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Written by Markus Brandes   
Monday, 09 August 2004

Autographs of Count Zeppelin and Hugo Eckener
by Markus Brandes

In my hometown Konstanz Count Zeppelin is a legend, and also Hugo Eckener lived there for many years.

I have been collecting autographs from Konstanz for some years, especially those of Count Zeppelin, Hugo Eckener and Claude Dornier, airship pioneers who became world-famous also bringing a good deal of reputation to Konstanz being situated on Lake Constance close to the Swiss border.


 Seltenes signiertes Großfoto welches den Grafen vor seinem Luftschiff zeigt.

Rare signed photograph showing Count Zeppelin in front of his airship

Apart from his biography I would like to tell a few facts about Zeppelin in connection with the depicted autographs.

Ferdinand Count Zeppelin was born on 8 July 1838 as the son of a Wuerttemberg minister at a time when there was no united Germany but a patchwork of duchies and principalities in which German was spoken. He attended high school in Stuttgart and joined the military academy at Ludwigsburg in 1855. Four years later he was allowed to study engineering, and in 1859 he joined the Wuerttemberg army again as a member of the Royal Engineer Corps. It might be interesting for American readers to get to know that Count Zeppelin took part in the American Civil War / War between the States as a military observer from 1863 to 1865. In the war of the German states against France (1870/71) which resulted in the foundation of the German Empire (“Kaiser Wilhelm”) he became a war hero. In 1891 he left the army to work on his favourite idea – the construction of airships.

As early as 1893 there existed the first complete blueprints for the construction of rigid and steerable airships. They were supposed to be built with financial support of the army. In 1894 a fact-finding committee however turned Count Zeppelin’s plans down so that he had no other choice as to invest his own money into his ambitious project..

As a consequence he started building “LZ 1” in a floating hall at Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance. The body was kept together by a fabric of aluminium bars covered with cloth. His airship had the shape of a cigar and was filled with gas.

To be able to keep his work up he founded a joint-stock company which had 800,000 Deutschmarks (in gold currency). He invested 420,000 Deutschmarks himself.

On 2 July 1900 there was the first successful flight of “LZ 1” which was a great surprise for all those people who watched the giant airship going up. This sight of aflying object was beyond human powers of imagination at that time.

The German people in those years were very interested in technical progress, and for this reason the airships were very popular but at the same time people were not too much interested in investing money. The second airship ”LZ 2” was financed by a lottery. It was destroyed by a storm in 1908. Zeppelin was able to finance his third ship on his own. He sold it to the German army. In the same year “LZ 4” was destroyed by a storm which led to an explosion of the gas cells. Supported by Crown Prince Wilhelm he called for a lottery which yielded 6 million Deutschmarks so that he could go on building airships.

The following TLS can be called a historical document. In March 1909 Count Zeppelin wrote to the Imperial German Ambassador to Serbia, Count Reichenau, asking him to give his special thanks to all those generous donators (of German descent) from Brazil.

 Graf von Zeppelin Autograph aus dem Jahre 1909

On 16 November 1909 the first airline of the world being called “Deutsche Luftschifffahrts-Aktien-Gesellschaft” (German aviation joint-stock company; DELAG) was founded. They used the airships mainly for round flights which at that time definitely were the main attraction in numerous cities. Such a flight lasted two hours approx. and cost 200 Deutschmarks, quite a large sum in those days.

On 22 April 1910 Kaiser Wilhelm ordered a military parade at Bad Homburg, and three airships took part in it. The weather was not good so that they could not be launched in time. Three days later however the weather conditions seemed to have improved so that one of the airships was brought to its take-off-place. 100 soldiers tried to secure it holding it close to the ground with ropes. Around 1 p.m. there was a sudden squall so that the soldiers had to let the ropes go. The unmanned airship went up and was driven off.

It went on to Weilburg being driven by the wind and hitting some tree tops. The squalls turned the ship and brought it down into the Lahn river and then against a rock where it was badly damaged. It had to be secured and dismantled right away. Fortunately enough there were no casualties. At the site of the disaster a commemorative plaque was put up.

 Zeppelin Z II beim Hof Blumenrod nahe Limburg

Zeppelin Z II at Hof Blumenrod near Limburg

 Der am Webersberg gestrandete Z II (Foto: Ausschnitt einer Ansichtskarte aus Privatbesitz)

The wreck of Z II near Webersberg (postcard)

Four weeks later Count Zeppelin wrote the following letter to the Royal Wuerttemberg Delegate, Mr Arnhold, in Dresden:

 Autograph Graf von Zeppelin aus dem Jahre 1910

In 1910 Count Zeppelin traveled to Northern Norway being accompanied by Prince Heinrich, a brother of Kaiser Wilhelm, in order to prepare a trip to that area by airship. He predicted that the time would come in which airships would go round the earth…

A big number of German cities built airports at their own expense to establish a system of commercial flights.

