At the turn of the 20th century planes were still in their infancy, but people still wanted to get off the ground and go somewhere while doing it. That’s when everybody got into blimps, and their rigid cousins, airships. And goddamn were they pretty.

This story originally ran on May 10, 2013 and is being featured again for the Jalopnik Christmas Evergreen Bonanza.

The photo above, part of a collection from the US government and other public sources, is actually from 1912, and is a small blimp that was built by a Professor Anthony to demonstrate the feasibility of remote-controlled aircraft. And you thought drones were new.

The Zeppelin Airship, approaching its hangar in 1908 in Bodensee, Germany.


The 680-foot USS Shenandoah under construction in 1922 in New Jersey. As these lighter-than-air vehicles were more akin to boats than planes in their handling, the US Navy was one of the pioneers of airships and airship construction. The Shenandoah also used helium, instead of hydrogen, as a safety feature.

The Graf Zeppelin under construction.


The Graf Zeppelin actually ended up visiting Washington, DC, in October 1928, before the US and Germany ended up as enemies just a few short years later. Here it is pictured over the Capitol.

That’s not to say the Germans had a monopoly on enormous airships ominously hovering over America’s capital. Pictured above is the Los Angeles floating over the President Hoover’s inauguration in 1929.


Giant, graceful airships got around, as shown by the USS Macon, drifting over southern Manhattan. The Macon was even experimented on as a flying aircraft carrier, carrying four parasite fighters inside.


The Graf Zeppelin went even further, though, appearing here over the Tower of David in the Old City of Jerusalem.

This wreckage was all that was left of the USS Shenandoah after it basically crumpled in high winds. Which is really why airships never really caught on. Even though they had a variety of uses, at the end of the day they were slow, fragile, and incredibly unwieldy.


Until they come back, that is.