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.


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.


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 Wurttemberg, and partly by the mortgage of Countess Zeppelin’s family estates.


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 Wurttemberg 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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Elliott P
Elliott P

I did not know that zeppelins could be launched off water

Neal Sausen

Zeppelin’s are here to stay!

rick faust
rick faust

No Schutte lanz anywhere?? Please look into the designs, the fins, all wood, Not to be left out !!!1 The web site has grown so much, I love what you have done !!!! rick


Just finished watching an hour program concerning the damage done in WW1 to London by the Zeppelins. They showed how they made the “bladders” to hold in the hydrogen; out of the inside of cows. They either stated that it took 250,000 cows or 2.5 million cows to make these… Read more »


They were called ‘goldbeater’s skins’, several thousand required to make a single gas cell, fashioned by hand from cows’ intestines. I believe these were used until rubberized fabric supplanted them in the 1930s. 250,000 perhaps were required per ship, is my guess.


I grew up in the Bay Area, California, and could see Moffet Field from my house, though I never saw an airship, but that huge hanger started my love for airships.

Paul D Hendeson

Being a Lighter than air Zeppelin =Lover my whole life. Have always eager to see anything about blimp type vessel, they are used here to cover sporting events. Some very nice pictures.I really enjoy. Nice to see them covering football games. Also collecting postage stamps 1st day covers I can… Read more »

Andreas Horn
Andreas Horn

Dear Shane, the flating shed in Manzell (near Friedrichshafen) was errected from March to June 1899. Construction of the LZ 1 started om June 17, 1899. Except for the steel drums on which the hangar was Floating it was completely made aout of Wood. It was 466 ft (142 m)… Read more »

Shane O'Toole
Shane O'Toole

Really great site, thanks! I’m interested to know more about the floating hangar at Friedrichshafen, if anybody knows. In particular, a date for its construction (1899? 1900?) and the external cladding material on roof and walls: wood, metal, other?
Thank you.


Beautiful aircraft, and the stamps and postal covers that were issued for their peaceful flights are magnificent too. I got interested in them when as a kid in the 1950s I watched U.S. Navy blimps (I know, non-rigid so not Zeppelins) flying off the New Jersey coast. They were looking… Read more »

Mladen Vukmir
Mladen Vukmir

Zračni brod Davida Schwarza poletio je 3. studenoga 1897. na uzletiÅ¡tu Tempelhof kraj Berlina. Podigao se na visinu od 466 m. Sam Schwarz nije dočekao taj dan jer je umro od kapi desetak mjeseci prije. Izum ovog hrvatskog izumitelja židovsko-maÄ‘arsko korijena koji je godinama živio u Zagrebu nezasluženo se i… Read more »