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Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin airship collage

Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin

This year marks the 110-year anniversary of aviation pioneer Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin founding his airship company Luftschiffbau Zeppelin. This came on the heels of the destruction of one of his early airship prototypes (LZ-4) in a storm when it was moored at Echterdingen. Despite this incident, the German public was excited about the prospects of this technology and invested six million marks, which allowed Zeppelin to start a company tasked with building more.

The Zeppelin company patented its rigid-airship design, and although these days we think of all airships as Zeppelins, the name was the property of the company, much like Ford or Chevrolet.

Zeppelin built many more airships, which grew larger and more sophisticated as the years went by. The German government saw the Zeppelin’s military applications and used the airships as bombers and scouts during World War I. Count Zeppelin himself died in 1917 and thus didn’t live to see Germany’s defeat. Interestingly enough, Zeppelin’s interest in air travel began while serving as an official observer with the Union Army (which used observation balloons) during the War Between the States.

The Zeppelin company lived on and resumed commercial flights after the end of the Great War. It’s most famous craft was the ill-fated Hindenburg, named after the German President Paul von Hindenburg. It caught fire and burned on May 6, 1937, when docking at the airfield at Lakehurst, New Jersey with the loss of 36 lives. Many people may not know that the Zeppelin company had decided to replace the flammable hydrogen lift gas with inert helium, but was unable to get enough helium due to an American embargo on the gas. Another little-known fact is that there were 61 survivors, one of whom, Werner Franz, died in 2014 at the age of 92.

Admittedly, commercial airship travel happened a bit later in real life than it does in steampunk. But if not for Zeppelin, how would our characters get around? Our characters Fidelio Espinoza and Ione Dfrdwy are both fond of airship travel.

Sources: wikipedia.org, airships.net, military.wikia.com.

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