Ferdinand von Zeppelin - Biography and Facts

Picture of Ferdinand Von Zeppelin

Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin (183 –1917) was a German general, an aircraft manufacturer and designer of rigid airships - Zeppelins.

He was born in Konstanz, Grand Duchy of Baden on 8 July 1838 in an old noble family. His father was Württemberg Minister and Hofmarschall Friedrich Jerôme Wilhelm Karl Graf von Zeppelin and mother Amélie Françoise Pauline. He spent spent his childhood with his sister and brother at his families’ Girsberg manor near Konstanz, where he was educated by private tutors. In his 15th year of life Graf von Zeppelin left to attend the polytechnic at Stuttgart and in 1855 he became a cadet of the military school at Ludwigsburg. After that he became an army officer in the army of Württemberg. He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1858 when he took leave to study science, engineering and chemistry at the University of Tübingen. Austro-Sardinian War in 1859 interrupted him and he was called to join Prussian engineering corps. Four years later Zeppelin took leave to be an observer for the northern troops of the Union's Army of the Potomac in the American Civil War. In 1865 he becomes adjutant of the King of Württemberg and as general staff officer joins the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. He was a commander of the 19th Uhlans in Ulm, a light cavalry, from 1882 until 1885 and then then the envoy of Württemberg in Berlin. After critiques of his handling of Prussian cavalry brigade he was forced to retire from the Army with the rank of Generalleutnant.

While he was an official observer with the Union Army during the American Civil War he visited the balloon camp of Thaddeus S. C. Lowe. His first ascent in a balloon during this visit inspired his interest in aeronautics. In a diary entry dated 25 March 1874 he recorded his first ideas for large dirigibles. Inspired by lecture given by Heinrich von Stephan and airship La France he designed an airship large rigidly-framed outer envelope continuing a number of separate gasbags. When he left the army in 1891, Zeppelin concentrated on airships, materials, engines and air propellers. After many troubles to find funds, appropriate materials and support in government Graf von Zeppelin began construction of his first rigid airship, LZ 1, on 17 June 1898. On 2 July 1900, Zeppelin made the first flight with the LZ 1 over Lake Konstanz near Friedrichshafen in southern Germany. Flight was not a full success and Graf von Zeppelin was forced to stop his work for the time.

Second airship was made with the help of King of Württemberg who held lottery for an airship fund, contribution of 50,000 marks was received from Prussia and by mortgaging estates of Graf von Zeppelin’s wife. Testes were again not satisfactory plus airship was damaged by winds during the night and had to be dismantled. Next airship, LZ 3, was the first successful Zeppelin and had the first successful flight on the 9 October 1906.Because of that it was easier for Graf to find funding and before World War One a total of 21 Zeppelin airships were made and German Aviation Association transported 37,250 people on over 1,600 flights without an incident.

Count Zeppelin died on 8 March 1917 in Girsberg manor of his family. Two rigid airships and the unfinished World War II German aircraft carrier were named after him.