The Role of technology in the failure of the rigid airship as an invention

Material Information

The Role of technology in the failure of the rigid airship as an invention
Bradshaw, Price, 1944-
Publication Date:
Copyright Date:
Physical Description:
xi, 296 leaves : ill. ; 28cm.


Subjects / Keywords:
Aerodynamic lift ( jstor )
Airships ( jstor )
Balloons ( jstor )
Engine design ( jstor )
Engines ( jstor )
Hangars ( jstor )
Inventions ( jstor )
Navies ( jstor )
Ship hulls ( jstor )
War ( jstor )
Airships -- History ( lcsh )
Dissertations, Academic -- History -- UF ( lcsh )
History thesis Ph. D ( lcsh )
bibliography ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Thesis--University of Florida.
Bibliography: leaves 284-295.
General Note:
General Note:
Statement of Responsibility:
by Price Bradshaw.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Holding Location:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
Copyright [name of dissertation author]. Permission granted to the University of Florida to digitize, archive and distribute this item for non-profit research and educational purposes. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions requires permission of the copyright holder.
Resource Identifier:
000167690 ( alephbibnum )
02863844 ( oclc )
AAT4081 ( notis )


This item has the following downloads:

Full Text






Cci.1 i ht 1I.'

19 775

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- 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- . . . . . . .

in Posta.-:;r

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

IpiAend 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 in Novelhbc r, 192) thi fclowing converr.ion

table 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 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



Price lradshaw, Jr.

Ju:-e, 3975

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 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 to be ran ir'vetion that failed. Yet

of all h t te Lch:lo icac: rcssonoqes to the' challenging 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 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 ) 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' 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 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,: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

that society.

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, 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

in function.

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

young .

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

original soutco.

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

be adopted.

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

that capital.

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

cultural orientation.

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



ro .










U) 0






differed from thai. i which .it ahijevd its cjrcatest

coramparative success.

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 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 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),
p. 565.

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.



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") 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

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'[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
wig-wag signal.2

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, of direction and speed

control remained.

3oseph 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

power car.

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 ' 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

electric motor.2

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

hour. 23

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 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

in Berlin.3

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 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 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 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'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
Central Africa).33

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 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),
pp. 33-42.

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.

27. Ibid.

28. John Fisher, Airlift 1870: The Balloon and Pigeon
Post in the Siege of Paris (London. Max Parrish, 1965),
p. 15.

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,



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','n afcr- 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 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

reconstituted Commission,

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 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

j/.' 41
j- *r'4~

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,
c 1973.

I .-"

I '*'--

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]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, 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

in tow.

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; 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 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 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

100,000 M.

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_.: _-- .. -- ... ---:_ _.

/ iT--:
0 "9. 05)--- \06
., 3 (,9C'5) L,,,3 (IOi9t)

-^'+'v" ^-' '"-
*~ ,
"-- ?---"

+" 3 (190?)

` -`

i-- i' o -' ",i+ -++' '!
I ; -- _.- .i-- ]
+I- / (', i f --

L 10 .' - -t-i

K 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

equally successful.

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

his grasp.

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, 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

drive broke.

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,
pp. 12-6.

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,
pp. 24-5.

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' 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.

35. Ibid.

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,
dry weather.

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.



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