zeppelin

This word for a dirigible airship comes, of course, from the name of Ferdinand von Zeppelin, who designed such airships. Ironically, the word appears in English before it does in German. On 14 February 1896 the Washington Post referred to Zeppelin’s design for such a craft as a Zeppelin air ship, but the German Luftschiff Zeppelin doesn’t appear until 1904. By 1908 and the publication of H. G. Wells’s The War in the Air, the stand-alone noun zeppelin was being used.

Ferdinand Zeppelin had first formulated his idea for an airship in 1874, but didn’t patent the invention until 1895. Zeppelins were first flown commercially in 1910.

The most famous zeppelin was, of course, the Hindenburg, which exploded and crashed spectacularly at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey on 6 May 1937 after a transatlantic crossing. Thirty-six people died, thirteen passengers, twenty-two crew, and one member of the ground crew. While the Hindenburg crash is the most famous of airship disasters, it was not the deadliest. It was preceded by the crashes of the British R38 airship in 1921 (44 dead), the French Dixmude in 1923 (52 dead), the British R101 in 1930 (48 dead), and the USS Akron in 1933 (73 dead).

Cf. airship, blimp, dirigible


Sources:

Oxford English Dictionary, third edition, June 2014, s. v. Zeppelin, n.

Image: US Navy

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