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.