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May 22, '21

Ferdinand von Zeppelin

Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin (German: Graf Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August von Zeppelin; July 1838 – 8 March 1917) was a German general and later inventor of the Zeppelin rigid airships, founding the company Luftschiffbau Zeppelin.

Native name

Graf Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August von Zeppelin


8 July 1838

Konstanz, Grand Duchy of Baden

(now part of Baden-Württemberg, Germany)


8 March 1917 (aged 78)

Berlin, German Empire


Grand Duchy of Baden (1855–1917)

German Empire (1871–1917)



Years of service

1855-1885, 1890



Commands held

19th Uhlans


Isabella Freiin von Wolff (m. 1869–1917; his death)


Ferdinand von Zeppelin


July 8, 1838 - March 8, 1917

Ferdinand Adolf August Heinrich von Zeppelin was born on July 8, 1838 in Konstanz in the former Dominican monastery and today's Inselhotel. It was there that his father Friedrich von Zeppelin had joined his father-in-law David Macaire's textile business two years earlier. Friedrich was seen as a sensitive esthete who found it difficult to endure the harsh working conditions of the industrial company - even if he certainly did not have to work as hard and long as the women and orphans.

Therefore, with a light heart, he gave up his work with his father-in-law after David Macaire gave him and his wife Amélie the Girsberg estate in the Swiss canton of Thurgau for Christmas in 1840. Amélie and Friedrich von Zeppelin moved into the small castle with their children Eugenie and Ferdinand. Eberhard was born in 1842.

At Girsberg Castle, (Girsberg Castle or Mittel-Girsberg is located in Emmishofen , a formerly independent municipality, part of Kreuzlingen since 1928). Friedrich took care of the management of the estate, the vegetable garden and the wine and fruit growing.

Almost every day he carefully noted what was happening in the house and yard. He was also passionate about hunting and devoting himself to his butterfly, beetle and mineral collections as well as poetry and music. He played the violin and his poems were read, recited or even set to music among friends and relatives. He wrote texts for “Schwäbischer Merkur”, the leading daily newspaper in Württemberg at the time.

He seems to have had a deep love for his wife Amélie.

Modern educational methods

Amélie lovingly described her children in a letter to her sister-in-law Anna in 1844 and said of Ferdinand that he was a "blue-eyed, curly angel's head, the darling of uncles and aunts" called "Knöpflesschwab", but when they were abroad, "Heart Beetle". At the age of six he is "the cosiness itself" and he is interested.

The parents awakened in their children an understanding of nature, an interest in weather observation and a love of culture. It was particularly unusual for the time that father Friedrich cared intensely and lovingly for the upbringing of his children, especially those of his two sons. He taught them how to swim, ride, ride a carriage, fence and shoot and take them on mountain hikes, climbing tours and excursions, for example by steamboat and train to Stuttgart.

The father himself gave swimming lessons in the Konstanz bathing establishment and noted on July 10, 1845, two days after Ferdinand's seventh birthday: "Ferdi for the first time on a leash".

When Ferdinand was ten years old, he shot his first rabbit.

Another educational goal was practical life experience. The children acted out what they experienced in the everyday life of the adults on the estate. Ferdinand later recalls:

“Everyone had their own little garden, which they kept in order with their own tools. I grew vegetables myself and had a small carrier in which I then carried my self-grown product for sale to the relatives and to the neighboring castle of Castell. We had a flail, adapted to our size, and often threshed hard and persistently. I often took over from the dairyman when he went to dinner. […] In later boyhood we also did bookbinding and carpentry, for which we received instructions from master craftsmen, and we made cupboards, bookshelves and the like. The parental upbringing concept thus contained both traditionally aristocratic as well as bourgeois-enlightened educational programs, and "Life in the Swiss country and with the grandparents who had the factory in Constance did not even give us the thought of seeing ourselves as a higher social class, so to speak, as is often found elsewhere in Germany. "

"You should learn to feel ..."

After Ferdinand's eighth birthday, regular Latin classes began, and English classes a year later. In 1849 the private tutor Kurz was hired, but he had too little assertiveness for the self-confident children. That is why he was replaced in August 1850 by Robert Moser, a parish vicar from a pietistic Ravensburg pastor's family, who not only took care of the classical school education at grammar school level, but also of moral and ethical education.

Robert Moser in a letter to grandmother Pauline von Zeppelin in 1852: “Ferdinand had hidden desolations that no one would have believed in the innocent boy and which I, as he recently confessed to me with tears, had only been there since I was here, especially since mine Religious instruction fell on the heart as a sin and for which he has often since asked God's forgiveness. "

The pietistic religious upbringing was particularly important to the Zeppelin family. They prayed at the table and before going to bed, and they also regularly attended evangelical services.

