elevators and rudders that had been placed under the hull
in lieu of the sliding weight.
The chapter of accidents and failures, which is the
early history of this industry, continued when the LZ 2
was brought out for a second time on January 17, 1906,
On this occasion, while the ship was able to rise above the
Bodensce, the rigid proved to be vertically unstable against
a strong southwest wind. Soon both engines had failed: the
forward one because the fans drawing air through its radi-
ators broke down; the one in the car aft the victim of a
broken clutch spring. Powerless, the airship was blown
to the northeast near Kisslegg in the Allgai. Here Zeppelin
managed to bring the LZ 2 down with only minor damage to
the stern when it struck some trees, The crew tied the
airship down for the night and the Count confidently
expected to repair the engines, patch the stern, and fly
back to the Bodensue the );ext day. During the night,
however, strong winds arose again which beat the dirigible
against the ground so se:vercly that it had to be dismantled.
In a despairing mood, Zeppelin publicly declared that he
would build nc more rigid airships.3 Yet a few wccks
later, he was calling on Hugo .tckener, a correspondent for
the Frankiurter Zeitunj who had reported rn Zeppelin's air-
ships. Concerned that his experimental flights were not
reported correctly, Zeppelin urged Eckentr to revise certain
factual mr.stakes he had made in his account of the misfortune
of the LZ 2.~ Eckener was persuaded to reverse his opinion
about the rigid airship and i.ts inventor. Convinced of the
power of the press, he undertook to write articles to edu-
cate the public about th- value of the Count's work. Zeppelin
agreed to let the newspaperman do what he could to help,
even though he considered Eckener's suggestions futile.
Indeed, they might have beer' futile but for events that were
taking place in neighboring France.
In December, 1905, the French Army had accepted a com-
paratively efficient, pracLca-l sem;-rigid airship designed
by the French Iebaudy brothers. In the following February
it had ordered anothe- one. With this act the outlook
for airships in Germany iirmmedictely improved. The Raiser
was moved to pinpoint a military commission to consider what
type of airship would best counter the French action.32
With the total loss of the LZ 2 Lefo.le them, they ceuld
hardly rencommnd Zeppelin's raqid type ship, Needing a
small short-range craft for tactical scouting, an order
was placed with August von Parseval .c.r several blimp--type
ships, the first of which was completed later that year.
Nevertheless, help was forthcoming for Zeppelin. The
commission recommended an Imperial gift to him of 100,000 M,
and suggested that permission be aiven to hold a lottery
for the Count in Prussia. The ilinister of -.ar backed the
idea. A sum of 250,000 H. was eventually raised. The
Airship Study Association, a group heretofore connected
only with the Parseval endeavor, also contributed another
By May of 1906 Zeppelin had begun work on this third
dirigible, the LZ 3. With dimensions essentially the same as
in the ill-fated LZ 2, the gas volume was increased to
403,600 cubic feet. Additional elevators were fitted
forward of the front car and aft of the rear one. Two
pairs of large horizontal stabilizing fins were added to
the rear of the hull to eliminate the vertical pitching of
the LZ 2 (see tail fin drawings on next page), Innova-
tions like this came only after the need for them had been
expert ienced the only fundamental aerodynamic research war
done in a wind tunnel ilujr hai i:mprovised at his own ex-
The LZ t took to the air on October 9, 1906, and
attained a speed in c
i_.: _-- .. -- ... ---:_ _.
0 "9. 05)--- \06
., 3 (,9C'5) L,,,3 (IOi9t)
-^'+'v" ^-' '"-
+" 3 (190?)
i-- i' o -' ",i+ -++' '!
