The Graf Zeppelin Over Pittsburgh

The Graf Zeppelin Over Pittsburgh's Point on
October 29, 1933. The bridge at the lower part
of the photo is the Smithfield Street Bridge.
Germany's Graf Zeppelin Over Pittsburgh's Point on October 29, 1933. The bridge
at the lower part of the photo is the Smithfield Street Bridge.

On October 29, 1933, Germany's famous airship, the Graf Zeppelin, passed over the city of Pittsburgh. The zeppelin was returning to it's base in Germany after a highly publicized trip to the Chicago World's Fair. It was the only time that one of Germany's renowned zeppelins ever flew over the Golden Triangle, and a moment that would be remembered by anyone who witnessed the overflight.

The Graf Zeppelin (LZ-127) was a German-built, and operated, passenger-carrying, hydrogen-filled, rigid airship which operated commercially from 1928 to 1937. It was named after the German pioneer of airships, Ferdinand von Zeppelin, who was a Graf, or Count, in the German nobility. During it's nine-year operating life, the transcontinental airship made 590 flights covering more than a million miles.

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The passenger compartment, located underneath the superstructure of the Graf Zeppelin.

Around The World Flight - 1929

In 1929, the Graf Zeppelin, already known for it's transcontinental flights, became famous as the first airship to circumnavigate the globe. The Graf's "Round-the-World" flight in August 1929 officially began on August 8 at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey. The ship headed east over the Atlantic Ocean. On August 26, it reached Los Angeles on the west coast of the United States.

The return trip across the length of the continental United States was a 2,996-mile flight that took the Graf Zeppelin over thirteen states and such cities as El Paso, Kansas City, Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit. The airship arrived back at Lakehurst on August 29, three weeks after departing. The total flying time for the global trip 12 days, 12 hours and 13 minutes. Including layovers, the circumnavigation took 21 days, 5 hours and 31 minutes. The entire flight covered 20,651 miles.

Century Of Progress Flight - 1933

While returning to Germany from Brazil in October 1933, the Graf Zeppelin stopped in Miami, Florida. It then flew to Akron, Ohio, where it visited the Goodyear-Zeppelin Company's massive airdock before proceeding to the Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago. After circling over the fair and landing for a brief 25-minute visit, the airship returned to Akron. After a two-day stay, the Graf Zeppelin began it's return trip to Germany, with a scheduled overnight stop in Sevilla, Spain.

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Commemorative airmail from the Graf Zeppelin's Century of Progress Flight in 1933.

To commemorate the Century of Progress flight, the United States Post Office Department issued a special 50 cent airmail stamp. Many of these stamps were used to frank souvenir mails carried on the airship during its return flight to Germany. The visit was also to be the fifth and final one that the LZ-127 would make to the United States.

The Graf Zeppelin Over Pittsburgh

After leaving Akron, Ohio, the Graf Zeppelin followed the route of the Ohio River to Pittsburgh. On October 29, 1933, the airship passed low over Pittsburgh's Point. Office workers and pedestrians gazed skyward as the monstrous dirigible hovered over the city. To the curious onlookers, the airship was monstrous, measuring 776 feet in length. It was like a structure nearly as long as the height of the USX Tower floating over the city.

Pedestrians in downtown Pittsburgh gaze skywards
as Germany's famous airship Graf Zeppelin passes
over the city on October 29, 1933. Clearly visible
is the German Swastika on the airship's tail.
Pedestrians in downtown Pittsburgh gaze skywards as Germany's famous airship
Graf Zeppelin passes over the city on October 29, 1933.

After passing over the Point, the Graf Zeppelin veered slightly south to follow the line of the Monongahela River on its way to the east coast. Being an early tool of Nazi propoganda, viewers could clearly see the Swastika emblazoned on the dirigible's tail.

The End Of The Graf Zeppelin

The Graf Zeppelin's nine-year career ended in May 1937, shortly after the explosion of the Hindenburg shattered public faith in hydrogen-filled airships. The German government was unable to obtain non-flammable helium from America because it was deemed a vital war supply. Because of this, Germany temporarily grounded it's zeppelin fleet and ended transcontinental passenger service altogether.

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A commemorative $2.60 United States Postage Stamp printed
after the Graf Zeppelin's Europe-Pan American flight in 1930.

In April 1940, Luftwaffe Marshall Hermann Goring issued an order to scrap Germany's remaining zeppelins, since the duraluminum metal that made up the airship's frame was needed for other aircraft. Within a month, work crews had finished cutting up the airships, and on May 6, 1940, the enormous airship hangars in Frankfurt were leveled by explosives. This brought to an end the grand era of the famous German zeppelins.

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