Dusseldorf had the honor to be selected to be the first starting place for a commercial passenger flight with “LZ 7” which had been christened “Deutschland”. This flight was a mishap. On 28 June, four weeks after Count Zeppelin had written his letter to Dresden the airship went up and was confronted with difficulties right away. The main problem of those days was the fact that the weather forecasts were vague and sometimes even wrong. A big thunderstorm came up and launched the airship to a height of 3500 ft. It came down in a forest but fortunately enough there was no fire so that all passengers survived.

Rare autogaphed letter signed. 13 November 1910. To his brother on law “Freiherr Baron von Gemmingen-Guttenberg”. Complete handwritten autographed letters are scarce !

The most important result of this disaster was the appointment of Dr Hugo Eckener to General Manager of DELAG. He was in charge of the recruitment and training of the staffs of the airships, and whenever it was possible for him he himself could be seen standing at the steering wheel.

Dr Hugo Eckener was born at Flensburg in Northern Germany on 10 August 1868. He attended high school and then became a journalist and freelance writer. At the beginning of the 20th century he moved to Friedrichshafen. He might have met Count Zeppelin in 1908 for the first time having read a newspaper article about him. Dr Eckener died at Friedrichshafen on 14 August 1954.

As a matter of fact also Dr Eckener had to take severe setbacks in the early days of aviation. His very first flight could have been his last one. On 16 May 1910 a big crowd of people had gathered in front of Dusseldorf airport to watch the ltake-off of brand-new LZ 8 which had also been christened “Deutschland”. Though there was strong wind Dr Eckener decided to go up. He did not want to disappoint all those airship enthusiasts waiting for hours…

 Hugo Eckener Autograph im Luftschiffer Zeugnis 1911

Many years later he wrote: “I had to pay for my weakness of character with my airship being that severely damaged that the repair of it would almost have covered the expense for building a new one. Since then I was more careful…”.

Five days after this failure Zeppelin signed the following TLS. “Thank you very much for the expression of your sympathy with regard of this new mishap which has affected me. I really believe that I am like the tumbler which I can always see in front of me on my desk…”.

 Graf von Zeppelin Autograph - Hugo Eckener aus dem Jahr 1911 Seite 1

 Graf von Zeppelin Autograph - Hugo Eckener aus dem Jahr 1911 Seite 2

A survey of the following decades

1910-1914 Dr Hugo Eckener-initiates more than 2,000 flights. At the same time he is in charge of the training of airship personnel.

1914-1918 During World War I Dr Eckener is in charge of the construction of 88 airships for the German Navy as well as of the military training of airshipmen.

03-08-1917 Decease of Count Zeppelin aged 78

From 1919 Dr Eckener promotes the further development of aviation after the loss of WW I.

1924 According to the Treaty of Versailles Germany had to build an airship for the USA. He is the captain of LZ 126 (ZR III) flying it to the USA. This was oner of the first crossings of the Atlantic Ocean by airship.

1928-1931 He initiates numerous flights to many parts of the world (Antarctica, South America). His flights cause a lot of sensations and make him a symbol of aviation.

The crew of the flight to the USA in 1929 returning to Europe on board of S.S. “Ile de France” The SP bears the signatures of Paul Marko, John Ingram, Joseph D. Jessel, Clarence Terhune, William Allman and Don Castro. Dated 13 Nov. 1928. 19-year-old Clarence Terhune was a stowaway who had sneaked on board of the airship before its takeoff at Friedrichshafen.

1932

A German newspaper article discussing the issue whether Dr Eckener should stand as a candidate for the German presidency in 1932 in order to prevent the election of Adolf Hitler. He however did not stand as a candidate since 85-year-old President Paul von Hindenburg made up his mind to stand for the Presidency again.

After the “Machtergreifung” (the seizure of power by the Nazi party) in 1933 National Socialism began to take influence on all fields including aviation. Adolf Hitler did not support Dr Eckener’s idea of a global and trade system by aeronautics based on international understanding. The Nazis had recognized that the “giants of the air” were not useful for war and focused on modern aeroplane technique (STUKAS/Sturzkampfbomber).

On the other hand however they were interested in abusing the popularity of the airships for their propaganda. As Dr Eckener did not want to co-operate with the Hitler party the Nazi Minister for Aviation, Hermann Goering, founded the Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei (DZR) which was run by the state and which took over the airship industry. From now on the rear part of every airship in Germany was “decorated” with a swastika which could be widely seen. From time to time there were propaganda trips, and the Germans were manipulated by military music and Nazi slogans.

Letter of Nazi official Hermann Goering to J. Braun who had won merits regarding airships. From an R&R auction.

