Air travel is 100 years old this month. Who do we have to thank for this? Count von Zeppelin, who couldn’t sell enough of his zeppelin airships to the military, so he decided to use them for passenger travel. It all started in 1909, and between that year and 1914, more than 34,000 passengers sailed the friendly skies aboard zeppelins, according to historian Ron Davies of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.
The zepplins were luxury crafts in the sky, floating along at a gentle speed and offering gourmet food like frog’s legs and champagne, and they flew only in good weather at low altitudes, much to the amazement of people down below. The ships had rigid sides, unlike today’s blimps, and were ten times as big as blimps.
Though most Americans of a certain age remember the Hindenberg disaster in Lakehurst NJ in 1939, before the count began taking passengers he had his own series of crashes and cash crunches, like today’s airlines. In those early days, the count was counting on using the zeppelins to promote the ships, and get more military orders. The top speed for the Schwaben, or Zeppelin LZ 10, was 44 miles an hour. There were no scheduled flights, weather restrictions and having to land on a tether made that impossible.
After the zeppelins, it wasn’t until 1914 that an airboat airplane was scheduled, and that was between Tampa and St. Petersburg Florida. The roundtrip cost $10.