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Dirigibles: Topics in Chronicling America

In the mid 19th century, Dirigibles were created for recreation. Years later, they were used in World War I. This guide provides access to material related to "Dirigibles" in the Chronicling America digital collection of historic newspapers.


"Benbow and the Propelling Aparatus of his Airship (Left)" and "Baldwin's Airship in Flight" (Right). November 24, 1904. The Topeka State Journal (Topeka, KS), Image 7. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

The prospect of flight opened a new frontier of industry, travel, and warfare. At the forefront of the race to the skies were lighter-than-air dirigibles lifted by buoyancy and driven by propellers. Read more about it!

The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.

The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.


1852 Henri Giffard successfully flies a steam powered aerostat, reaching an altitude of 5,400 feet and a speed of 5 mph.
December 3, 1898 Congress grants Samuel Langley $25,000 to research and develop an airship for the military, demonstrating a faith in heavier-than-air crafts over dirigibles.
October 19,1901 Alberto Santos-Dumont navigates his dirigible around the Eiffel Tower, winning the 100,000 franc Deutsch Prize.
1902 An aerial contest at the upcoming St. Louis World’s Fair is announced with $200,000 in prize money.
November 1, 1904 Roy Knabenshue successfully flies the “California Arrow,” built by Tom Baldwin, for 37 minutes at the St. Louis World’s Fair.
August 5, 1908 Count Zeppelin’s airship is lifted by a storm while resting unmoored and explodes as it crashes back to earth. Zeppelin would soon thereafter receive $125,000 from the German government to build another airship.
August 11, 1908 General James Allen announces that the US Army will purchase a dirigible from Tom Baldwin.
1914-1918 Germany uses Zeppelins to bomb foreign cities including Antwerp, Paris, and London.
October 23, 1917 Germans lose five Zeppelins in a bombing raid against Britain.
1919 The cost of producing helium drops from $1,700 to ten cents per cubic foot, making it a viable alternative to highly flammable hydrogen gas used in Zeppelins and other dirigibles.
1919 US Navy announces plans to build a dirigible plant near Cape May, NJ.
July 1919 The British R-34 makes a roundtrip from Britain to Mineola, Long Island, NY. The R-34 becomes the first dirigible to cross the Atlantic.