I ; -- _.- .i-- ]
+I- / (', i f --
L 10 i_..al.s .' - -t-i
--.r .^ < ,--, -. ,
LZ 4 (1908)
iLZ 24 (1914)
1r.7 -- --...... c .i
o Z '.' .ir J -:i
carrying 11 people and so:me. 5,500 pounds of ball2ast. After
remaining airborne for two hours nid seventeen minutes,
the airship was brought to test on the bodonsee again with
no ill effects. A second flight the next day proved
Ever Major Gross, whom the Count considered to be
inimical to his plans, now recommended theft Zeppelin be
given half a million marks to continue his efforts to
develop a militarily useful craft. The inventor himself
was now as elated as he had been depressed after the loss
of the LZ 2. He wrote a letter to the Imperial Chancellor
on December 1, 1906, suggesting that tne government should
rot only buy the LZ 3 for a half million, but also two
similar ships for like amounts:
I can assert today that I can demonstrate the
possibility of constructing airships with which,
for instance, 500 men with full combat equipment
can be carried for the greatest distances. These
airships, because they will contain no gas, will
be extremely safe, and in respect to housing arrange-
ments as well as building and operating costs will
be comparatively very inexpensive.34
The letter was forwarded to the War Ministry, where someone
covered its margins with comments like "If only we had
millions!": "Impossible!" "Don't even think about it!"3
Yet Chancellor Bernhaid von B3ilow supplied Zeppelin with
a half million marks to continue his work,3 The government
also undertook to boy the ship if it were able to make an
uninterrupted 24 hour flight.37 At last Zeppelin could
proceed with his experiments.
All through 1.907 modifications were made to the LZ 3.
The triangular keel was extended from the gondolas to
both ends of the hall and t-he control surfaces beneath
the body of Ute airship were replaced by quadruplanc ele-
vators mounted low on the sides of it at the points where
the cylindrical body began to taper toward the ex.trcmities
of the vessel. The positioning of the elevators made the
paired rudders less effective, and under the best of con-
ditions they had to be fully deflected before the LZ 3
would begin turning.
Five flights in September (on at least two of which
representatives of the Navy and the Army, including the
ubiquitous Major Gross, were aboard) demonstrated the prac-
ticality of using the elevators to take off. Although one
of these flights lasted almost eight hours, Zeppelin
realized that the LZ 3 simply was not capable of undertaking
a 24 hour flight and that he would have to construct a new
and larger airship for the test.38 A visit by the German
Crown Prince was the occasion for the last routine testing
flight of the LZ 3 in 1907 on October 8. The badly leaking
airship was then laid up for the winter. On December 14,
a severe storm tore the hangar from its moorings and piled
it up on shore, doing considerable damage to both the shed
and the deflated airship suspended within,
Meanwhile word of the successful flights of the LZ 3
had reached General Helmuth von rMo]tke, Chief of the General
Staft. Upon examining the favorable reports, he became
convinced that Zeppelin's airship ws the only hope of
having something superior to France's efforts. He arranged
that the Count should hb given 400,000 M, for a fourth
dirigible. If this vessel could compete a 24 hour flight
over a distotnce: of 435 jiles, the army would purchase both
the ne%: ship and the LZ 3 for 2,150,000 M.3 The financial
backingr which Zeppelin so badly needed r ow seemed within
On Jun' 2, 1908, the completed metal skeleton of the
LZ 4 was towed out to the reconditioned hangaranar nd the
damTaged LZ 3 was returned to the old hangar on shore.
Basically an enlargement of the L__3,, the new airship was
446 feet long, 42.5 feet in diameter, and capable of holding
some 530,000 cubic feet of gas in 17 cells. Useful load
under "standard conditions" was increased to 10,150 pounds
and more powerful 105 horsepower Daimler engines raised the
top speed to 30 miles per hour.4 A small cabin with two
windows was placed amidships, and from it a vertical shaft
ran between two gas cells to a platform on top, useful as
a position for taking navigational sights (or replacing
a machine gun, as was done later). Whereas the horizontal
elevators and stabilizing fins .remained as on the LZ 3,
small rectangular rudders were placed at the bow and stern.
The airship's first flight lasLed only 18 minutes.
litumediately after talking off, it began to circle
uncuiotro .lably over the lake aid t'he only corrective measure
the Count could take was to bring it back down.
