The First Zeppelins: LZ-1 through LZ-4

The First Zeppelin: LZ-1

Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin began construction of his first airship, LZ-1, in June, 1898 in a floating wooden hangar on the Bodensee (Lake Constance) at Manzell (Friedrichshafen) in Southern Germany, not far from the Swiss border.  The movable, floating shed allowed the ship to be positioned into the wind to enter or leave its hangar.

LZ-1

Luftschiff Zeppelin 1 (click all photos to enlarge)

The ship was completed in the winter of 1899 but von Zeppelin decided to wait until the summer of 1900 before attempting to fly his invention.  The ship was inflated with hydrogen gas in June and made its maiden flight on July 2, 1900.  The first flight lasted about 18 minutes and covered about 3-1/2 miles over the lake.

LZ-1 (Luftschiff Zeppelin 1) was 420 feet long, 38-1/2 feet in diameter, and contained approximately 399,000 cubic feet of hydrogen in 17 gas cells made of rubberized cotton fabric.  Two metal gondolas were suspended below the ship (one forward and one aft) and each gondola housed a 4-cylinder water-cooled Daimler gasoline engine producing about 14 horsepower.  Each engine was connected by long shafts to two outrigger propellers mounted on either side of the hull.  Pitch was controlled by a sliding weight suspended under the hull which could be shifted fore and aft; there were no elevators for pitch control, or fins for stability.

LZ-1 in its floating shed on the Bodensee

LZ-1 in its floating shed on the Bodensee (click all photos to enlarge)

The first flight of LZ-1 was the culmination of years of planning by Count Zeppelin, but as a first attempt the ship had understandable weaknesses:  LZ-1 was overweight, and a severe lack of engine power and speed made it difficult to control in even slight winds; the engines themselves were unreliable, and one failed during the short maiden flight; the ship suffered from poor controllability due to its lack of horizontal or vertical stabilizing fins and control surfaces, and the sliding weight system jammed, eliminating pitch control; and most importantly, the structure itself lacked rigidity due to its weak tubular frame, which hogged during flight, with its center portion rising high above its drooping bow and stern.

Attempts were made to increase the rigidity of the framework and address the other problems, and two additional flights were made, but the flights did not impress the military representatives in attendance that Zeppelin’s project deserved public funds, and Count Zeppelin was out of money.  Zeppelin was forced to dismantle LZ-1.

But while LZ-1 itself was not a success, Count von Zeppelin’s basic concept — of a long rigid metal frame containing individual gas cells and covered by fabric — was sound, and formed the basis for all future zeppelin airships.

LZ-2

Count Zeppelin’s second ship, LZ-2, was not built until five years later, with funds raised partly from a lottery approved as a favor by the King of Württemberg, and partly by the mortgage of Countess Zeppelin’s family estates.

LZ-2

LZ-2. The stronger, more rigid frame provided by Ludwig Dürr's triangular girders can be seen, but the ship still lacked fins for stability or control.

While an improvement over LZ-1, Count Zeppelin’s second ship still did not incorporate basic design elements which would later be recognized as essential to flight stability and control, such as vertical and horizontal stabilizers and control surfaces. But LZ-2 did represent a significant technical advance due largely to engineer Ludwig Dürr; the weak tubular girders of LZ-1 were replaced by triangular girders (visible in photo above), which provided dramatically improved rigidity and strength. Triangular girders similar to those used on LZ-2 would be used on every subsequent zeppelin airship, and Ludwig Dürr would remain as chief engineer, designing every ship built by the Zeppelin Company after LZ-2.

LZ-2 made its only flight on January 17, 1906.  Zeppelin had replaced the 14 hp engines used on LZ-1 with 80 hp Daimler engines, which gave LZ-2 sufficient speed to maneuver in light winds, but engine failure forced an emergency landing during the ship’s very first flight, and it was destroyed on the ground by a storm that evening.

Destruction of LZ-2

Destruction of LZ-2

LZ-3 and LZ-4

The next two ships, LZ-3 and LZ-4, were even greater advances in technology, with huge increases in controllability, power, speed, range, and payload.  Large horizontal fins and elevators finally provided greater pitch control and stability, and the ships were capable of producing aerodynamic lift.  Longer and more reliable flights became possible; in 1907, LZ-3 made a flight of 8 hours, and on July 1, 1908, LZ-4 made a flight of 12 hours over Switzerland.

