300,000 to 450,000 Cows Per Zeppelin, approximately

Some say that the German Army General (retired), Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin, was a man “who made the improbable probable.” For an example of this viewpoint, see the website of Zeppelin University (based on the shores of Lake Constance, Germany)

Ferdinand_von_ZeppelinGraf Zeppelin was a manager at the end of the 19th century the likes of whom cannot be described in textbooks and who, for exactly this reason, can function as a role model for a university: committed to innovation, operated internationally and rooted in the Lake Constance area, visionary and strong-minded. In short: Someone who made the improbable probable because that is what he wanted. The worldwide fascination with airships is ultimately a fascination with willpower.“ [our emphasis]

One of the improbable developments that the role-model achieved was to oversee the design and implementation giant airships based around huge gasbags made from cows’ intestines (a.k.a. Goldbeater’s skins), which were filled with über-flammable hydrogen. The production of these ships became so important to the German government of the day (which used them to shower London with inextinguishable thermite-based incendiary bombs) that the manufacture of sausages (also made from intestines) was temporarily banned.

The subject has recently received attention due to the UK-based Channel 4 TV production ‘Attack of the Zeppelins’

“This new kind of terror campaign rewrote the rules of war. For the first time in history, innocent civilians were bombed in their homes in a ruthless attempt to break a nation’s morale.”

Although the TV programme generated intense media activity (often focusing on the salami ban) [example], very few of the news-stories linked to the original document from which sausage data came. But Improbable has tracked down a copy – a translated version of the journal  L’Aéronautique, (1922) chapter : ‘Balloon Fabrics made from Goldbeater’s Skins’ by Capt. L Chollet, of the S.T.Ae.

“Goldbeater’s skin from oxen and cows did not enter alone into the composition of the fabrics made by the Germans during the war. One animal furnishes only one such skin and 15 of them were required to prepare one square meter of the fabric. Twenty four Zeppelins, each with a ballonet surface of 20,000 to 30,000 sq. m., were put into service in 1917.”

Note: That’s somewhere around about 300,000 – 450,000 Cows Per Zeppelin (c.p.z.), considerably more than was suggested by many of the media articles. The journal chapter can be downloaded and read in full.

BONUS UPDATE: “New Hampshire could only build 1/6th of a WWI Zeppelin – we don’t have enough cows