The small bow rudderl was re iCovr;-d and two small single
rudders weic fitted bl.tw, ion th.e stabilizers as on the LZ 3,
After another trial flight on June 23, the rudders between
the stabilizers were doubled, large vertical fins were
added above and beneath the stL3r, a .d a l].Ige oval rudder
'26 fee-. high and 16-1/2 feet a-cross w-s hinged behind these.
The third try proved suocessfil, for on June 29 the airship
answered the helm smoothly.
Satisfied that the steering problem was the last
problem to be eradicated, Zeppelin had the LZ 4 stocked with
sufficient supplies for a 14 hour flight and set out cross
country over Switzerland on July 1. Following a route
over Schdffhausen to Lucerne, the LZ 4 returned to Manzell
via Zurich, covering some 240 miles. Despite having to
fight a head wind all the way back, the airship covered the
route in only 12 hours. This flight, fully reported by
Eckener in the press, brought the Count to the attention
of newspaper readers throughout Germany. Its very success
probably caused him to ignore another problem encountered
on the flight. No system existed to provide a continuous
supply of fuel for the engines; therefore, when each tank
(containing 440 pounds) neared empty, the engine had to
be shut off while additional fuel was carried down from
the ganqgway in 44 pound containers.
Convinced thai- fulfilling the time and distance con-
ditions set forth by the Minister of the Interior and the
Chief of the General Staff could be met by cruising from
the Bodensee to Mainz and back in 24 hours, the Count had
the LZ 4 filled wi1t fresh hydrogen to provide the maximum
lift.4 Thus began a new chapter of misfortunes and dis-
appointrents. A few minutes after a good lift off on
July 14, the forward engine fan threw a blade, and the air-
ship was forced to return to its base, postponing the
planned flight for a day while the damage was repaired.
As the LZ 4 was being eased out of its berth the next day,
it struck the side of the hangar. The damage was fairly
extensive: several rings aod longitudinals were cracked
or broken: the port after propeller was mauled; the elevator
nearest it smashed; and at least three gas cells were
holed. Repairs took nearly three weeks, delaying the
departure of the LZ 4 until August 4, when it lifted off
the Bodensee shortly after 6:00 A.MI., carrying enough fuel,
oil and reserve radiator water for 31 hours. It also carried
12 people and their supplLes and personal items, and some
1,450 pounds of ballast.42
As all this constituted a rather heavy load for the
L. 4 (especially as a three-week delay since inflation meant
some loss of gas), the Count was obliged to fly at a low
level to preserve his ballast. lie directed the helmsman to
steer a sr.omchat indirect course for Mainz via the Rhine
valley. News of the impending flight had been provided
by Eckener and word of the approach of the airship
was telegraphed ahead. At Konstanz, at Schaffhausen, and
at Basel crowds of curious and awestruck people covered
the streets, balconies, and rooftops staring at the LZ 4
as it cruised overhead. At Basel, the airship was turned
north. Having covered almost a hundred miles in three
hours, Zeppelin saw no reason why they could not make the
remaining 180 miles in eight more hours and begin the
return trip around half past five. At Strassburg, then a
German city, the airship sailed past the cathedral below
the top of its tall spire while more crowds gathered in
the streets to watch.
Misfortune then struck. At 12:57 P.M., the forward
engine had to be stopped while fuel was poured into its
tank. The LZ 4, which had previously been held at low
altitude by using .the motors to drive it at a slight down-
ward angle to offset the increased buoyancy as the sun
warmed hec gas, now cliSLed to 2,700 feet which was well
above Lhe pressure height. Large quantities of hydrogen
escaped through the automatic valves, making the ship heavy.
After the forward engine was restarted, a near collision
with a bridge corpellJ'-d the dumping of 132 pounds of ballast.
