Zeppelin is both the name of the airships (or blimps or dirigibles),
and the company that manufactures them. The name comes from German count Ferdinand
Graf von Zeppelin (1838 - 1918) who founded the company in late 19th
century.. The formal name of the company is today Zeppelin GmbH, and they
are a major name in the business of silo and construction plants industry.
They have also recently started building airships again, more on that
Most airships that exists today are of the soft type, where the gas itself
expands the balloon. Over one thousand airships have been built, and a majority
of those have been of this soft type. The Zeppelin airships were of the firm,
rigid, type that has a metallic skeleton covered with some fabric. In a rigid airship, the shape of the ship is determined by the
metallic frame, and inside there are several - usually 10 to 20 - balloons
filled with gas that provides the lifting force. In total,
about 160 rigid type airships have been built in the world. The Zeppelin
company built 120 of those, and the rest have been built by Goodyear and
The first Zeppelin airship, LZ 1, made its debut flight on July 2nd
1900. It had a floating hangar, which could be turned in the most favorable
direction of the wind. During World War I many Zeppelin airships were built
and used for reconnaissance and other military tasks. The first really large
airship, built for the US Navy, was the LZ 126, Los Angeles. Built in
Germany in 1922, it was flown to the US where it remained in military traffic
until de-commissioned in 1932. The Los Angeles was the first airship to cross
the Atlantic in winter, doing so in two days. It made 331 flights and also
landed on a aircraft carrier once.
In 1928, the LZ 127, Graf Zeppelin, started regular
international passenger flight. It traveled at speeds of 100 km/h (55 mph) and
brought passengers between Germany and South America. In 1929 the Graf
Zeppelin made a journey around the world, stopping in New York, Los Angeles
and Tokyo before returning to Germany twelve days later. At the time, it was
the most famous aircraft together with Spirit of St. Louis, and drew huge
crowds wherever it went.
The perhaps most famous individual aircraft of all, and definitely the most
famous of all airships, was the LZ 129, Hindenburg. It carried
passengers between Germany and South America in regular traffic in 1936 and
1937. Read more on its fate in that node. The last rigid
airship of the was LZ 130, Graf Zeppelin II, which was built 1938.
Because of high investments in infra-structure, hangars etc, it became too
expensive to use airships for commercial travel, since the ships were slow and
only carried up to a hundred passengers.
Apart from military uses and commercial passenger traffic, the Zeppelin airships were used for shipping mail. In Germany, special stamps were issued, and this type of air mailing was in use until 1939.
In 1997, the Zeppelin company unveiled a new semi-rigid type of airship
called Zeppelin NT. It takes about 12 passengers and is thought to be used for
tourism, sightseeing and advertising.