Deutsche Luftschiffahrts, A.G.: First airline with fare-paying passengers

The Deutsche Luftschiffahrts, A.G. (German for “German Airship Travel Corporation”) was the first airline with fare-paying passengers. It was founded on 16th November 1909 and operated airships including the famed LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin and the ill-fated LZ 129 Hindenburg which was destroyed at Lakehurst, New Jersey.

Ferdinand Von Zeppelin airships
Airship pioneer Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin | Source: Current History of the War v.II (April 1915 – September 1915). New York: New York Times Company

The DELAG was founded as the airline side of the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH (German for “building of airships”) founded by Ferdinand von Zeppelin. Zeppelin was first introduced to lighter-than-air flight when he witnessed the deployment of observation balloons in the American Civil War as a military observer. He began to experiment with dirigibles from 1885 and constructed the LZ-1 which made its maiden flight on 2nd of July 1900. Both the LZ-1 and the following LZ-2 rigid airships were damaged beyond repair in their first few flights. Zeppelin invested heavily in building airships from his own pocket and his friend King Wilhelm of Württemburg organized a public lottery to provide funds for the project. The subsequent LZ-3 became a great success that captured the German public’s interest. It was first flown on 9 October 1906, in a flight lasting 2 hours 17 minutes and carrying eleven people. The German government, although impressed by the aircraft, wanted Zepplin to complete a 24-hour flight to prove the capabilities of the airship before ordering it for military purposes. Midway through the 24-hour proving flight, the purpose-built LZ-4 was ripped apart in a storm and exploded. Sympathetic members of the public responded. Funding poured in from public donations amounting to 6 million marks in what came to be known as the “Miracle of Echterdingen”. This enabled the company to continue and build the LZ-5 for the Imperial German Army.

The airship in the video is probably the LZ-3.

But the Imperial German Army was not keen on further orders. Sensing a commercial opportunity in air transport, Luftschiffbau executive Alfred Colsman created DELAG. He was the son-in-law of Carl Berg who supplied aluminum for Luftchiffbau airships. From 1912 onwards, the management of the new company was in the hands of Dr. Hugo Eckener who was a close associate of Zepplin and tireless advocate for passenger airships. Over the winter of 1909 to 1910, the company organization and several flights were planned. In 19th Jun 1910, the LZ-7 carrying the name Deutschland (Germany) was delivered to DELAG. One week later on 28th June 1910, the first flight took place. The planned route was over the Ruhrgebiet but problems in the port side engine forced a crash landing. After repairs were done, the airship departed to Düsseldorf but once again crashed in the Teurtoburger forest, this time beyond repair. The available LZ-6 was pressed into service while the replacement airship LZ-8 Deutschland II was being constructed. The LZ-6 made mainly day-trips from Baden-Oos to Mannheim and Stuttgart. It made 34 flights and carried 726 passengers. For 200 marks, one could experience the sensation of flight along with food and beverages for two hours. In 1911, a steward was introduced in the LZ-10 Schwaben to ensure the comfort and well-being of passengers.

LZ6 Zeppelin
Crowds surrounding an LZ-6 | Source: SDASM Archives

The company grew tremendously with the introduction of the LZ-10 Schwaben, LZ-11 Viktoria Luise, LZ-13 Hansa, LZ-17 Sachen. By 1913, DELAG had created a network of destinations within Germany encompassing Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Baden-Oos, Berlin-Johannisthal, Gotha, Hamburg, Dresden and Leipzig. By July 1914 which was one month before the Great War, DELAG zeppelins had carried 37,250 passengers on 1,600 flights, without a single injury.  These flights totalled up to 150,000 km. The greater part of the passengers were given free flights to publicize the zeppelin industry (especially members of German royalty, military officers, aristocrats, government officials, and business leaders), but DELAG also carried 10,197 paying passengers before having to cease operations with the beginning of the war.

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DELAG

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luftschiffbau_Zeppelin

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferdinand_von_Zeppelin

http://self.gutenberg.org/articles/deutsche_luftschiffahrts-ag

http://www.europeanairlines.no/the-zeppelin-companies-in-germany/

http://www.airships.net/delag-passenger-zeppelins/

http://self.gutenberg.org/articles/deutsche_luftschiffahrts-ag#cite_note-2

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