Ferdinand von Zeppelin

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Ferdinand von Zeppelin, 1917
Signature of Ferdinand von Zeppelin

Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin (* July 8, 1838 in Konstanz ; † March 8, 1917 in Berlin ) was a German Count of Württemberg , general of the cavalry and the developer and founder of rigid airship construction. The " Zeppelin donation of the German people " in 1908 represented the decisive turning point in his efforts . The zeppelins he developed were used in civil aviation from 1909 to 1914 ( DELAG ), then increasingly during the First World War . They experienced a second flowering after von Zeppelin's death in the 1920s and 1930s. The still existing Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH and the Zeppelin Foundation go back to von Zeppelin .


Family, childhood

Birth in the former Dominican monastery in Constance
Memorial plaque to the place of birth of Ferdinand von Zeppelin on the Dominican Island in Constance

Ferdinand Zeppelin was born on July 8, 1838 on the Dominican Island in Konstanz in what is now the Inselhotel. He was the son of the former royal Hohenzollern court marshal and cotton manufacturer Count Friedrich Jerôme Wilhelm Karl von Zeppelin (1807–1886) and his wife Amélie Françoise Pauline (née Macaire d'Hogguèr) (1816–1852). Their father David Macaire d'Hogguèr (1775–1845) gave the von Zeppelin family the Girsberg Castle in Emmishofen (Switzerland), where Ferdinand grew up with his siblings Eugenia and Eberhard and which he lived in until his death.

Ferdinand was brought up by private tutors . From his uncle Kaspar Macairé , the owner of an indigo dye works on the Dominican Island in Constance, he received his natural history collection in 1846, which he subsequently re-inventoried at Girsberg Castle and increased the holdings. From 1853 he first attended secondary school and the polytechnic in Stuttgart. Ferdinand kept a diary from childhood and for almost all of his life.

Early military career and studies

In 1855, when he was 17, he entered the Ludwigsburg War School as a cadet . In 1858 he became a lieutenant in the Württemberg Army and in the same year he was given leave of absence to study political science, mechanical engineering and chemistry in Tübingen. However, due to the precautionary mobilization due to the Austro-Italian conflict, he had to break off his studies in 1859 and was called up to the engineering corps.

On leave again, Zeppelin traveled to North America via Liverpool , where he received an audience with President Abraham Lincoln . After he had received identification papers for the armies of the northern states, he took part in the Civil War as an observer from 1863 . For this he was assigned to the Potomac Army of the Northern States . Zeppelin experienced the military use of balloons for the first time and was able to take part in a balloon flight on April 30, 1863. This experience never let go of him, but he also recognized the weakness of the free balloons: their dependence on the respective wind direction or their inability to steer.

In November 1863 he returned to Württemberg and in April 1865 became adjutant to King Karl I of Württemberg . In 1866 he experienced the German War as a general staff officer and was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Württemberg Military Merit Order.


Isabella Countess of Zeppelin

Count Zeppelin married Isabella Freiin von Wolff -Alt-Schwanenburg on August 7, 1869 in Berlin (* May 4, 1846 in Alt Schwanenburg , Livonia ; † January 2, 1922 in Stuttgart). She was a cousin of Sophie Freiin von Wolff-Stomersee (1840-1919), who had married Ferdinand's brother Eberhard von Zeppelin a year earlier . The only child from the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella was Helene (Hella) von Zeppelin (1879-1967).

Further military service, thoughts on airship construction

Captain Graf Zeppelin

In the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71, Zeppelin became famous due to an extensive exploratory ride behind enemy lines. The use of free balloons also played a certain role in this war, especially on the French side. In his diary there is the first entry for April 25, 1874 about the idea of ​​building a steerable airship, after he had followed a lecture by Reich Minister of the Post Heinrich von Stephan on the subject of "World Post and Airship" on that day . In the same year he was promoted to major. As a lieutenant colonel, Zeppelin was appointed commander of the Uhlan regiment "King Karl" (1st Württembergisches) No. 19 in Ulm in 1882 , where he was promoted to colonel in 1884 .

In September 1885 he was appointed military plenipotentiary at the Württemberg legation in Berlin, and in 1887 he was appointed Württemberg envoy himself. During this time he wrote a memorandum to the King of Württemberg on the “necessity of steering balloons”. In particular, he demonstrated that in contrast to balloons, only dirigible airships are useful for warfare. Another "personal memorandum" from 1891 to the Prussian Foreign Ministry, in which he criticized the Prussian high command over Wuerttemberg troops, provoked the emperor's displeasure. In the autumn maneuver of 1890, in which Zeppelin led a division, he was judged unfavorably by the inspector of the cavalry, the Prussian General von Kleist, whereupon he retired from active military service. However, he was promoted to lieutenant general by the Württemberg king and remained "General à la suite ". In 1891 he took part in an aviation run by balloonist Eduard Spelterini in Switzerland with the Urania balloon .

