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Graf von Zeppelin

builder of the world's first rigid dirigible

Ferdinand von Zeppelin

Ferdinand Adolf August Heinrich Graf von Zeppelin was born in Konstanz, in the Grand Duchy of Baden (now part of Baden-Württemberg, Germany), on July 8, 1838. He was educated at the Ludwigsburg Military Academy and the University of Tübingen, and entered the Prussian Army in 1858. He worked as a military observer for the Union Army during the American Civil War from 1863 to 1865, served in the Prussian War of 1870-1871, and retired with the rank of Brigadier General in 1891.

Zeppelin was first exposed to the field of aviation while in the United States, when he toured the balloon camp of Professor Thaddeus S.C. Lowe during the Peninsular Campaign of the American Civil War, but he was not allowed to ride in any of the balloons. He returned to the United States in the 1870's to meet and learn from Professor Lowe. By the 1880's, he had become pre-occupied with the idea of guidable balloons.

Zeppelin completed his first rigid dirigible in 1900. This ship consisted of a row of 17 gas cells individually covered in rubberized cloth, with a rigid frame covered with smooth-surfaced cotton cloth. It was about 420 feet long and 38 feet in diameter; the hydrogen-gas capacity totaled 399,000 cubic feet. It was steered by forward and aft rudders and driven by two 15-hp Daimler internal-combustion engines, each rotating two propellors. Passengers, crew, and engine were carried in two aluminum gondolas suspended forward and aft. At its first trial, on July 2, 1900, the airship carried five persons; it reached an altitude of 1,300 feet, and flew a distance of 3.75 miles in 17 minutes.

a Graf Zeppelin
a Graf Zeppelin

As his flights became more and more frequent, the public became more and more interested in his work, and he was able to fund the building of his second airship entirely by donations and a lottery. Even after the Zeppelin LZ4 crashed in 1908, a collection campaign raised over 6 million Marks, which was used to create the Luftschiffbau-Zeppelin GmbH. The same year, the German military bought the LZ3 and used it as the Z1. Beginning in 1909, Zeppelins were also used in civilian aviation, and by 1914 some 35,000 passengers had ridden on over 1,500 flights without a single incident.

Ferdinand Adolf August Heinrich Graf von Zeppelin died in Charlottenburg, Germany, on March 8, 1917.

American Civil War

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This page was last updated on 07/02/2018.