Ferdinand and Eberhard received school lessons daily from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the subjects mathematics, German language and literature, mineralogy and botany. They also learned to declaim, practiced speaking freely and should also be encouraged to think independently and act responsibly. Moser also went swimming with the boys, hiked or discussed with them.

Eugenie did not take part in classes regularly; from 1851 Sophie Falkenstein was placed at her side as a personal governess, who taught her foreign languages, manual labor and housekeeping. Taught conversation and etiquette.

During the trips, excursions, visits to relatives and restaurants to which the children were taken, they got to know a wide variety of worlds and attitudes. The parents gave their children a lot of freedom, because "it was my parents' principle to raise as little as possible," Ferdinand later recalled. And Robert Moser wrote: Not shy, but modest; not impudent, but frank; The children should not become overconfident, but they should learn to feel. They can and should have their self-confidence.

Bad behavior and misconduct were not punished with beating. Instead, the child was talked into conscience. Overall, the relationship between parents and children was loving, affectionate and full of trust.

In view of this modern-looking upbringing, the Zeppelin children developed into independent and self-confident personalities. Robert Moser: “Under the influence of the preferred social position and with an education in which the individual personality came to its full advantage, an independence, an open, frank nature, and a certainty in behavior developed early on, which I had to admire. The main adornment for all of them was the development of a religious and moral character, which even then gave rise to the most beautiful hopes for the pupils' manhood ”.

Of course, nobody could have guessed that Ferdinand would one day become one of the most famous aviation pioneers in the world.

Date / place of birth:

July 8, 1838; Constancy

Date / place of death:

March 8, 1917; Charlottenburg

Profession / Function:

Airship builder

Short biography:

1855 cadet in the war school Ludwigsburg,

1858 Lieutenant of the cavalry

1858/1859 Leave of absence to study at the University of Tübingen: political science, mechanical engineering, chemistry

1859-1863 officer in the engineering corps of the Württemberg Army

1863/1864 stay in America, on leave as observer of the Civil War

1866 Participation in the war against Prussia as a Württemberg orderly officer

1870/1871 participation in the war between Prussia and Germany against France; Distinction in the first days of the war as general staff officer of the Württemberg cavalry brigade

1873 major

1882 Commander of the Württemberg 19th Uhlan Regiment in Stuttgart

1884 Colonel

1885-1887 Wuerttemberg military representative in Berlin

1887-1890 Wuerttemberg envoy in Berlin and authorized representative of the Kingdom of Wuerttemberg to the Federal Council

1888 Major General and General à la suite

1890 Commander of the Prussian 30th Cavalry Brigade in Saarburg

1891 Abandoned prematurely from military service as lieutenant general available for disposition

1895 patent application for a "steerable aircraft"; Submission of the first draft of an airship for Kaiser Wilhelm II.

1900 Ascent of the first airship (LZ 1)

1906 Ascent of the second airship (LZ 2) and third airship (LZ 3)

1908 Ascent of the fourth airship (LZ 4), destroyed by storm after an emergency landing in Echterdingen near Stuttgart

1908 Establishment of the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH company in Friedrichshafen and the Zeppelin Foundation to manage the national airship fund

1908-1938 Construction of 119 airships by Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH

1913 Foundation of Zeppelin-Wohlfahrt GmbH, Friedrichshafen

1915 Zeppelin attack on the English coast and Paris

1916 Graf Zeppelin member of the 1st Chamber of the Württemberg State Parliament

1938 First voyage of the last airship LZ 130 "Graf Zeppelin" built

Further personal information:

Religion: ev.

Married: 1869 Isabella Freiin von Wolff (1846-1922)

Parents: Father: Friedrich Jérome Wilhelm Karl Graf von Zeppelin (1807-1886)

Mother: Amelie Macaire d'Hoguer (1816-1852)

Siblings: Eugenie

Eberhard (1842-1906)

Helene (Hella) (1879-1967)

Children: Helene (Hella) (1879-1967), married to Graf von Brandenstein-Zeppelin (1881-1949)äfin-von-Zeppelin/6000000025598308868


GND / 118636545



Willi A. Boelcke (Author)

From: Badische Biographien NF 4, 334-337

Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin auf Girsburg (Canton Thurgau / Switzerland), co-lord of Hengstfeld (Jagstkreis / Württemberg), the builder of the steerable rigid airship, was the most popular man in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century.

