On Tuesday 19th April, Banbury Stamp Society welcomed Brian Hyner who presented the postal history of the Zeppelin from 1900-1939.
Most stamp collectors are aware that the Zeppelins carried mail as there are plenty of philatelic covers. Brian’s display put these into the context of the development of the Zeppelin and in particular, the pursuit of contract for the transportation of mail. The Zeppelin company was started by the Bavarian, Count Graf Zeppelin. He went to the United States during the civil war to find out about the use of balloons for military purposes, ending up fighting for the Unionists. On his return he developed the idea for the airship and built the LZ-1. The military rejected his idea, preferring to keep their fighting on the ground. Undeterred, the Count moved to Friedrichshafen and reached LZ-10 by 1910. Development continued through the war, during which the Zeppelin was developed for combat including the bombing of English cities. Post-war, the Zeppelins were taken by the victors as reparation. The Count died during the war and the business was rebuilt by Hugo Eckner, leading to the Graf Zeppelin being built in 1928. This flew to the USA with some mail approved by the German PO, but no contract. Graf Zeppelin flew around Europe and the Mediterranean carrying passengers and small amounts of mail, building confidence in the Zeppelin. Eventually a US newspaper was persuaded to sponsor a round the world trip in 1929 which generated mail carrying a wide range of stamps, cachets and rates, but still no PO contract. A triangular route – Germany, South America, USA – followed. The USA printed 8 million stamps for this venture, but only 1.5 million sold and the rest were recalled and burnt. In 1931, the Graf Zeppelin flew to the North Pole where it exchanged mail with a Russian icebreaker. Finally, the German PO offered a contract for mail if Eckner could complete three flights to South America. This was successful and was followed by a nine flight contract and then a long term one. Once this was in place, a number of countries signed up to the postal treaty in order to be able to send mail on the Graf Zeppelin.
The Hindenburg was originally built in 1936 as a Helium balloon but the USA were unwilling to supply the gas to Germany at that time, and so it reverted to Hydrogen. Hindenburg flew predominantly on to North America, where it 1937 it caught fire and crashed. Brian showed an example of charred mail from this event, admitting that it did not have a certificate of authenticity. After the Hindenburg disaster, Hitler limited Zeppelin flights to Germany only and the intercontinental flights came to an end.
The next meeting will be on Tuesday May 3rd at 7:30pm at Hanwell Fields Community Centre. Malcolm Batty will present ‘Batty about Sweden’. The Banbury Stamp Society is on-line at ‘www.banburystampsociety.co.uk’, or contact John Davies on 01295 255831.