Perhaps you arrived at today’s bluejayblog post because you’re looking for information about Led Zeppelin, the rock group. If that’s the case, I should warn you that this post has nothing whatsoever to do with rock music. But I do hope you’ll keep reading, because the man who invented the grand airships lived a life that was exceedingly fascinating.
Count Zeppelin had a very long name. He was legally called, Ferdinand Adolf August Heinrich Graf von Zeppelin. For convenience’s sake, I’ll just refer to him as Count Zeppelin. He was born on an island in the Bodensee in the territory of Zepelin (one “p”) in Pomerania on July 8, 1838.
The young Count attended the Polytechnic at Stuttgart, became a cadet at Ludwigsburg and eventually joined the service as an officer of the Württemberg Army. He was called up to duty for the Prussian Engineering Corps during the Austro-Sardinian War in 1859.
Count Zeppelin journeyed to the United States in 1863 as a military observer/advisor of the Union forces during the American Civil War. Zeppelin received his pass, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, enabling him to travel with the U.S. Armies. A few months later, he took leave of the war to explore the north American frontierlands.
At Saint Paul, Minnesota, Count Zeppelin encountered his first balloon. The small, observation balloon was inflated with coal gas. Zeppelin was the passenger of German born balloonist John Steiner, a veteran of the U.S. Army. The balloon ascended to around 600 feet of tethered flight. The Count had begun his fascination with lighter than air flight.
Eleven years later, Zeppelin described, in writing, his rough plans for an aerodynamically designed rigid airship constructed of girders and rings containing individual gas cells. He sent a proposal to the King of Württemberg for the use of his airship by the military.
At the age of 52, Zeppelin was forced into retirement. It was then that the Count could focus on the specific details of lighter than air flying. In less than ten years, the Count built the first airship, “Luftschiff Zeppelin 1” or “LZ-1”. He piloted LZ-1 and most of the other early Zeppelins after their constructions.
Although Zeppelin strongly wanted his airships to be used for military action, he had a stormy relationship with army and naval leaders. He withdrew, somewhat, from active development of Zeppelins after being blamed for the crash of LZ-14, in which 14 crewmen were killed.
However, the German Army did own seven Zeppelins. Each was equipped with machine-guns and could haul 2,000 kg of bombs. During the first World War, they were flown in air raids on France and Britain. But because they were quite large and slow, they made easy targets for the defending forces. The Zeppelins were relegated to transport duty later in the war.
Zeppelin did take a fair amount of personal satisfaction that Zeppelins had made during the World War. But by the time of that war, the Count had already began working with standard aircraft. He was instrumental in development of the Riesenflugzeug (giant aircraft) like the Zeppelin-Staaken bomber plane. Before his death, he showed great interest in gas works and internal combustion engines.
The Count was not able to witness the provisional shutdown of the Zeppelin Company due to the Treaty of Versailles, nor the rebirth of the company that built the Graf Zeppelin I and II nor the ill-fated Hindenburg. Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin died of natural causes on March 8, 1917, before the end of World War One.
The Blue Jay of Happiness notes that the Count’s granddaughter, Countess Eva von Zeppelin, threatened a lawsuit against the rock group Led Zeppelin for illegal use of the family name when they performed in Denmark.