Ferdinand’s German Road Trip – Part 3

In this series, Ferdinand Müller, a German-born naturalized U.S. citizen living in Philadelphia, has returned to Germany in 1912 for a trip. So far, he arrived in Hamburg and stopped to see the lovely view nearby in Blankenese. Now he heads to Offenbach, which will be his “home base” for much of his trip.

21 August 1912 ~ Offenbach, Germany

Front: Zeppelin "Schwaben"

Front: Zeppelin “Schwaben”

Back: Ferdinand is having a good time so far.

Back: Ferdinand is having a good time so far.

The postcard reads:

Offenbach 21.8.12. Liebe Freunde ich amusiere mich sehr Gut hier und werde nächste Woche nach München fahren und werde von dort Euch schreiben Ich hoffe es Geht Euch Alle Gut und Grüßt Euch beide recht Herzlich. Ferdinand


Offenbach 21.8.12. Dear friends, I am enjoying myself and will go to Munich next week and write to you from there. I hope you are all well. Greetings to you both. Ferdinand

This is a very interesting card! The caption on the front of it reads: Erster offizieller Postflug des Zeppelin-Luftschiffs “Schwaben” unter der “Reichs” Postflagge (Abwerfen der Post mittelst Fallschirm) which means “First official postal flight of the Zeppelin airship ‘Schwaben’ under the ‘Empire’ postal flag (dropping the mail by means of parachute)”.

The zeppelin, or airship, on the postcard, called the Schwaben, was built in 1911 for passenger service and is considered to be the first passenger-carrying airship that was commercially successful. It was 460 feet long, but the cabin only held 20 passengers and a crew of 13. It began passenger flights in July of 1911 and made 218 flights in the next year.

Advertisement in the  Darmstadt Tageblatt on Monday, June 10, 1912

Advertisement in the Darmstadt Tageblatt on Monday, June 10, 1912

But the Schwaben is significant for another reason that’s noted on the card – it was the zeppelin that first carried mail – in other words – the first air mail via zeppelin! Its maiden air mail flight was from June 10-23 in 1912 when the airship went between Darmstadt, Frankfurt, Mainz, Offenbach, and Worms. But the story gets even better – it wasn’t just air mail that the zeppelin carried during that trip – it was postcards.

The Hessen Royal Family created a home for mothers and children, and as a charity fund-raising event Postkartenwoche (Postcard Week) would have mail delivered by air from both the Schwaben and a propeller biplane called the Gelber Hund. The Schwaben carried the bulk of the mail and was piloted by the most famous airship captain at the time, Dr. Hugo Eckener. Funds were raised for the charity from the sale of special airmail postcards and stamps and admission to the parade grounds to watch the mail drops and pickups.

To put this in perspective, the distance between Frankfurt and Darmstadt is about 20 miles. It took the Schwaben about 13 minutes to make the trip.  Theoretically, that’s even quicker than a trip on the autobahn by car today, which according to Google should take about 34 minutes. Considering that the entire concept of flight began less than ten years before, this event in 1912 was huge by today’s standards. Crowds showed up to see the airship make the delivery, and there was a party atmosphere that included food, military bands, and an appearance by the Duke and Duchess. It was reported that 460,700 postcards were transported (between the airplane and zeppelin) and 35,000 marks was raised for the charity.

Shortly after Postcard Week, on June 28, 1912, the Schwaben was destroyed while landing. Strong winds and a buildup of static electricity caused a fire that destroyed the airship; over 30 people were injured in the accident.

Back to Ferdinand… On 21 August 1912, it was just weeks after the Schwaben came to its demise after over a year in the spotlight as a successful airship. While he didn’t have this postcard carried by the airship or mailed during the famous postcard week, I imagine it was one of the very last postcards of the airship still available for sale. Later on Ferdinand’s grand tour, airships will again be the subject of his greetings to friends in Philadelphia.


Part 3 of a 22-part series of Postcards from Ferdinand


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