LZ-3 in flight

LZ-3 in flight

Tail of LZ-3, showing significant improvement in stabilizers compared to LZ-1 and LZ-2

Tail of LZ-3, showing horizontal stabilizers which were lacking on LZ-1 and LZ-2 (click all photos to enlarge)

The record-breaking Switzerland flight of LZ-4 brought national attention to the success of Count Zeppelin and his machine, and the public began to look on the airship as a practical innovation. On July 3, 1908, King Wilhelm II of Württemberg and his wife, Queen Charlotte, were passengers on the fifth flight of LZ-4.

The German government promised financial support for Count Zeppelin’s efforts if his ship could make an endurance flight of 24 hours, and confidant in his ship’s ability, Zeppelin agreed to the challenge.  LZ-4 departed the Bodensee on August 4, 1908, for a 24-hour trial.

LZ-4 leaving its hangar on the Bodensee for the 24 hour test flight that ended in the crash at Echterdingen.

LZ-4 leaving its hangar on the Bodensee for the 24 hour test flight that ended at Echterdingen.

LZ-4 and the “Miracle at Echterdingen”

Just as it seemed that Count Zeppelin and his team had mastered the basics of airship design and operation, LZ-4 was forced to make an emergency landing in a field at the town of Echterdingen on August 5, 1908, during the 24-hour endurance flight.  Pulled by a sudden storm from its temporary mooring, the ship crashed and was soon destroyed by a fiery explosion of hydrogen.

Wreckage of LZ-4 at Echterdingen

Wreckage of LZ-4 at Echterdingen

LZ-4 Wreckage at Echterdingen

Wreckage of LZ-4 at Echterdingen

In response to the crash, rather than lose faith in Count Zeppelin’s work, the German public rallied behind Zeppelin’s efforts; in what became known as the “Miracle at Echterdingen,” Germans contributed 6 million marks for the construction of a new airship and gave new life to the zeppelin enterprise.

Establishment of the Lufschiffbau Zeppelin

The fervent financial and political support of the German public and government following the crash at Echterdingen allowed the Count to establish the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin (Zeppelin Construction Company) in September, 1908.  Alfred Colsman was the Zeppelin Company’s business manager, and in 1909, journalist Hugo Eckener joined as the company’s director of public relations; within 2 years, Eckener would be an airship commander.

Colsman would shortly establish DELAG, the Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-Aktiengesellschaft (German Airship Transportation Corporation Ltd) as a affiliate of the Zeppelin Company, to commercialize zeppelin travel by providing passenger service.

Early zeppelin under construction at floating hangar on the Bodensee.  (Possibly LZ-3 in 1906 due to horizontal stabilizers and windows in hangar.)

Early zeppelin under construction at floating hangar on the Bodensee.

Early zeppelin, possibly LZ-3

Early zeppelin at floating hangar on Bodensee

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    { 49 comments… read them below or add one }

    austin gosch January 30, 2014 at 4:15 pm

    hey, this is a great website. I’m doing a research paper over the zeppelin. this is and was very helpful. thank you

    Reply

    Judy Hopkins June 18, 2013 at 8:28 am

    My mother recently passed away and in her many old pictures is one of a Zeppelin passing over the neighbors house in Thomaston, Maine. No date on it of course but I would guess in the 1930′s or 40′s. If anyone has any ideas I would like to hear from them.

    Reply

    Bill Welker October 23, 2013 at 9:34 pm

    Ms. Hopkins,

    If we could arrange for me to see the photo (a high res scan perhaps), if I could possibly identify the airship, I might could come up with a date. Identifying the location of some photos of airships is a hobby of mine!

    Reply

    Deandre June 18, 2013 at 2:41 am

    Im only 19 and I find the way these airships evolved from tte LZ-1 to the LZ-4 was like wow! Mistakes where completely corrected and it just looked way better than it used to. Some inspirational stuff for real.

    Reply

    kaz June 5, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    regarding LZ3 and LZ4,I have a question.
    how to move the crew from flont gondola to back gondola or passengers
    cabin durling flight.
    they could move through inside of keel? or inside of fuselage?
    if someone konws the answer,please let me know.
    thank you for very very nice site nad best regards kaz

    Reply

    Stu September 22, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    The LZ-2 and onward had keels below their hulls that look like they allowed for transit between the forward and aft gondolas. Not sure about the LZ-1. What looked like a perilous catwalk didn’t seem too appealing as one.

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    jimmy kraktov May 6, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    This is the first time in my life (born 1950) that I’ve seen any pictures of the interior of an airship. A real floating hotel.

    I will always be wondering how anyone could take something that big, fill it with a highly flammable gas, and allow people to smoke. I will always be wondering how a whole group of people could be that stupid. But they were and it’s now a part of aviation history.