The cities of Friedrichshafen, Constance, Worms, Munich, Lindau, Baden-Baden and Ulm awarded him the honor of being an honorary citizen, and faculties of the universities of Tübingen and Leipzig awarded him the Dr. H. c. and the Technical University of Dresden the Dr. Ing. E. H. Graf Zeppelin (Württemberg count from 1806), descendant of an old noble family (Zeppelin) who were wealthy in southern Mecklenburg and a Geneva refugee family, was born in the secularized Dominican monastery in Konstanz (today's Inselhotel). David Macaire, his grandfather, industrialist and a man of great merit for the development of the Lake Constance area, ran a calico factory there. He also signed Girsburg Castle over to his son-in-law, the former court marshal of the royal Hohenzollern family, Friedrich Graf von Zeppelin. Count Zeppelin spent his childhood on his parents' estate. He received elementary lessons and the beginnings of high school education from private tutors. Two years before joining the war school in Ludwigsburg as a cadet, which he graduated with good average grades, he had attended secondary school in Cannstatt. As a young lieutenant from Württemberg, he took a year off to study at the University of Tübingen. He was proud to be an officer, but tried again and again to escape the monotony of everyday work, whereby his excellent family relationships served him in several ways. For the adventure of taking part in the North American Civil War as a battle-wanderer gaining experience, he was given leave in 1863/64, experienced it on the side of the northern states, also took part in a balloon ascent in Canada and thus gained his first impression of the military usefulness of airship travel. Soon after his marriage to the Baltic baroness Isabella von Wolff in 1869, Count Zeppelin had the opportunity to achieve his first war glory through a daring patrol ride in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71.

However, Count Zeppelin received the decisive impetus for his future thinking and striving from a prophetic lecture by Postmaster General Heinrich von Stephan in 1873 on the subject of "Universal Post and Air Shipping". In it, Stephan predicted the basics of future traffic developments in the field of aviation using steerable, machine-driven balloons. Since that time, Zeppelin has been working on concepts and designs for a steerable, rigid airship, regardless of its rapid and successful career. He was not deterred by the numerous skeptical voices that dismissed aviation as a pipe dream, as a cream puff egg. When French aeronauts with steering vessels powered by a Siemens electric motor were already achieving their first partial successes, the top technical expert in Baden, Prof. Meidinger, director of the Landesgewerbehalle in Karlsruhe, declared categorically: “Aviation in the sense that it usually is is understood as a means of transport that brings distant places together through the open air, is, according to our firm conviction, a permanently unsolvable problem ”.

Referring to the French activities and convinced of the “necessity of steering balloons”, Zeppelin, who had been Colonel and Wuerttemberg Military Plenipotentiary in Berlin for several years, wrote a first secret memorandum on the problem of aviation and sent it to King Karl von Wuerttemberg. The weak points of the previous airships were properly worked out by him. When, after a brief activity in the diplomatic service as the Wuerttemberg envoy in Berlin and as a brigade commander, as a result of differences of opinion with the superior military authority, he was informed that his further promotion was unthinkable, in 1891, now at the age of Fifty-two years ago, he was released from active military service as a lieutenant general in order to devote himself - although not an engineer - exclusively to his favorite occupation, the development of airships. Zeppelin hired the young civil engineer Theodor Kober for his work and construction plans and, after withdrawing a first patent application from 1891, had a second, revised and supplemented patent specification submitted to the Reich Patent Office under the designation “Steerable aerial vehicle with several supporting bodies arranged one behind the other”. He took over the idea of ​​the elongated balloon, but made it rigid and switched several balloons in a row. In 1898 the patent was granted. In the meantime, Count Zeppelin's efforts to finance the construction of the airship had also been successful, despite the opposition from the military. He found the support of the Association of German Engineers. In 1898 the "Society for the Promotion of Aviation" was founded and registered in Stuttgart. Half of the raised capital of 800,000 marks was paid in by Count Zeppelin. The first rigid airship, braced with aluminum and filled with hydrogen gas, was built on Lake Constance near Manzell in a specially built floating airship hangar. Three test drives with LZ 1 in 1890, which had to be broken off after a while, proved the correctness of Zeppelin's ideas, but did not convince the shareholders of the development company, who refused to make further financial injections. The mining company was liquidated and the ship had to be scrapped.

For years, the count sought new donors in lecture tours and promised a large “profitable business”. In front of the German Colonial Society he declared in early 1901: "Airships as we now have our eyes on them should, however, be able to make trips of at least several days". These were years of disappointment for Count Zeppelin. With the help of the income from a lottery approved by the King of Württemberg, an amount contributed by the Chancellor from his disposition fund and his own funds, Graf Zeppelin was able to tackle the construction of LZ 2 and LZ 3 after years. It was not until the LZ 3, which made several successful journeys in autumn 1906, that Graf Zeppelin found full public recognition. The German Reichstag approved 2.15 million marks for the construction of LZ 4 on the condition that it "covers a distance of at least 700 km within an uninterrupted 24-hour journey, reaches a predetermined point and returns to the starting point of the journey" . After a previous major Swiss voyage, LZ 4 set out in August 1908 under the leadership of Graf Zeppelin for the 24-hour journey, which ended abruptly in the Zeppelin disaster in Echterdingen. However, a surge of national sympathy turned the misfortune into new happiness. Within a short time a donation amount for the national airship fund in the amount of 6.25 million marks was raised through a national money collection. At that time, the old Count Zeppelin, now a much-acclaimed folk hero, gave the high school students in Konstanz the wise advice: "It is not so much that the individual stands out as that we all raise ourselves to a higher level".

