1900: Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin and his vision of an airship

Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin first took part in a balloon flight in 1863 as an observer during the American Civil War. In the Franco-Prussian war of 1870/71, he experienced the military use of balloons, with whose help mail and people could be brought out of Paris, which was under siege by the Germans. These powerful experiences as well as a talk that he heard by Postmaster General Stephan on the topic “Global Mail and Airship Travel” led to Count Zeppelin’s idea in 1874 to build a dirigible airship.

Graf Ferdinand von Zeppelin; ©Archiv der Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH

But only after completing his military career did Count Zeppelin devote himself completely to the design of a rigid airship. After several failed attempts to find donors for his project, its implementation was financed in 1898 by the specially established Stock Corporation for Promoting Airship Travel. More than half of the capital came from the Count’s private assets. Although he was over 60 years old at that time, he tenaciously pursued his vision.

LZ 1 – the first Zeppelin. ©Archiv der Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH

At last on July 2, 1900, LZ 1, the first airship built by Zeppelin and his team lifted off over Lake Constance for the first test flight. There were a total of three ascents of this model before it was dismantled during the same year for financial reasons and the operating company went into liquidation. Follow-up projects could only be realized under difficult financial conditions. Despite the initial success, Count Zeppelin was dependent on donations and income from a lottery. The LZ 4 caught fire and was destroyed during gale force winds in 1908 and therefore could not complete a planned 24-hour endurance test that was the precondition for additional financial support. This misfortune, which actually could have meant the end of zeppelin construction, was transformed into a stroke of luck for the Count and his idea. The vision of the airship had in the meantime found many supporters in the German population. Overall, more than 6 million marks were raised to enable further airship construction. The so-called “Zeppelin Fund of the German People” was the foundation of the Zeppelin foundation that still exists today.

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