    Great site! Amazing aircraft.
    jimmy

    Reply

    Stu September 22, 2013 at 8:30 pm

    Considering the safety record of the Graf Zeppelin, which was not only filled with hydrogen, but also had cotton cells filled with low pressure flammable “blau gas” to power her engines. The Graf flew thousands of miles, carried over 30,000 people without a mishap or fatality. The Germans were particularly aware of the dangers of hydrogen and could not get helium at that time from the only source of the nonflammable gas – the USA. So they were forced to adopt extremely safe airship practices under the strict tutelage of Dr. Hugo Eckener. Eckener was not on board the Hindenburg on it’s last flight on 6 May 1937. Had he been aboard, and in command, there’s every reason to believe that the Hindenburg wouldn’t have burned.

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    C Hopkins April 13, 2012 at 8:18 am

    I’m an expat living in a small town outside Echterdingen working with the US military and recently saw them (zee Germans) install a new monument to the Zeppelin in center of town… My German is less than sub-par and finally remembered to hit “the Google” for some insight and this was an extremely informative blog nestled in between a few dozen German sites. Thanks for the information!

    Reply

    Student 11 February 10, 2012 at 5:45 am

    I’m doing my project on the miracle of Zeppelin and this is helpful
    thanks :)
    Our science teacher also made a miniature airship with basic lab equipment which we all found quite interesting!

    Reply

    Karen O December 18, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    I recently saw a collection of film footage from early 20th century that included a 10 minute voyage just after WW1 with a zepplin that was, as part of German war reparations, being transferred from German army(?) to US base in New Jersey. It showed it docking at a tower on a navy boat with a gangplank that went to the anchor tower. Amazing!
    Really enjoyed reading your posting of the passenger info for one of the airships.
    Thanks!

    Reply

    Rodney Stowers April 16, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    This ship would be the ZRS-3,Los Angelis,built by Germany for war reparations,designed for hydrogen,but, I believe, was prepped engineerically for helium,due to her history….flown here,deflated from hydrogen, re-inflated with helium,and had an amazing career. Cut short for her scrap value…. if only the military would have seen the historical benefit of a great museum piece she would have been.

    Reply

    Niall November 6, 2011 at 11:15 am

    I am writing my dissertation on introducing airships commercially, in terms of their cargo carry capabilities. It’s involving the introduction of the airships into regions with poor infrastructure (e.g.Sub Saharan Arfica) and how it can facilitate higher levels of trade through reducing transportation costs. If you are interest or may provide any information email me; niall_roberts@yahoo.co.uk

    Reply

    Spud Roscoe October 30, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    Fascinating. Do you know which airship was first fitted with wireless or radio? The radio antenna designed for these airships is still a popular antenna called a Zepp Antenna.

    Regards,
    Spud Roscoe

    Reply

    Dan (Airships.net) November 20, 2011 at 11:37 am

    The first radio is believed to have been on William Wellman’s airship “America.”

    http://boingboing.net/2010/02/19/centenary-of-first-e.html

    Reply

    Andreas Horn September 10, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    Hi Dan,

    according to my sources, the first radio was installed in a German captive balloon in July 1908.
    The first use of a radio in an aircraft without “ground contact” was in “early” 1909 aboard a Parseval airship, most probably the PL 3 (first flight February 2, 1909). That event took place more than a year before Wellman’s flight mentioned in the article.

    Best regards,
    Andreas

    Reply

    Lisa Sloan September 5, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    I am putting together a scrapbook about my grandmother.

    My Grandmother was born in 1913 and left Mannhiem Germany at 17 years old in 1930. I remember she said she could see the faces of the passagens from the top floor of her row house. Do you think it was the Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-Aktiengesellschaft (German Airship Transportation Corporation Ltd)?

    I think she said thier was a Mercedes Bends factory was near by and that it was coverted to a airplane factory during the war. Do you know anything about that? My grandmother’s father was an airplane mechcanic during the WW1.

    Thank you in advance for helping me piece together her history.

    Lisa Sloan

    Reply

    rick faust July 28, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    What no Schutte lanz ships, Zeppelin got a-lot of good stuff from those boys

    Reply

    George F. Hope September 4, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    schutte-lanz was after lz4

    Reply

    winnie fitzgerald July 22, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    I am reading Len Deighton’s Winter and I was excited to fine this website to learn more about the disaster of the LZ4.Thank you ,the pictures are so helpful to visualize what they are talking about.

