Count von Zeppelin, inventor of the airship, partnered with a group of other German industrialists to create a Zeppelin manufacturing company and also an airline.


Their first airship, the enormous LZ1, launched July 2, 1900. It crashed and survived but the test was not successful for the German government to invest more funds in airships. Frustrated, Zeppelin solicited small amounts of money from other governments. He’d exhausted his personal savings on the first airship so mortgaged his wife’s estate to continue the project.

LZ2 was damaged by high winds and LZ3 worked well enough to justify government investment if it could stay afloat for 24 hours. Since it could not remain aloft Zeppelin built LZ4.

Zeppelin never got along well with German government officials but the public loved the idea of his enormous Zeppelin’s. Building off that enthusiasm, and searching for funding, he launched a passenger-carrying business. The Deutsche Luftschiffahrtsgesellschaft or DELAG, is the world’s first passenger-carrying airline.

DELAG Airline

DELAG flew people around Europe and, eventually, between Europe and the United States. The company survived WWI and continued service. All was going well until one of its airships, The Hindenburg, on its 36th trans-Atlantic crossing, caught fire.

The first fixed-wing airline was created by entrepreneur Percival Fansler. He purchased a cargo plane from the Benoist Aircraft Company, that took off and landed on water. His airline flew between Tampa and St. Petersburg, a trip that would take two hours by steamship or 4-12 hours by train. The airline folded after four months, when northern residents headed home.

After WWI the US postal service decided to offer air mail and awarded contracts to companies that evolved into many of today’s large airlines. Juan Trippe’s Pan American Airlines, founded in 1927, is arguably the first modern large-scale airline.


Sporting both bodacious name, mustache, and title of nobility, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin forever changed air travel.

Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin

Zeppelin wasn’t the first to try making hot air balloons more maneuverable. That honor belonged to Frenchman Henri Giffard. Basically, a big cigar-shaped balloon, Giffard’s airship was the first aircraft that enabled navigation. In 1882, with declining health, Giffard committed suicide and left his estate for humanitarian purposes.

Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin improved upon Giffard’s airship creating the more stable, maneuverable, and larger Zeppelin airship in 1874. Zeppelin was 52 years old when he started work on his airship. His initial interest in air navigation came from his time observing the US Civil War. He spent time with the Balloon Division of the Union Army.

Zeppelin’s innovation involved multiple pockets of buoyant air inside a rigid frame ship rather than one big pocket of air.

Airships survived WWI and flew around both Europe and also transcontinental flight when the LZ-129, the 129th airship, Hindenburg, spectacularly exploded during a live radio broadcast.