Steampunk Icons: Zeppelins

During WWI, Germany used Zeppelins to bomb England

Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin

Ferdinand von Zeppelin was a German general and engineer.  He first became interested in balloons during the American Civil War, which he took part in as a Union volunteer.  During this time von Zeppelin saw Union surveillance balloons, the first wartime application of such a craft.  Soon after, he became determined to develop a bigger, stronger balloon-craft that could be steered.

The pink ovals are the hydrogen cells

 Characteristics of the Zeppelin

Zeppelins had a rigid superstructure, allowing them to carry heavy loads — passengers, bombs, whatever.  The inner “cells,” or gasbags, were usually filled with helium.  Fun fact: the gasbags were made from the intestines of cows.  I don’t know anything about the process but I’m guessing it was labor-intensive.  Zepplins were steered partly by their fins and partly by manipulating the combustion engines to provide either forward or backward thrust.

German Zeppelins took their toll on England during WW I

Zeppelins at War
Ferdinand von Zeppelin’s dream of using dirigibles as warcraft began successfully.  The design he outlined in 1874 and patented in 1899 took to the skies to terrorize England in 1915, killing almost 200 people and wounding close to 500 more.  For a time, the bombing raids were highly effective.  Then William Leefe Robinson shot down a “super-zeppelin,” emptying rounds into it until it caught fire.  British propagandists quickly made up a poster to celebrate.

A somewhat prophetic image…

Zeppelins Enjoy New Life … Until …

In 1928, the Golden Age of Zeppelins began.  Zeppelins were popular with the public and sometimes greeted with confetti parades.  These “giants of the air” circumnavigated the globe, raced, and took part in scientific expeditions as well as delivering passengers and mail.  But by 1933, the rise of the Third Reich in Germany had strained relations with the U.S. to the point where sufficient helium to lift the huge airship the Hindenburg could not be obtained.  So the decision was made to use volatile, highly-flammable hydrogen instead.  The rest, of course, is history.  Play the video below to hear the famous “oh, the humanity” live commentary.

And to end on a slightly lighter note: when Jimmy Page was dreaming of forming a band, Keith Moon told him his idea would go over “like a lead balloon.”  Page never forgot that and named the band Lead Zeppelin.  But eventually the spelling of the first word was changed to “Led” so Americans wouldn’t mispronounce it.  Here’s Whole Lotta Love.

5 thoughts on “Steampunk Icons: Zeppelins

  1. Thanks so much for adding those stellar posts to the Links over at Steam Tea Travels!Oddly enough, one of your fellow travelers just provided a link to a paper zeppelin model/toy we thought you might find amusing.Remember to check back every few days for new posts and more new links!And Thanks again!Rose & Rhissanna

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