History of Graf Zepplins

The Century of Progress Exposition was a very successful World’s Fair held on the shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago, Illinois. The fair was originally scheduled to run from May 27 to November 12, 1933 but was reopened from May 26 to October 31, 1934 due to its popularity. Nearly 50 million visitors attended the fair. The arrival of the German dirigible Graf Zeppelin was considered a highlight of the 1933 World’s Fair. Views showing some of the colorful art deco buildings featured at the fair are included in figure 1.

Named after the German pioneer of airships, Graf Ferdinand von Zeppelin, the Graf Zeppelin had a long and successful career. The LZ-127 was a large rigid airship or dirigible under the command of Dr. Hugo Eckener.

Figure 2 is a Roessler cachet used for the Chicago to Akron leg of this flight picturing Dr. Hugo Eckener. Philatelic (and some commercial) mail played a major role in financially supporting the Graf Zeppelin.






Figure 3 includes a post card of the Graf Zeppelin carried on the Akron to Friedrichshafen leg of the Century of Progress Flight. Mail from the United States was carried on the October 1928 Lakehurst, New Jersey to Friedrichshafen, Germany flight (referred to as the First Return) and again on the August, 1929 Round - the World Flight. A popular set of stamps were issued for use on the 1930 Europe - Pan America Flight (C13, C14, and C15). The first set of United States Graf Zeppelin stamps are shown in figure 4.

In honor of the 1933 Century of Progress World’s Fair, Eckener proposed a flight to Chicago if the United States would issue a special stamp. The 50 cent Century of Progress Flight stamp (C18) was issued and sold in New York (first day October 2), Akron (October 4), Washington, D.C. (October 5), Miami (October 6), and Chicago (October 7). First Day Cover collectors may be interested in obtaining covers that were not flown on the airship.

A Roessler New York FDC is shown in figure 5. Flown First Day Covers including an Ioor Friedrichshafen to Miami, a Linprint Akron to Chicago, and a Fairway Chicago to Friedrichshafen are shown in figures 6, 7, and 8 respectively. All Washington covers were not flown on the Graf Zeppelin.



United States mail intended to be dispatched from Friedrichshafen was to be postmarked in New York on October 2 or 4, but other dates including October 3 (about 50 known) and October 6 (very few known) exist. An October 6 cover is shown in figure 9. Mail was then sent to Germany by steamer for the October 14 start of the flight The airship flew to Brazil (Rio de Janeiro and Pernambuco) to Miami and on to Akron. On October 26 the Graf Zeppelin traveled to Chicago and flew around the fairgrounds and Lake Michigan for two hours before landing at the Curtis - Wright Airport. It returned to Akron and on October 28, 1933 the Graf Zeppelin returned to Europe (Sevilla, Spain and then on to Friedrichshafen). A map showing the route of the flight is featured on the Smith cachet (used for the Miami to Chicago leg) may be found in figure 10.

Special flight cachets were prepared to give evidence that the card or envelope was carried on the flight. Mail was accepted from each country where the Graf Zeppelin landed as well as from several treaty states. Mail with United States postage received both the German and U.S. flight cachets. The flown FDC shown in figure 6 includes both flight cachets. All mail was properly backstamped at the destination city so collectors can easily ascertain what leg their covers were carried. Most United States cards and covers are franked using the special 50 cent stamp (C18), but ordinary postage was also accepted. The entire Washington Bicentennial Set of 1932 was used to pay for postage on the Akron to Friedrichshafen cover shown in figure 11.

The following is a summary of the four dispatch cities where United States postage was used, the destinations, postmark dates other than the first day of that particular city, and the corresponding rates for cards or covers:

  • Dispatched from Friedrichshafen to Rio de Janeiro or Pernambuco (Oct.3,4,or 6) 50¢
  • Dispatched from Friedrichshafen to Miami (Oct. 3, 4, or 6) $1.00
  • Dispatched from Friedrichshafen to Akron or Chicago (Oct. 3,4, or 6) $1.50
  • Dispatched from Friedrichshafen to Sevilla or Friedrichshafen (Oct. 3,4, or 6) $2.00
  • Dispatch from Miami to Akron or Chicago (Oct. 23) 50¢
  • Dispatch from Miami to Sevilla or Friedrichshafen (Oct. 23) 50¢ or $1.00
  • Dispatched from Akron to Chicago or Akron (round trip) (Oct. 25) 50¢
  • Dispatched from Akron to Friedrichshafen or Sevilla (Oct. 28) 50¢
  • Dispatched from Chicago to Akron, Friedrichshafen, or Sevilla (Oct. 26) 50¢

For the collector of United States covers for this flight, there are eighteen different dispatch/destination combinations to be acquired. Figures 12, 13, and 14 show three of the eighteen combinations and feature an unknown cachet, a Grimsland cachet, and a Rice cachet respectively. Consider that First Day Covers were also carried on this flight and that ordinary postage could have been used for postage. There were about fifty different printed cachets made by dealers and collectors alike. Add all this together and you have a flight where many interesting covers can be found for your collection. Happy hunting!