At 1:58 P.M., .th. after engine had to be stopped. The
airship rose to 2,190' f.oeL and mcre gas was lost. Pislt the
city of Worms, the after engine had to be stopped again
and once more the LZ 4 rose, this timt. to 3,380 feet M:ore
hydrogen wa:; valved off. Some two hours later, at 4:0 5 P.M.,
the forward engine was shut down when a gear in the fan
After another attempt to go on, Zeppe in brought
the LZ 4 to a smooth landing on the Rhine 1i miles south
of Mainz at 5:24. The gear was replaced in 20 minutes, but
the airship was too heavy to lift off. Empty fuel cans and
all extra equipment were removed; in addition, five crevmen
were put ashore. Dropping ballast, the LZ 4 lifted frcm
the waLer again at -10:20 P.M. and reached Mainz a half hour
later. aere tne airship was turned south and had to be
repaired. AL 1:27 A.M., with the LZ 4 just past Mannheim,
the forsrard engine crank bearing melted. The airship was
actually blown back after the engine had to be stopped
for refueling south of Stuttgart.
Unable now to meet the conditions laid down for a
24 hour flight, Zeppelin decided to land the LZ 4 and
bring Daimler repairmen from nearby Unterturkheim to repair
its forward engine. The airship landed smoothly at 7:51 A.M.
near a village cal.ld Echterdingen southwest of Stuttgart.
Curious siqhtse jrs soon thronged the countryside while
the dirigible was anchored as firmly as possible pending
the drri j-; of detlachment of soldiers from Stuttgart
to guard the airship and scrve as its ground crew. Daimler
engineers removed the disabled engine and set up a repair
shop some distance away. Once all necessary arrangements
had been poL in order, Zeppelin retired for a nap in the
midships cabin. Awakening an hour later, he decided to go
into Echteraingen.44 o Shortly thereafter, dark thanderc.ouds
built up rapidly in the western sky. A little before
3:00 P.M., a sharp gust of wind caught the prostrate ailship
on its starboard, and the ,Z 4 began to drift sideways.
Unable to hold it, most of the soldiers let go of their
lines, but a few were dragged a considerable distance
before doing so, and two crew members were caught inside the
airship. One of them dashed from the gondola aft to pull
the gas valve controls in the forward car to the open
position. The LZ 4 settled onto some trees a half mile
from where it had been anchored and the two men scrambled
out. As they did so a spark ignited the hydrogen spilling
fortn from one of the punctured cells in the bow. Instan-
taneously, flames broke out forward and raced aft.45
Within moments all that was left of the LZ 4 was a smoulder-
ing pile of rubble and charred, twisted girders. An objec-
tive observer viewing Zeppelin gazing lisconsclately upon
the blackened wreckage of his dreams would be forced to
conclude that the end had conme. It had, in a way, but it
was the end of the beginning.
Abu'..tL the opening phase ini the development of the rigid
airship two remarkrt might be made. The first is the
cnormous expense of the early airships. Zeppelin's early
siips cost in the region of half a million remarks each.
Obviously this was not a field for the little entrepreneur
or investor. Like most of this rontemporarv German in-
ventors, Zeppelin had to turn to tthe state for help.
Another remark which might be made concerns the
Count's intense patriotism. It is impossible to estimate
how powerful was his ever-constantly expressed wish to
serve his country, but it must have made a great deal of
difference to him. So powerful was this motivation that
neither defeat nor ridicule could divert him from what he
had to do. A man so possessed with an idea had to find a
way to achieve its fulfillment. Fortunately for him there
now occurred "the miracle of Echterdingen."
1. It leaked badly, had no aerodynamic stability,
and was impossible to control" Written report by Ernst
Jagels, November G, 1897, quoted in Berg, David Schwarz,
2. Letter, Hans von Schiller to A. D. Topping, re-
porting on an examination of Count von Zeppelin's diaries
and papers, in "Count Zeppelin's American Balloon Ascent
(IV),' Wingtoot Lighter-Than-Air Society Bulletin, Vol. XIII, No.
5 (March, 1966), p. 9 and Eckener, Graf, pp. 104-6.
3. Eckener, Graf, pp. 105-6.
4. This was done with the LZ 3. Years later, the
commanders of the American Navy rigids discovered the tech-
nique end int.roduciued it as something "new."
