Enjoying a glamorous if relatively short career, Zeppelin airships captured the imagination of the public and were consequently a popular subject for cinderellas.

Poster stamps were produced for aviation and military enthusiasts, as World War I propaganda and even to advertise biscuits! The stamps illustrated here are just a small selection of those which can be put together to tell the story of these remarkable vessels.

Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin was an officer in the Kingdom of Wurttemberg’s army in the 1860s, when a spell in the USA changed the course of his life.

He served a military observer for the Union’s Army of the Potomac as it fought against against the Confederate forces in the American Civil War. But, during an expedition to the source of the Mississippi, he also made his first balloon ascent in Minnesota, in a balloon owned by a fellow German, John Steiner.

In 1869 he returned to the Unired States to learn about balloon manufacturing from Professor Thaddeus Lowe of the US Army Balloon Corps. He realised that balloons would be useful for military reconnaissance, and by 1874 he outlined a construction system for a rigid airship.

Zeppelin’s design had a metal skeleton, inside which several separate balloons could be constructed. The design was more efficient than a non-rigid balloon, so it could lift heavier loads and be fitted with engines.

In 1890 he resigned his army commission and concentrated on turning his ideas into reality, patenting his first detailed design in 1895. By 1899 he had started constructing his first steerable rigid airship.

ABOVE: Cinderella from the German Famous People series. showing Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin

ABOVE: Stamps from the Luftfahrerdank series show the floating Zeppelin hangar on Lake Constance and the world’s biggest Zeppelin at Franfurt

Zeppelins were built on Bodensee (Lake Constance) in the very south of Germany, in floating hangars which could be aligned with the wind to help them launch.

The LZ1 was 128m (422ft) long and powered by two 14.2hp Daimler engines. It was launched on July 2, 1900, when it flew for 18 minutes.

But von Zeppelin was nearly broke, so to develop more airships he had to raise more money. He did so from donations, a special lottery, a mortgage of his wife’s estate and some public funding.

By 1908, LZ2 had become the first truly successful Zeppelin, having travelled 4,400 kilometres in the course of 45 flights. During a demonstration on August 5, however, it crashed into a tree, caught fire and burnt to cinders.

Strangely, this did not seem to deter the financial backers. One witness to the crash began a collection which eventually raised over six million marks, enabling the Count to form a limited company and continue his development work.

By the time World War I broke out in 1914, a total of 21 Zeppelins had been manufactured, and the German High Command had high hopes for airships. They had many advantages over the aeroplanes of the day, as they could carry many more guns and bombs, and had a far greater range. However, they had one huge disadvantage: they were filled with explosive hydrogen.

The dirigibles were used to bomb Belgium in the first month of the war, but three of them were shot down in flames. The army quickly lost interest in them, although the navy continued to use them for reconnaissance, making more than 1,200 flights.

ABOVE: Luftfahrerdank stamp depicting an early Zeppelin landing, clearly showing the construction of the fins and tail structure

ABOVE: This World War I German propaganda stamp illustrates machine-gun fire from a Zeppelin over Britain, with the legend ‘God punishes England’. Zeppelin raids caused alarming numbers of casualties

ABOVE: Both a balloon and a Zeppelin are shown on this early poster stamp, along with a member of the Luftschiffer regiment preparing a mooring rope

ABOVE: A series of 12 poster stamps, one for each month, was produced by Krietsch, a biscuit manufacturer in Wurzen. This one has an inset picture of Count von Zeppelin and one of his airships

In 1915 bombing raids over England started. In that year, 19 raids caused almost 900 casualties; the following year, 23 more intense raids on London brought around 1,800 casualties.

Bombing raids were operated by a Luftschiffertruppe (airship regiment), while observation balloons were handled by a Feldluftschiffer (field airship unit).

After the war, the Treaty of Versailles prohibited Germany from having an air force, but Zeppelins continued to be built for transporting passengers and mail, with their zenith in the 1930s. The airships LZ127 Graf Zeppelin and LZ129 Hindenburg operated regular transatlantic flights between Germany and north and south America.

The end of the Zeppelin age was precipitated by the Hindenburg disaster in 1937, when 36 people died as the vessel exploded into flames on arrival at Lakehurst, New Jersey, in the USA.

The remaining airships were mothballed at Frankfurt airport shortly afterwards, and Adolf Hitler’s regime began to concentrate on heavier-than-air flight.

The Authors
Brothers Charles and Francis Kiddle are among the world’s foremost authorities on cinderellas. Charles is Chairman of the Cinderella Stamp Club and Francis is a past President of the Royal Philatelic Society London.

The Philatelic Database would like to thank the authors for their kind permission in republishing this article.