Hitler and Dr Eckener (1933)

The seizure of power by the Nazi party also affected Dr Eckener. The word is that he was supposed to be arrested but that President Paul von Hindenburg (who died in 1934) prevented this act of violence. Dr Eckener met Hitler just one time in July 1933. They just talked for a little time.

The airships “Graf Zeppelin” and “Hindenburg” with swastikas and the Olympic flag (1936) during the Olympic Games in Berlin

In the following years Dr Eckener refused several attempts of the Nazi Minister for Propaganda, Dr Joseph Goebbels, to make him support Adolf Hitler in public. The “Old Man from Lake Constance” (Dr Eckener) had to accept that the airships were marked with those Nazi emblems which had meanwhile become the symbols of “Greater Germany”.

Despite all setbacks Dr Eckener initiated scheduled trips from Germany to North America with LZ 129 (“Hindenburg”).

In the following years Dr Eckener refused several attempts of the Nazi Minister for Propaganda, Dr Joseph Goebbels, to make him support Adolf Hitler in public. The “Old Man from Lake Constance” (Dr Eckener) had to accept that the airships were marked with those Nazi emblems which had meanwhile become the symbols of “Greater Germany”.

Despite all setbacks Dr Eckener initiated scheduled trips from Germany to North America with LZ 129 (“Hindenburg”).

On 6 May 1937 “Hindenburg” exploded shortly after her landing at Lakehurst/NY causing 36 casulaties. Dr Eckener was held responsible for this catastrophe.

TLS by Adolf Hitler summoning Dr Eckener before him to explain the reasons for the catastrophe at Lakehurst

In 1938 Eckener was instructed to buy helium, an expensive but inflammable gas in the USA. He failed owing to a veto of the US government.

1939

TLS by Dr Eckener to the Daimler Benz Company asking for reliable motors for airships (5 January 1939) – As he was dependent on the Daimler Company he signed the letter with “Heil Hitler” (“Hail Hitler”). This was the official formula in those dark days, but Dr Eckener preferred old formulas like “Sincerely yours”.

A few months later Eckener withdrew from the public and took over a mechanical engineering company.

The last airship of the old type was LZ 130 “Graf Zeppelin (II)”. It was almost like LZ 129 “Graf Zeppelin (I)”. It just took a few flights and was scrapped in March and April 1940 according to the orders of Hermann Goering.

Airship aviation came to its end when the factories at Friedrichshafen were blown up on 6 May 1940. In this sad way an era of German aviation history was finished, an era which had fascinated people all over the world throughout four decades.

Friedrichshafen and the Zeppelin sites were destroyed by air raids throughout WW II. Also the house of Dr Eckener was lost as well as important documents and personal diaries

Dr Eckener in front of a destroyed airship factory

Later it became clear that in the 1920s it had been Dr Eckener’s idea to convince both the US government and the German Reichsregierung (government) of the fact that it was better not to pay 3 million Deutschmarks to the USA as agreed on in the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 but to give a newly built airship. This meant that the destruction of the airship sites at Friedrichshafen was prevented. Furthermore it meant work and food for many workes in the Lake Constance area.

I read in a newspaper article that American entrepreneurs had calculated that the construction of airships at Friedrichshafen would have just cost half the price as constructing them in the United States. An early sample of globalization? Though there obviously were plans to build airships at Lake Constance nothing really happened…

In 1949 Dr Eckener wrote a letter to his godson in Switzerland. In this context I would like to explain why he had a godchild in another country.

During a trip through Switzerland a strong wind came up so that all motors of the airship had to run at full speed. In addition to this the altitude was just 600 ft. One can imagine that the noise was extreme. At a little place called Rothenburg near Luzern a woman was waiting for the delivery of her child within a few minutes. She and her husband had already gone to bed when they heard the noise of the airship. She was extremely frightened, and she delivered a healthy son. The father wrote a letter to the German airship company asking if the captain of the airship would like to become the boy’s godfather. Dr Eckener agreed at once, and the boy was given the second Christian name “Zeppelin”!

The above mentioned letter is very heart-rending. Dr Eckener thanked his godson in Switzerland who had sent him a parcel with many things which were not available in post-war Germany. Cf. a few quotations:

These are actually things we can hardly get here, and if you can get them you must pay immense sums on the black market. We cannot afford that. Especially chocolate has become a rare pleasure here in Germany. I wopuld like to thank you also on behalf of my wife who likes to drink coffee very much – if she can get some. (…) Perhaps everything will be normal soon so that you can come to Konstanz and see me. I cannot imagine what you look like. (…)

Autographed letter of Dr Hugo Eckener to his godson in Switzerland.


All autographs published are from the personal collection of Markus Brandes if not else mentioned.

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 11 September 2007 )
 
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