Plans for a Rigid Airship

After his departure, he devoted himself entirely to the construction of a rigid airship . An expert commission appointed by Kaiser Wilhelm, which included Professors Hermann von Helmholtz , Richard Aßmann , Adolf Slaby , Heinrich Müller-Breslau and the later designer of semi-rigid military airships, Prime Lieutenant Hans Groß , advised the War Ministry after consulting in two meetings about funding of the project. Although Zeppelin fought against the decision and individual members of the commission, the following years were not very successful for him. From 1895 he was denounced as a fool in the population and sometimes laughed at on the street. His attempt to raise the capital of around one million marks necessary to build an airship on his own initiative was unsuccessful: the Kaiser subsidized Zeppelin with 6,000 marks. Old friends and members of the Württemberg royal family raised another 100,000 marks.

In 1896, Zeppelin became a member of the Association of German Engineers (VDI), which supported the airship project. In addition to the convening of a commission, the association also submitted a large-scale appeal to support the project. In fact, through this appeal, Zeppelin succeeded in initiating the joint-stock company for the promotion of aviation in cooperation with German industrialists in 1898 and founded it a little later. However, some industrialists were still reluctant to participate financially, so that Zeppelin had to raise half of the company's share capital of 800,000 marks from its private assets.

Realization of the first steerable rigid airship

On August 13, 1898, Zeppelin acquired the imperial patent number 98580 for a " steerable aerial vehicle with several supporting bodies arranged one behind the other". The design for his rigid airship was thereby protected retrospectively to August 31, 1895, and from now on the phase of construction and implementation of the first airship began. The most important features of Zeppelin's construction were the rigid aluminum frame , which was made up of rings and longitudinal beams, the fixed connection of the two gondolas with the frame, the division of the gas space into cylindrical cells of equal size and the attachment of propellers at the height of the center of the air resistance . In 1899 he started construction.

The airships were called zeppelins . Zeppelin's ideas continued to be largely rejected and ridiculed by experts and the general public; Kaiser Wilhelm II described the count as the "dumbest of all southern Germans". During this time, Zeppelin said: “Naturally, nobody is responsible for me because nobody wants to take the plunge into the dark. But my goal is clear and my calculations are correct ”.

Zeppelin 1900

In 1900 there were three ascents of LZ 1 over Lake Constance . The steadily better results led to spontaneous enthusiasm among the population, which made a decisive contribution to the fact that the count was able to further develop the technology of the airships and their operation. On January 7, 1901, the Emperor awarded him the Order of the Red Eagle, First Class. On December 5, 1905, he was given the character of the Württemberg cavalry general . Zeppelin bought the designs and patents of her husband from the widow of the Hungarian aviation enthusiast and inventor David Schwarz and used them for his developments.

Zeppelin donation by the German people in 1908

The realization of the second Zeppelin was only possible through donations and the income of a kind of money lottery, despite initial successes. The financial situation remained difficult. After a series of accidents with his airships, he was popularly referred to as the fool of Lake Constance .

When the Zeppelin LZ 4 crashed at Echterdingen near Stuttgart on August 5, 1908 , this triggered a wave of helpfulness and a turning point. The decisive factor for this was a speech given by an unknown person in which the latter asked the German people to collect a new zeppelin. The " Zeppelin donation of the German people " carried out as a national donation brought in over six million marks, with which Zeppelin was able to establish Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH and the Zeppelin Foundation .

Civil and military use

One of the first World War I air raids on
Antwerp on the night of August 24-25

In 1908, the military administration bought the fully functional airship LZ 3 and put it into service as Z I. From 1909 zeppelins were used in civil aviation. In November 1909 the DELAG Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-Aktiengesellschaft was founded. In 1910, Zeppelin took part in an expedition to Svalbard to explore the conditions for using the airships to explore the Arctic. In the same year he acquired an area of ​​25 hectares on Pirschheide in Potsdam West . In 1912 the largest airship hangar in Germany was built here. The German Air Shipping Co. ( DELAG ) transported to the beginning of World War I in 1914 to more than 1,500 trips a total of nearly 35,000 people. Then LZ 11 , LZ 13 and LZ 17 were handed over to the German army.