The donations enabled the founding of Luftschiffbau GmbH in Friedrichshafen in 1908 with an initial capital of 3 million marks. Graf Zeppelin also became the builder of an airship industry. Nevertheless, the Zeppelin group of companies, to which since 1909 the first aviation company in the world, Deutsche Luftschiffahrt AG under Hugo Eckener and Luftfahrzeug-Motorenbau GmbH under Karl Maybach belonged, was not yet a company with guaranteed profitability until 1912 Larger military order backlog in mid-1913. At the same time, Graf Zeppelin commissioned the planning of a large airship with which he wanted to fly to America in 1916 as a messenger of peace. In the opinion of Count Zeppelin, airships had a double function as a means of transport. They should "become a further link between the peoples" and "contribute significantly to the victorious leadership" of a war. He overestimated the military importance of the airships. Even his personal rejection of high politics and his re-entry into the diplomatic service did not prevent the zeppelins and the widespread German airship euphoria from becoming a burdensome factor in German foreign policy even before the First World War, nor did they prevent the Count from doing so. to demand unrestricted airship warfare in the course of the First World War on the wave of pan-German chauvinism. Although the technical efficiency of the airships was increased considerably during the war, and 87 zeppelins were built during the war, their military value was very limited and, because of their loss-making use, highly problematic. The lasting historical merit of Count Zeppelin was not limited to having implemented the steerable rigid airship in spite of all opposition as a builder and "builder" - but without the ingenious construction of all airships from LZ 2 to LZ 130 and Zeppelin's most loyal follower Ludwig Dürr (1878-1956) could not have been reached. The ingenious organizational talent of Count Zeppelin, who ultimately wanted to improve and accelerate traffic by conquering the airspace, gave many and many the opportunity to discover great inventors, successful managers, the development of new high technology and Friedrichshafen, above all, those of industrialization, whereby the Zeppelin group of companies (at times around 20 subsidiaries) exercised the function of a development engine that continues to have an impact today. The unexpected death of Count Zeppelin as a result of an intestinal operation on March 8, 1917 tore him from his plans for the future use of his airships as a means of global transport.


Count Zeppelin ride in enemy territory. From the campaign memories e. Reservists. Wolfenbüttel 1904; Memories from the americ. War year 1863, in: Cotta Zs., 1913; Experience in building airships. Lecture, go, on d. 49th Annual General Meeting d. Association of German Engineers in Dresden on June 29th, 1908. Berlin 1908; The conquest of d. Air. E. Lecture, go to the hall of the Sing-Akademie zu Berlin on January 25th, 1908. Stuttgart 1908; Aviation. The current status d. Science represented accordingly. I.a. by Graf Zeppelin 6th edition Stuttgart 1911.


Photo credits: Photos in almost all writings about the Graf Zeppelin; Zeppelin Museum Friedrichshafen; private Zeppelin Museum Meersburg.

Literature + links


(Selection): Robert Moser, also a Swabian pastor's life. Part 2 Issue 1 o. O. 1876; Ludwig Dürr, twenty-five years of Zeppelin airship construction. Berlin 1924; Ludwig Fischer (written), Count Zeppelin. His life - his work. Munich 1929; Hans Rosenkranz, F. Graf v. Zeppelin The Gesch. e. adventurous life. Berlin 1931; Alfred Colsman, airship ahead. Work and experience at the work of Zeppelin Stuttgart, Berlin 1933; Leonhardt Adelt, Graf Zeppelin in: The great German NDB IV. Bd. Berlin 1936; Hugo Eckener, Count Zeppelin. Stuttgart 1938; Hans von Schiller, Zeppelin. Trailblazers of the world air traffic. Bad Godesberg 1966; Rolf Italiaander, F. Graf von Zeppelin. Constance 1980; Zeppelin. An important chapter in the history of aviation. Ed. From Zeppelin-Metallwerke GmbH Friedrichshafen. Friedrichshafen 51983; Willi A. Boelcke, Friedrichshafen's industrial rise, in: ZWLG 47th year 1988. - Further references in LbBW Vol. 2-4, 6-10.


May 22, '21
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