UP, UP, AND AWAY: AIRSHIPS ON EXHIBIT AND ONLINE FROM THE WOLFSONIAN LIBRARY COLLECTION
Presently on display in the foyer of the Wolfsonian-FIU Library since June 5th is an exhibit of airship-related ephemera selected by Associate Librarian Nicolae Harsanyi, and now available online thanks to the efforts of our Digital Resources Photographer, David Almeida. The library possesses a very impressive collection of rare printed materials on the subject of travel and transportation in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including works relating to travel by train, plane, automobile, and ocean liners.
In curating his exhibit, Dr. Harsanyi elected to focus on materials dealing with zeppelins and other lighter-than-air ships that captured the popular imagination in the early 1920s and 1930s. The genius behind Germany’s airships was Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin (1838-1917).
In 1863, von Zeppelin took leave from the German army and traveled to North America to observe the Union army’s prosecution of the war against the Southern secessionists. The following year, Graf von Zeppelin met up with Thaddeus S. C. Lowe (1832-1913), America’s foremost balloon advocate. Lowe had been making plans to cross the Atlantic in a balloon before the war, but was serving as Chief Aeronaut for the Union Army during Zeppelin’s visit. Graf von Zeppelin made his first ascent by balloon in St. Paul, Minnesota, and was doubtlessly inspired and influenced by the hydrogen-filled balloons he encountered at this time. Back in Germany, Zeppelin began to innovate and formulate ideas for larger dirigibles in the 1870s that would hold numerous individual bags of hydrogen gas within a rigid aluminum frame.
Thus were born the zeppelins that dominated long-distance air travel in the 1930s—that is until the Hindenburg disaster of 1937 ended the reign of the lighter-than-air giants.
The Wolfsonian museum holds a significant number of objects related to balloon and zeppelin flight, including posters, model ships, commemorative scarfs and porcelain plates.
The Wolfsonian library also possesses a wide range of printed materials about zeppelins and other aircraft in a variety of formats, including vintage postcards, advertisements, rare books, photographic portfolios, stereographs, labels, and even a couple of instructional mechanical works of balloons and zeppelins.
So whether you are here in town and able to visit the exhibit, or are oceans away but have access to the web, we hope that you will enjoy the entertaining and uplifting displays that Dr. Harsanyi and David Almeida have put together.