From 1914, war airships were built for the First World War . Initially, the airships were an important part of warfare as bombers and reconnaissance aircraft . Later on, airplanes increasingly took on the role of zeppelins. Zeppelin's plans were to develop Potsdam into an aviation center for Europe. However, in 1917 production had to be stopped.

Aircraft construction

Although Zeppelin had dedicated himself to building airships, he was nevertheless far-sighted enough to promote the construction of large airplanes. He supported the founding of the Maybach Motorenwerke and Friedrichshafen aircraft construction companies and founded the Zeppelin works in Friedrichshafen (later Dornier ) and Staaken . Friedrichshafen aircraft construction became one of the leading manufacturers of large twin-engine aircraft, while the Zeppelin factories in Berlin-Staaken and Friedrichshafen produced even larger, so-called giant aircraft . Chief designer Claude Dornier introduced the light metal construction adopted from the airships in aircraft construction and Zeppelin experienced the maiden flight of the first giant flying boats.

End of life

Burial of Graf Zeppelin in Stuttgart

From 1916 until his death, Zeppelin was a representative of the knighthood in the first chamber of the Württemberg state parliament . He died in Berlin in 1917. His grave is in the Prague cemetery in Stuttgart .


Zeppelin's daughter Helene married Alexander von Brandenstein-Zeppelin (1881–1949) in 1909. Their son Alexander Graf von Brandenstein-Zeppelin (the younger, 1915–1979) married Ursula Freiin von Freyberg-Eisenberg-Allmendingen (1917–1985). From this marriage four children were born, u. a. Albrecht von Brandenstein-Zeppelin (* 1950) and Constantin von Brandenstein-Zeppelin (* 1953).


The still existing Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH and the Zeppelin Foundation go back to Ferdinand von Zeppelin . The airship port Potsdam , built in 1911, is now used for sports purposes and as a congress center.

After the temporary end of his airships towards the end of the First World War and due to the Treaty of Versailles , his successor Hugo Eckener saw a second bloom of large rigid airships, which came to an end on May 6, 1937 with the accident of the LZ 129 "Hindenburg" .

Von Zeppelin handed over the family's insect collection in 1872 and the mineral collection in 1874 to the Rosgarten Museum in Konstanz.


Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin is an honorary citizen of the cities of Friedrichshafen (1907), Konstanz (1908), Worms (1908), Stuttgart (1908), Munich (1909), Lindau (1909), Baden-Baden (1910) and Ulm (1912).

Reception in art and culture

The person and the work of Ferdinand von Zeppelin found diverse reception in art and culture during his lifetime and after his death. These ranged from respectful honors to comical or mocking exposure. As part of the zeppelin and aviation enthusiasm, mainly before and during the First World War, zeppelin stones were set up in many places .


One of the well-known caricatures is an illustration that appeared in Simplicissimus magazine on August 18, 1908, shortly after the accident in Echterdingen . Graf Zeppelin is shown caricaturally in a "gallery of famous contemporaries" and portrayed as a man holding a small balloon in his hand. Zeising interprets this caricature as a representation of an "infantile air old man with tailcoat and children's balloon in hand".

Another well-known cartoon appeared in Simplicissimus in 1928. Zeppelin is drawn here as a lying, cloud-like figure, which looks down at the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin airship named after him , which was supposed to make its first flight in 1928.

Cabaret and cabaret

Likewise, many artists from the field of cabaret and cabaret have made songs and scenes on and about the Zeppelin that have been preserved on Edison cylinders and gramophone records .

  • With a zeppelin in a balloon. Gustav Schönwald . Edison cast gold roller EGW 15 946
  • Children's song at Zeppelin. Robert Steidl . Gramophone 942,691 (mx. 17,981 L)
  • Zeppelin is coming! Scene (Bendix) Paul Bendix with ensemble. Homocord 4-2964 (TM)
  • Memory of August 29, 1909, part 1 and 2. Henry Bender . Gramophone 2-22 154 (mx. 1840 from)
  • Graf Zeppelin and Die Wacht am Rhein. Zeppelin couplet. Henry Bender. Grammophon 2-22 155 (mx. 1841 from)
  • Zeppelin March (Hugo Hirsch - Text: Artur Rebner) Robert Koppel . Beka B.5248 (mx. 32 669)
  • Tünnes and peel em Zeppelin. Scene. Gerhard Ebeler , Rhenish humorist. Gramophone 23 601 (mx. 2541)
  • A zeppelin trip. White Ferdl . Gloria GO10 230 (Bi 132)
Audio samples
  • With the zippel, with the fidget, with the zeppelin. Couplet (Otto Reutter) sung by Otto Reutter with orchestral accompaniment, Berlin. Zonophone Record X-2-22 016, up. 1909 ( youtube.com )
  • With the zippel, with the fidget, with the zeppelin. Humorous lecture with piano accompaniment. Calliope No. 1617, c. 1910/11; Gustav Schönwald sings the Couplet by Otto Reutter anonymously. ( youtube.com )


  • Count Zeppelin. Over land and sea , adventures of world history. The interesting youth magazine, No. 45 (Walter Lehning Verlag, Hanover) undated [approx. 1955].