    Reply

    Liam Dempsey June 29, 2011 at 10:01 am

    I have always been extremely intersted in anything to do with airships. They fascinate me and are possibly one of my favorite things to learn and read about. I am only 12, so I have not been around long enough to actually see one, but it is my lifes dream to see one in flight. Maybe they will make more rigid airships in the future. We as a nation have made so many technological advances that we might be able to create new and even safer airships now and in the future!!
    This website is fascinating!! Thank you so much!!!

    Reply

    don witte April 26, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    Thanks for a neat website ! I landed on it by chance, and it sparked my memory of the first and only “Zeppelin” I ever saw. As a youngster in the 30s in Appleton Wisconsin, I recall an afternoon playing with friends. We heard in the distance, a long low droning sound, which we soon discovered was from a “silver bullet” in the sky. It was moving slowly to the SW, and was visible for 6 or 8 minutes. It was an unforgetable afternoon ! In the near future, toys began to appear, models of Zeppelins ! You could push or pull them, and little propellers would whirll ! They were made in Japan, and soon after Pearl Harbor, we smashed all the toys that said “made in japan” and donated them to the “scrap drives”.

    Reply

    Claire March 2, 2011 at 9:30 am

    As a child born in 1936, in Boston I sometimes saw huge, silent, slow-moving “blimps” ominously low in the sky. Looking skyward was common during World War II because we lived in fear of strange aircraft. Such an amazing sight.

    Reply

    C.L.Hammond October 2, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    Thank you for such a great website! Being a lifelong fan of airships I totally enjoyed reading it. And those photos are wonderful too. Very nice. Very informative. C.L.( Chas.) Hammond

    Reply

    Santosh Shaastry June 4, 2010 at 4:09 am

    I watched a NGC episode (Seconds from Disaster) that showed Hindenburg’s accident. I never knew that airships were in commercial use!! This is an amazing website that provided answers to most of my questions. I still have a question: Are such airships in use today? (Although aircrafts have taken over, it would be fun to fly in airships!)

    Reply

    David S. Jacobs May 10, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    Hello Dan,
    I wonder if there is a moving picture archive about the history of blimps and zeppelins. A number of years back, I remember watching an old newsreel on Turner Classic Movies about the launching of a ship from Southern California sometime around 1930-31. Many celebreties were on hand including the kids from the Our Gang films. I have been told it may have been the Vollunteer airship. Any info about this would be greatly appreciated. Thank You…….

    Reply

    Rodney Stowers April 16, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    I believe,from the description,this would have been the ZRS-5 Macon,stationed in California during that time,and she spent almost her whole career on the west coast

    Reply

    David A Platt March 21, 2010 at 9:12 am

    First of all may I say, this is a fantastic website. I Would like to ask a technical question, Was the length and diameter of LZ1 & LZ4 the same, or was LZ4 bigger.

    Reply

    Dan (Airships.net) March 21, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    Thank you for the kind words!

    LZ-4 was slightly larger.

    LZ-1: Length 128m (420′), Diameter 11.7m (38.5′)

    LZ-4: Length 136m (446′), Diameter 13m (42.5′)

    LZ-1 carried 11,300m3 of gas, while LZ-4 carried 15,000m3

    (When I get some free time I will update this page with dimensions and specs for the early ships.)

    Reply

    Herman De Wulf March 1, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Awesome site! Congratulations. I took an interest in airships since having met with Emil Stöckle (sometime in 1980à, who survived the Hindenburg disaster at Lakehurst in 1937. I flew in airships on a number of occasions, including the Goodyear ship that operated on PR missions in Europe. Later I flew in several of the smaller Cameron airships. Quite an experience!

    Reply

    gerardfitzpatrick February 9, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    Born 1923 ,I can remember as a youngster seeing the larger than life Zeppelins flying over New York. Would this have been the GrafZ or Hindenberg?

    Reply

    Kyle Kepley March 5, 2010 at 3:17 am

    I think the slice of time through which you have lived is one of the most spectacular in US history. It must be amazing to have memories going back that far and through so many major events. To have seen a real zeppelin!

    Reply

    theom January 20, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    Hi, This is a great website! As an architect, I find these structures incredible. I’m wondering if you can recommend any books about Airships that show the technical side of them as well as the historical. I’m really interested in the structures, how they were built etc. If you know of any books with lots drawings and photographs of their construction, I would much appreciate it. Best, T

    Reply

    Dan (Airships.net) January 20, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    Gosh, where to start?! Dale Topping’s “When Giants Roamed the Sky: Karl Arnstein and the Rise of Airships from Zeppelin to Goodyear” is fascinating for anyone with an interest in the design and engineering of these aircraft, although it is mostly historical, without a lot of diagrams, formulae, etc. There is a 1927 book called “Airship Design” by Charles Burgess which is full of technical information from an era when rigids were the focus of attention; some information (such as materials analysis, obviously) seems a little dated, but the book is available as an inexpensive modern reprint, so it’s worth a look. “Airship Technology” from the Cambridge Aerospace Series provides more recent information. For aerodynamics, the United States War Department printed a manual in 1941 called simply “Airship Aerodynamics: Technical Manual,” and this volume is also available as a reprint. There are tons more, of course, but many of them are older, out-of-print editions which are very hard to find.

