Germany and the Airship, 1900–1939
"Whenever the airship flew over a village, or whenever she flew over a lonely field on which some peasants were working, a tremendous shout of joy rose up in the air towards Count Zeppelin's miracle ship which, in the imagination of all who saw her, suggested some supernatural creature." As this paean to the Zeppelin from an early-20th-century issue of the German newspaper Thüringer Zeitung makes clear, the airship inspired a unique sense of awe. These phenomenal rigid, lighter-than-air craft—the invention of Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin (1838-1917)—approached the size of a small village. Although they moved slowly, there was no mistaking their exciting—or ominous—potential. Friends of the machine believed that it would revolutionize commerce, carry scientists to otherwise inaccessible places, and deliver bombs with great accuracy. Before the airplane proved its reliability and superior practicality—and before the fiery crash of the Hindenburg in 1937—Zeppelins made a deep impression on the minds of Europeans, especially in Germany.
In Zeppelin! Guillaume de Syon offers a captivating history of this technological wonder, from development and production to its impact on German culture and society. De Syon chronicles the various ways in which the airships were used—transport, war, exploration, and propaganda—and details the attempts by successive German governments—autocratic, democratic, fascist— to co-opt Count Zeppelin's invention. Between 1900 and 1939, Germans saw the Zeppelin as a symbol of national progress, and de Syon uses the airship to better understand the dynamics of German society and the place of technology within it. Though few people actually flew in any of the 119 Zeppelins built, the rigid airship made one of the strongest impressions of any flying machine on Europe's collective memory. Six decades later, there is still a mystique surrounding these technological leviathans, one that Zeppelin! addresses with insight and wit.
About the Author
Guillaume de Syon is an associate professor of history at Albright College and a history research associate at Franklin and Marshall College.
"A fascinating case study of the intersection of technology and culture [which] concentrates on the question of why the Zeppelin exercised such a powerful influence on the popular imagination. De Syon uses interesting contemporary photographs and cartoons to support his argument."
"In this comprehensive work, Guillaume de Syon manages to express in clear and concise terms the importance of the zeppelin to Germany and the rest of the Western world... Zeppelin! fills the gap in the history of powered lighter-than-air flight, as well as in the history of early flight's effects on culture."
"De Syon presents an engaging book that examines the meaning of the Zeppelin for the German collective mentality. He explains why, for a certain time, the airship seemed to embody an almost ideal combination of German 'culture' and technological modernism. De Syon analyzes the emergence and modification of the Zeppelin's 'popular imagination.' Theoretically his book is based on scholarly work on symbolic roles of technology, while empirically it draws upon a huge quantity of sources that in this respect have not been previously examined... The author establishes very clearly that the Zeppelin was most effective on the symbolic and psychological level, whereas its practical potential was more limited... De Syon's sound considerations inspire further discussions."
"Zeppelin! imparts the feeling of a youthful enthusiastic author, who must have begun his research, if not obsession, while still young. De Syon has produced a charming, factually complete history of the machine and the 'Zeppelin sublime.'."
"In Zeppelin! Guillaume de Syon offers a captivating history of this technological wonder, from development and production to its impact on German culture and society."
"This book departs from the usual emphasis in such works on the technical side of rigid airships and their uses in peace and war. Instead, the author emphasizes the impact of Count Zeppelin's invention on mass psychology, one so great that his very name became a synonym for the rigid dirigible... De Syon demolishes the myth that Count Zeppelin regretted the use of the airship as a weapon of war and shows that to his death in 1917 he was embraced by the government and most Germans as a heroic warrior."
"A most readable history covering not only the technical development and production of the 119 Zeppelins built, but how they were used in War and Peace."
"De Syon has given us a fascinating study of technology's role in developing German nationalism and popular culture."
"Zeppelin! is an authoritative history of the German airship both as a sublime technology and a symbolic touchstone. It adds much to our understanding of technology's role in shaping Germans' visions of themselves and their nation."
"German nationalism has become a distasteful subject because of the Nazi period, but de Syon's most intriguing and original contribution here is to show how varied 'Germandom' could be over time... Very stimulating symbolic analysis in de Syon's well-written book. There is something here for popular enthusiasts of the history of flight as well as material that will stimulate further research."
"Of value for anyone interested in aviation, the Great War, and the inter-war period."
"A well-written and stimulating study of the Zeppelin in German culture and a valuable contribution to the social history of technology."
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