Grave in the Stuttgart Prague cemetery
  • In Friedrichshafen there is a zeppelin memorial and a zeppelin fountain on the promenade.
  • In Constance there is a Zeppelin monument at the gondola port.
  • At Echterdingen there is a memorial stone that reminds of the fire in LZ4. More zeppelin stones in other places.
  • So-called "ocean conquerors" are depicted on ten picture panels created by Bernhard Hoetger in 1934 at the Haus des Glockenspiel in Bremer Böttcherstraße , including Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin and Hugo Eckener on a panel.
  • Germany honored Zeppelin in 1992 on the 75th anniversary of his death by issuing a special postage stamp ( Mi No. 1597). In addition, there was a stamp from the series "Historic Airmail Transport" with an image of the LZ 127 "Graf Zeppelin" (MiNr. 1525), in 2000 the stamp "100 Years of Zeppelin Airships" with an image of the LZ1 (MiNr. 2128) as well In 2007 the brand “Historical Airship Traffic to South America” with a picture of the LZ 127 “Graf Zeppelin”.


Museums, exhibitions

The Zeppelin Museum Friedrichshafen, the Zeppelin Museum Zeppelinheim near Frankfurt am Main and other Zeppelin museums in Germany, Denmark and the USA honor the work of Zeppelins.

  • May 17 - September 15, 2013: Exhibition Graf Zeppelin - Technicians and Airshipmen in the Zeppelin Museum Friedrichshafen


According to Zeppelin's own report, he converted a fishing boat into a sports sailboat in the 1860s, making him one of the first sports sailors on Lake Constance .

Documentary television play


  • Michael Bélafi: Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin. 3rd, improved edition. Teubner Verlag, Leipzig 1990, ISBN 3-322-00402-3 .
  • Karl Clausberg: Zeppelin: The story of an unlikely success . Weltbild Verlag, Augsburg 1990, ISBN 978-3-89350-030-7 .
  • Jörg Koch: Ferdinand von Zeppelin and his airships, Graz 2016, ISBN 978-3-902732-68-2 .
  • Hartmut Löffel et al .: Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin . In: Hartmut Löffel (Ed.): Upper Swabia as a landscape of flying. An anthology. Edition Isele, Konstanz / Eggingen 2007, ISBN 978-3-86142-429-1 , pp. 177-310.
  • Ulrich Queck: Count Ferdinand v. Zeppelin - pioneer and trailblazer in world aviation. In: Horst Skull (Ed.): Fliegerkalender der DDR 1988. Military Publishing House of the GDR, Berlin 1987, pp. 74–79.
  • Frank Raberg : Biographical Lexicon for Ulm and Neu-Ulm 1802-2009 . Süddeutsche Verlagsgesellschaft im Jan Thorbecke Verlag, Ostfildern 2010, ISBN 978-3-7995-8040-3 , p. 487 f .
  • Günter Schmitt, Werner Schwipps: Pioneers of early aviation. Verlag Gondrom, Bindlach 1995, ISBN 3-8112-1189-7 .
  • Alexander Vömel: Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin. A man of action . 6th edition. Christian publishing house, Constance 1933.
  • Gunter Haug: Ferdinand Graf Zeppelin. Landhege-Verlag, 2014.
  • Erich Gröner u. a .: The German warships 1815–1945. Vol. 8/2: Outpost boats, auxiliary minesweepers, coastal protection associations (part 2), small combat units, dinghies. Koblenz (Bernard & Graefe) 1993, p. 533. ISBN 3-7637-4807-5 .
  • Franz Hoben (Hrsg.): Walk in the air: literary zeppelinades . An anthology. Klöpfer & Meyer Verlag, (2017), 304 pages, ISBN 978-3-86351-446-4 .