5. Eckener, Graf, pp. 105-6.
6. IbicLd, pp. 108, 112.
7. Germany, Militirgeschichtlichen Forschungsamt,
Die deutschen Luttstreitkrafte, Letter, "Generalleutnant
z. D. Graf von Zeppelin an den Chef des Generalstabes der
.Armee," Septeb.her 14, 1893, document #11, p. 13.
8. As reproduced in Hans Hildebrandt (ed.) Zeppelin-
denkmal fUr des Deutsche Volk (Stuttgart: Germania-Verlag,
1925), pp. 30,-7.
9. Heiiirich Mlller-Breslau, "Zur Geschichte des
Zeppelin-Luftschiffes," Verhandlung zur Bcf6rderung des
Gewerbfloissrs (Berlin: n.p. ,. 1914) p. 35.
10. Germaniy, Militi geschichtlichen Forschungsamt,
Die doutschen- Luftstreithrifte,, Letter, "Generalleutnant
z. D. Grat von Zeppelin an das Kriegsministerjum," October 21,
1894, documeoirt-'16, pp. 19-24,
11. Ibit. S"Kommissionsbericht fiber die Prifung neuer
Entworfe dos Cralen Zeppelins,' March 2, 1895, document #17,
12. Ibid., pp. 24-6.
13. Eckener, Grf., p. 143.
14. Berg, David Schwar?, p. 43.
15. They were actually narrow openwork I beams about
seven inches deep. Much oi the technical data in the
description of the LZ 1 and other early craft is taken from
Hildebrandt, Die Luftschiffahit, pp. 164-216 and Douglas H.
Robinson, Giants in t.hr' Sky (Seattle: University of Wash-
ington Press, 1973), pp. 23-5.
16. Berg, David Schwarz, p. 44.
17. Robinson, Giants, p. 25.
18. Berg, David Schwarz, p. 44.
19. An airship is "weighed off" when its load and
lift have been equalized or the difference determined. When
an airship is described as "weighed off," it is in balance,
but "weighed off tLo hundred pounds heavy" means that the
airship must employ some aerodynamic means to become air-
borne although the shape of the hull was usually sufficient
for this small amount.
20. Thomas E. Curtis, "The Zeppelin Airship," Smith-
sonian Institute Annual Report, 1900 (Washington: Smith-
sonian Institute, 1901), p. 220.
21. As quoted in Ibid., p. 222.
22. Hildebrandt, Die Luftschiffahrt, p. 168.
23. T. E. Guttery, Zeppelin, An Illustrated Life of
Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, 1838-1917 (Aylesbury, Bucks,
U. K.: Shire Publications Ltd., 1973), p. 26.
24. Alfred Colsman, Luftschiff Voraus! Arbeit und
Erieben am Werke Zeppelins (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags
Anstalt, 1933), pp. 55-7.
25. Berg, David Schwarz, p. 46.
26. Eckener, Graf, p. 144.
27. Ibid., p. 49.
28. Ibid., pp. 49-50.
29. Sec Append.ices / and ic for comparative information
on all rigid airships.
30. Ec.enrc, Graf, p. 151.
31. Germany, MilLitIrcsc
Die dseulschln Luftstreij U!.rLft:, "Die Wahrheit Uber moin
Luftsclhiff," Apprendix to Lett r, "GGeneral der Kavallerie
z. D. Graf von Zeppelin an deni Kriegsm4inister," February 10,
1906, document '25, p. 44.
32. .ieutenant Gene2al of Tr-ansport Troops von
Wernieburg, Iieutenant Coloiel von Wcrn-er, Major von Besse ,
Major Erich Ludendorff of the GeCcral Staff, Major Meister,
Major Oschmann, CaLtain Gro;ss Captain Mever, Captain
Sperling, and First Lieutenant Ceorge. Ibid., "Protoko.l
uber die erste Sitzung der Konamission zur Beratung der
Fraqe des Baucs von Motorluftschiffen am 29. January 1906,"
document #24. pp. 40-1.