    Reply

    r steiner December 31, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    Anyone know about the famous zeppelin photographer Robert Petschow? I have a postcard from Lakehurst NJ written to a Hans Petschow in Illinois that mentions zeppelins.

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    Alicia December 27, 2009 at 12:19 am

    This is an awesome website, thanks very much for all the information and photos.
    I read the book ‘Airborn’ by Kenneth Oppel not too long ago, if you’ve never read it you should, it’s amazing, it made me wish Zeppelins were still used as public transportation, even if it was only for high class people.

    Reply

    Maddy November 10, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Oh my gosh, I read Airborn too and it was AWESOME! Have you read the other 2?

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    GARY August 10, 2009 at 5:50 am

    HI ;WALKED PAST A BUILDING ON FARRINGDON RD LONDON
    ON THE WALL IS A PLAQUE SAYING THIS BUILDING WAS TOTALY
    DESTROYED BY A BOMBE DROPPED BY A ZEPPLIN IN 1915

    Reply

    Thomas A. Norris July 30, 2009 at 2:42 am

    Dear Dan,
    The early Zeppelin at the floating hangar is in fact LZ-5 – Identified by it’s upper vertical stabilaizer.
    LZ-6 also had the rounded rudder, but no vertical stabilizers.
    I do not know of LZ-3 ever having the rounded stabilizer. However, it was lengthened and had the upper vertical stabilizer added.
    As you know, identification of these early Zeppelins can sometimes be a problem. In my post card & photographic collection, I try to file them chronologically – another project.
    As for the other early Zeppelin under construction at the floating hangar, close study of the horizontal stabilizers leads me to identify it as LZ-3.

    Yours,
    Thomas A. Norris

    Reply

    Dan (Airships.net) August 2, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    Thank you for the information!

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    Larry Baker June 16, 2009 at 5:17 pm

    Can you identify this signature on this piece of then Graf Zeppelin
    http://imagehost.vendio.com/a/22841710/aview/1245187401914_MVC-105S.JPG

    Reply

    Max May 10, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    Wonderful site! Thanks for sharing the photographs and information.

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    Andreas Horn April 29, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    Dear Dan,

    Concerning the last 5 pictures, they show from top to bottom:
    - LZ 3 in the hanger
    - LZ 3 in its last configuration
    - LZ 7 “Deutschland”
    - LZ 7 “Deutschland”
    - The passenger cabin – called “Coupé” – of LZ 7 “Deutschland”
    The LZ 7 was in fact a DELAG airship…

    Kind regards,
    Andreas

    Reply

    Dan (Airships.net) June 27, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    Dear Andreas:

    Thanks you for your comments; it is a pleasure to have you visit the site.

    I have moved the three photos you identified as LZ-7 to the page about DELAG, with a note of thanks in the captions.

    You described the bottom photo as LZ-3 in its last configuration. I did not think LZ-3 ever had a rounded rudder, but at the same time, I hesitate to disagree with you about zeppelin identification, so I have just left the photo labeled “early zeppelin.” If you or anyone else has any additional thoughts, please let me know!

    Thanks again for your help!

    Reply

    Andreas Krug March 7, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    hy dan, the photo of the early zeppelin is the the LZ 5 in front of the “Reichsschwimmhalle” from Manzell.
    It’s very difficult to separete the earlier zepps. I’d also a problem with the LZ 3, 5 und 6. So I create a little pdf-dokumentation about the LZ 3 (but only in german). let me know if you would like to get it.
    /andreas

    Reply

    Dan (Airships.net) March 7, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    I would love to see your pdf.

    Thanks for your help. It is a pleasure to have you visit the site.

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    John March 27, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    Look for The Zeppelin in Combat by Douglas Robinson. It’s the bible of that era of Zeppelin history.

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    Landrey F. Robertson March 17, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    I am doing a study on WW1 Zeppelins, and I need some more information ASAP.

    Thanks Bunches,
    Landrey F. Robertson

    Reply

    Dan (Airships.net) March 17, 2009 at 8:46 pm

    There are two excellent books that might help you:

    Zeppelins of World War I

    Zeppelins: German Airships 1900-40

    Reply

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