Web links

Commons : Ferdinand von Zeppelin  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Peter Meyer: Airships. The history of the German zeppelins. Wehr & Wissen, Koblenz / Bonn 1980, ISBN 3-8033-0302-8 , p. 13.
  2. K. Clausberg: Zeppelin: The story of an improbable success . Augsburg 1990, p. 163.
  3. Tatiana Sfedu: Founding a museum and civil self- image . P. 85.
  4. The Count and his flying cigars. In: Noble See . The magazine of Hohentwiel Schifffahrtsgesellschaft mb H., pp. 26–29.
  5. ^ Karl Clausberg: Zeppelin: The story of an improbable success. Schirmer-Mosel, Munich 1990, ISBN 3-921375-23-1 , p. 163.
  6. ^ Karl Clausberg: Zeppelin: The story of an improbable success. Schirmer-Mosel, Munich 1990, ISBN 3-921375-23-1 , p. 164.
  7. Rosgartenmuseum Konstanz (ed.): The Zeppelins - life stories of a noble family . Print + Medien Konstanz, Konstanz 2013, ISBN 978-3-929768-32-9 , p. 93 ff.
  8. Helmut Braun: The rise and fall of airship travel - an economic historical analysis . eurotrans-Verlag, Regensburg 2007, ISBN 3-936400-22-9 , p. 111.
  9. K. Clausberg: Zeppelin: The story of an improbable success . Augsburg 1990, p. 29.
  10. ^ Zeppelin - balloon rides in Swabia and Bavaria. ( Memento from September 29, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) ballonflug.org.
  11. ^ Peter Meyer: Airships. The history of the German zeppelins. Bernard & Graefe Verlag, Bonn 1998, ISBN 3-7637-5951-4 , p. 16.
  12. Wolfgang Meighörner: The Count 1838-1917. Gessler Verlag, Friedrichshafen 2000, ISBN 3-86136-050-0 , p. 7.
  13. Hans Georg Knäusel: Zeppelin: The history of the Zeppelin airships; Designers, technology, companies . Aviatic Verlag, Oberhaching 2002, ISBN 3-925505-56-3 , p. 15.
  14. The Count, his idea and his legacy. In: Südkurier of March 4, 2017.
  15. Ferdinand von Zeppelin: Did our expedition show the expediency of using my airships to explore the Arctic? In: A. Miethe, H. Hergesell (Ed.): With Zeppelin to Spitzbergen. Bong, Berlin 1911, pp. 284-291
  16. ^ Grave of Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin in the Pragfriedhof in Stuttgart
  17. Tatiana Sfedu: Founding a museum and civil self- image . P. 85.
  18. a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad Ranking list of the Royal Prussian Army and the XIII. (Royal Württemberg) Army Corps for 1914 . Ed .: War Ministry , Ernst Siegfried Mittler & Sohn, Berlin 1914, p. 1156.
  19. K. Clausberg: Zeppelin: The story of an improbable success . Augsburg 1990, p. 169.
  20. Harald Derschka : The association for the history of Lake Constance and its surroundings. A look back at one hundred and fifty years of club history 1868–2018. In: Writings of the Association for the History of Lake Constance and its Surroundings , 136, 2018, pp. 1–303, here: pp. 87 f.
  21. ^ Honorary members of the Society for Natural History in Württemberg
  22. Honorary doctoral students of the TH / TU Dresden. Technical University of Dresden, accessed on March 2, 2017 .
  23. ^ Peter Meyer: Airships. The history of the German zeppelins. Wehr & Wissen, Koblenz / Bonn 1980, ISBN 3-8033-0302-8 , p. 24.
  24. ^ Gallery of Famous Contemporaries , XXXXVI. Count Zeppelin. Draftsman: Olaf Gulbransson . In: Simplicissimus , August 3, 1908, vol. 13, issue 18, p. 15 simplicissimus.info (PDF).
  25. ^ Jeannine Zeising: "Reich and People for Zeppelin!" The journalistic marketing of a technological development. In: W. Meighörner (Hrsg.): Wissenschaftliches Jahrbuch. Zeppelin Museum Friedrichshafen, Friedrichshafen 1998, p. 120.
  26. Guillaume de Syon: Zeppelin! Germany and the Airship, 1900-1939. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore 2002, ISBN 0-8018-8634-1 , p. 2.
  27. Berthold Leimbach: Sound documents of the cabaret and their interpreters 1898–1945 . Self-published, Göttingen 1991.
  28. quoted from Gerhard Moriz: Count Zeppelin's car breakdown. How a restaurant got its name . Info sheet: Ninety years in family ownership . Hotel-Restaurant "Zum Zeppelin". December 1987.
  29. In the Kgl. Württemberg yacht club in Friedrichshafen. Source: Sailing on Lake Constance. In: Norbert Jacques (Ed.): Das Bodenseebuch 1921. Reuß & Itta, Konstanz 1920, p. 63.