When it comes to retrofuturism, few motifs lie closer to our hearts than the 1920s-style airship. These majestic “whales of the sky,” once considered a standard feature of future skylines, had an unfortunate tendency to burst into flames or get caught in thunderstorms. Only in the imaginations of science fiction enthusiasts do they continue flourishing.
Their demise is regrettable, considering our enthusiasm for their development in the 1920s. After serving the German army in World War I, zeppelins garnered popular appeal when Hugo Eckener re-established them as vessels of peaceful air travel rather than as weapons of warfare. Although Germany continued dominating the industry, American and British manufacturers produced airships that — for better or for worse — changed the course of aviation.
The decade began with a breakthrough: skyscraper mooring masts. Previously, airships were forced to make risky ground landings, which required hundreds of crewmen and an expensive hangar shed to coordinate. A mooring tower would reduce that process significantly, since airships could simply latch on to them while passengers disembarked. Someday, fleets of dirigibles would hover over American skyscrapers equipped with spires and towering terminals.
Dirigibles were poised for ubiquity. They would replace ocean liners as the luxury Transatlantic vessel of choice. They would plant pagoda-style apartments in up-and-coming neighborhoods. They would fight wars alongside battleships, and in the future would come equipped with landing fields for small aircraft.
But alas, the fires, the thunderstorms, and even ground winds injured the reputation of zeppelins beyond repair. Despite their spaciousness and serenity, dirigibles were too much of a liability for investors. At least they’ll fly freely in our archives.
Click through our gallery to see more fantastic images from the golden age of zeppelins.
How We’ll Fly to London: May 1919
America’s Airship: January 1923
A Way Station: Apri 1923
Floating Hangar: August 1923
Aerial War-Ship: October 1923
When Disaster Strikes: November 1925
Zeppelin Hotels: June 1928
New Rulers of the Air: October 1928
Moving Homes by Airship: September 1929
Dirigible Plane: July 1931
A Safer Way to Dock Airships: April 1932
World’s Biggest Airship: February 1931