Who Built Zeppelins?
Zeppelins were airships-or dirigible balloons of rigid type-built by Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin (1838-1917), a German army officer. He became impressed by the military possibilities of airships after going up in an observation balloon behind the Union lines during the American Civil War. In July, 1910, he ascended over Lake Constance aboard first 420-feet long airship, watched by a crowd of 20,000 and helped by a hundred soldiers hauling on ropes.
It was called the “cigar in the sky” and became a symbol of national prestige. Six years later another zeppelin traveled round Lake Constance turning curves and carrying out other maneuvers to prove the ease with which it could be steered. In 1908 his fifth ship caught fire and crashed. But collections and lotteries were organized all over Germany to pay for more zeppelins.
During the First World War zeppelins were converted into bomb carriers and send on raids over Britain and France. But they did not prove to be effective war machines because their great bulk made them vulnerable to attack. About 480 Germans were killed when their airships crashed. Zeppelin died a disappointed man in March, 1917, but his work was carried on by his friend Hugo Eckener. After the war Dr. Eckener built still larger airships for peaceful purposes.
But in 1937 his 800-feet long Hindenburg, which could fly at 180 miles an hour, caught fire and crashed with the loss of 33 lives. The airship had been filled with inflammable hydrogen because the Americans refused to sell the safe helium gas to Nazi Germany. This disaster brought the zeppelin era to an end.
Ferdinand was the scion of a noble family. Zepelin, the family’s eponymous hometown, is a small community outside the town of Bützow in Mecklenburg. Ferdinand was the son of Württemberg Minister and Hofmarschall Friedrich Jerôme Wilhelm Karl Graf von Zeppelin (1807–1886) and his wife Amélie Françoise Pauline (born Macaire d’Hogguer) (1816–1852).
Ferdinand spent his childhood with his sister and brother at their Girsberg manor near Constance, where he was educated by private tutors and lived there until his death. On 7 August 1869 Ferdinand married Isabella Freiin von Wolff in Berlin. She was from the house of Alt-Schwanenburg(present day — Gulbene town in Latvia, then part of Livonia). They had a daughter, Helene (Hella) von Zeppelin (1879–1967) who in 1909 married Alexander Graf von Brandenstein-Zeppelin (1881–1949).
Ferdinand had a nephew Baron Max von Gemmingen who was to later volunteer at the start of World War I, after he was past military age, to become general staff officer assigned to the military airship LZ 12 Sachsen.
Count Zeppelin died in 1917, before the end of World War I, therefore he did not witness either the provisional shutdown of the Zeppelin project due to the Treaty of Versailles or the second resurgence of the Zeppelins under his successor Hugo Eckener. The unfinished World War II German aircraft carrier Graf Zeppelin, and two rigid airships, the world-circling LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin, and LZ 130 Graf Zeppelin II, twin to the Hindenburg, were named after him.