Dr. Eckener's Dream Machine: The Great Zeppelin and the Dawn of Air Travel


A richly detailed history of the opulent age of the zeppelin and the visionary builder behind the great airship, Dr. Hugo Eckener

It wasn't the airplane that first romanced the public's imagination at the dawn of the twentieth century , but the great airships known as dirigibles, or zeppelins. Championing this great leap into the technological future was a visionary German entrepreneur, Doctor Hugo Eckener.

For Eckener, the development of the ...

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A richly detailed history of the opulent age of the zeppelin and the visionary builder behind the great airship, Dr. Hugo Eckener

It wasn't the airplane that first romanced the public's imagination at the dawn of the twentieth century , but the great airships known as dirigibles, or zeppelins. Championing this great leap into the technological future was a visionary German entrepreneur, Doctor Hugo Eckener.

For Eckener, the development of the airship, especially coming in the aftermath of the First World War, represented an opportunity to shrink the world through safe and speedy international travel. Botting's engrossing story vividly recaptures the spirit of the times, when new technologies in communication, transportation, manufacturing and other areas were revolutionizing society. The great airships were a source of wonder wherever they flew, and Eckener was likened to Christopher Columbus, hailed around the world as the great explorer of his day, not unlike the astronauts would be a few generations later.

From its utitlitarian beginnings in the Great War, the airship reached its apotheosis with the round-the-world flight of the Graf Zeppelin in 1929. Seventeen years after the voyage of the Titanic, this great airship- twice as big and three times as fast as that ill-fated liner-captured the world's attention and seemed to blaze a path to the future. That future, of course, was not to be, as Eckener's dream evaporated soon after, with the destruction of the Hindenburg and the impending success of the airplane.

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Editorial Reviews

It's a truly exciting book, filled with colorful characters and plenty of derring-do . . .
Chicago Tribune
A remarkable achievement. More than merely an account of the rigid airship's history . . .
New Yorker
Next month marks the sixty-fifth anniversary of the Hindenburg disaster, in which the mammoth airship -- to some a hopeful symbol of world unity, to others a harbinger of Third Reich aspirations -- met its fiery demise over Lakehurst, New Jersey. Although the destruction of the Hindenburg spelled the end of the great zeppelins, a new wave of airships may be upon us. (The CargoLifter, a giant German airship, is currently being readied for flight.) A recent spate of books re-create the era when zeppelins were the finest way to fly.

As Douglas Botting points out in Dr. Eckener's Dream Machine (Holt), it was the Graf Zeppelin that (at nine thousand dollars a ticket) was the first airship to circumnavigate the globe, in 1929, before airplanes were capable of covering long routes in a short time. The zeppelin also inspired poetry: Dr. Hugo Eckener, the psychologist who perfected and popularized Count Zeppelin's invention, called it "a fabulous silver fish, floating quietly in the ocean of air." Despite occasional developmental turbulence (the doomed LZ-5, for instance, rammed into a pear tree), the zeppelin soon became an expression of German identity, as the historian Guillaume de Syon argues in Zeppelin!: Germany and The Airship, 1900-1939 (Johns Hopkins). De Syon describes how Eckener's "flying cigar" became a national obsession, even lending its phallic profile to sell laundry detergent.

Henning Boëtius's father was at the elevator wheel of the Hindenburg when it went down, on May 6, 1937. In his novel The Phoenix (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday), translated from the German by John Cullen, Boëtius offers an elegiac view of the ill-fated airship. As the mighty zeppelin succumbs to flames, Boëtius imagines his dazed father thinking, "Two little words . . . Too bad." (Mark Rozzo)

Publishers Weekly
"Oh, the humanity and all the passengers... a mass of flaming wreckage." These words from radio reporter Herbert Morrison witnessing the destruction of the Hindenberg in 1937 are familiar to many. However, in the two decades before this disaster, the zeppelin had a string of successful voyages around the world and was a popular mode of transportation, particularly among the affluent. English journalist Botting (Gerald Durrell: The Authorized Biography) vividly tells the story of the development of the zeppelin and the work of its inventor, Dr. Hugo Eckener. Eckener, an entrepreneur, believed that this type of aircraft would eventually be an accepted mode of transportation around the world. He faced skepticism from both government and private industry as he traveled from his native Germany overseas on the zeppelin to raise money and support. The difficulty of getting enough fuel for long voyages was a daunting obstacle, but Eckener's zeppelin dreams ended with the Hindenberg explosion. Botting's thorough research and plausibly recreated conversations of those involved allow readers to easily step back into Eckener's world and understand the difficulties he encountered. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An ardent, readable history, by British travel writer and biographer Botting (Gerald Durrell, 1999, etc.), traces the rise and fall (or self-immolation) of Zeppelin travel. For nearly 40 years, the Zeppelin vied with the airplane for a niche in the air travel market. The brainchild of the eccentric German Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, the lighter-than-air vehicles were originally intended as military machines-a use shot down by British airplanes in WWI. After Zeppelin's death in 1917, management of the project fell to his top assistant, Dr. Hugo Eckener, an experienced and prudent pilot of both the vehicles and the enterprise. The war had proven airplanes faster and more powerful than Zeppelins, but they remained uncomfortable and unable to fly long distances. By contrast, Zeppelins could fly thousands of miles without stopping for fuel, and did so with unmatchable ease and grace. Both advantages made them natural vehicles for transcontinental passenger flights, and it was Eckener's dream to establish such a service. After struggling to raise funds and develop a clientele, he sought to prove the Zeppelin's capabilities through a first-class, around-the-world voyage in the largest, most-powerful airship ever built-the Graf Zeppelin. This voyage, the apex of Zeppelin flight, is the focus of Botting's narrative, which describes the ship as "almost as long as the Titanic, twice as beautiful, and three times as fast"-suggesting that the flight of the Graf Zeppelin is as much Botting's dream voyage as it was Eckener's. Reconstructing the flight from passenger accounts, he marvels at what it must have been like to glide along so close to the earth's surface. The 1928 trip established theZeppelin as the supreme transcontinental air carrier, a position first challenged by worldwide depression and the rise of the Nazis in Germany, then literally exploded in flames with the Hindenburg disaster in 1937. An engaging history, especially appropriate for travel enthusiasts.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805064582
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/10/2001
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.28 (w) x 9.64 (h) x 1.27 (d)

Meet the Author

Douglas Botting is a writer, journalist, and biographer whose interests include travel, exploration, wild places and conservation matters. His previous works include Gerald Durrell: The Authorized Biography, The Saga of Ring of Bright Water: The Enigma of Gavin Maxwell, as well as several travel guides. He lives near London.

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