33. Robinson, Giants, p. 32.
34. Germany, MilLt2rgeschichtilichen Forschungsamt,
Die deutschen Luftstreitkrcafte, "Antrag des Generals der
Kavallerie z. D. Graf von Zeppelin an den Reichskanzler
(Reichsant des -nnern) auf Erwerb seines Luftschiffes durch
das Reich," Deceimber 1, 1906, document #26, pp. 46-9.
36. [bid., "Immediatbericht des Reichskanzlers an
den Kaiser hber Massnahmen zur FBrderung des Zeppelin-
Projektes," February 25, 1907, document #28, pp. 57-8.
37. Ibid., "Die Inspection der Verkehrstrtppen an das
Allgemeine Kriegsdepartement," March 12, 1907, document
#29b, p. 59.
38. Eckener, Graf, pp. 155-6.
39. Ibid., p. 156.
40. "Standard conditions" means at sea level, in warm,
41. The gas cell material was still far from leak-
proof. The LZ 3, for example, had lI st 2,100 pounds of
lift in less than two weeks the previous year (1907)
42. Gcorg Hackcr, [ie [Mainer von Manzell ('rainkfurt
am Ma i r: Societtits-U uckrei-e, 1936), p. 82.
43. Ibid., pp. 83-'1
44. Ibid., p. 99.
45. Account of an eyewitness quoted in Goldsnmith,
mPt1u'., Ipp. 170-1.
THE PHOENIX: FROM FAILURE TO SUCCESS
No sooner had a chastened and dejected Count von
Zeppelin departed from Echterdingen than David Lloyd George
(the future Bri Lish prime minister) arrived:
We went along to the field where the giant airship
was moored, to find that by a last minute accident
jt had crashed and been wrecked. Of course we were
deeply disappointed, but disappointment was a
totally inadequate word for the agony of grief and
dismay which swept over the massed Germans who
witnessed the. catastrophe. There was no loss of
life to account for it. Hopes and ambitions far
wider than those concerned with a scientific and
mechanical success appeared to have shared the wreck
of the dirigible. Then the crowd swung into the
chanting of "Deutschland, Deutschland Uber Alles"
with a fanatic fervor of patriotism. What spear-
point of Imperial advance did this airship portend?1
Echterdinge. was the culminating manifestation of
the process whereby the rigid airship came to be adopted
by the German pcorde as an object of intense national
Count von 7eppelin, unaware of what was happening
around the ch -nrrd remains of LZ 4, arrived at Friedrichs-
hafen late on :the night of the disaster. Word of the
wreck had prcn -c-d him. The bunting that had been hung in
the city in horror of the triumphal return of the LZ 4 had
all been rem.' v;d. Flags flow at half mast.
What took place then hep been dcsciibed as "the
miracle of Echterdingen." Moved by the newspaper accounts
of the disaster, a torrent of money swept into the offices
of the Zeppelin Corporation, Passengers on a pleasure boat
on the Bodensee donated 600 M, A bc.'ling club in Baden
sent 150 M. A little girl wrote:
Momny carried me from my bed out on the balcony.
The sky was dark with many stars, and I saw the
Zeppelin and heard its humaring noise. It was so
pretty. But on the next day we heard the terrible
news that the beautiful airship had burned up. Then
I cried a great deal and told Mommy to send to the
Count everything in my bank, so that he could build
a new airsi.p.2
The amount of money in her letter was a few pfennigs'
,The total amount received the first day exceeded 400,000 M.;
-Jnore than enough to replace the LZ 4. The Deutscher
Luftfahrerverband (German Association of Aviators) pub-
lished an appeal for contributions to a national fund for
the construction of Zeppelin-type airships while the
Schwabischer Merkur, the leading newspaper in Stuttgart,
started a fund of its own with a contribution of 20,000 M.
The appeal in the Sc'hwTHischer Merkur was reprinted in
papers throughout Germany; similar newspaper articles
appeared elsewhere. The response was extraordinary, Not
only did large contributions come from wealthy industri-
alists and manufacturers' associations, but sums of one or
two marks also came in from thousands of individuals.
For several weeks more, a deluge of letters continued to