Graf Zeppelin Begins Round-The-World Journey From New Jersey 

U.S. #C13-15 – Airmail stamps issued for the 1930 flight.

On August 8, 1929, the Graf Zeppelin departed the airfield in Lakehurst, New Jersey, to return 21 days later.

The Graf Zeppelin dirigible was named after its designer – Count (“Graf” in German) Ferdinand von Zeppelin. An aluminum-framed, lighter-than-air craft, the Graf made its first dramatic trans-Atlantic voyage in 1928. That voyage saw three crewmembers dangling from the outside of the massive ship, trying to make crucial repairs during a raging storm in the mid-Atlantic! That first trip was riddled with danger, but it ended successfully and those that followed were smoother.

The first attempt to fly the zeppelin around the globe began on May 14, 1929. Engine troubles forced the Graf to land in France, after which it was returned to Germany. Mail that was carried aboard this initial flight received a note stating “Beförderung verzögert wegen Abbruchs der 1. Ameriksfaht.” (“Delivery delayed due to cancellation of the 1st America trip”).  This is sometimes called the “Interrupted America Flight.”

U.S. #C18 – Issued for the Century of Progress Exposition in 1933.

The zeppelin finally left Friedrichshafen on August 1 and arrived safely in Lakehurst on August 5. Though the flight had begun in Germany, newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst made a deal with the trip’s planner and pilot Dr. Hugo Eckener to claim Lakehurst as the trip’s starting point. Hearst had supplied much of the necessary funds to make the trip possible, and also got exclusive reporting rights.

So the trip from Lakehurst began on August 8, passing the Statue of Liberty, one of Hearst’s requirements. The crew of 40, plus 22 passengers and thousands of pieces of mail, reached Friedrichshafen on August 10. Among the passengers was correspondent Lady Grace Drummind-Hay, who became the first woman to circumnavigate the earth by air on that trip. From there it made stops in Japan and Los Angeles before returning to Lakehurst on August 29. The 21-day, 5 1/2-hour trip was the fastest up to that point.

Item #M6722 – 2006 facsimiles of 1930s German Zeppelin Airmail stamps.

Thousands of people around the world looked to the skies to watch the Graf fly over their homes. When it returned to Lakehurst, Dr. Eckener was honored with a ticker-tape parade and he was called the “Magellan of the Air.” He then returned to Friedrichshafen on September 4, after more than a month of piloting the zeppelin around the world.

The popularity of this trip created “Zeppelin Mania” and inspired several later flights. The following year, the Graf Zeppelin made another trip across the Atlantic, and the U.S. issued three stamps to frank mail on that flight.

Item #MA259 – #C14 on 1930 flown cover that travelled from Lakehurst to Germany.

Graf Zeppelin Airmail Stamps

The Graf Zeppelin quickly became an international sensation. The 1920s had seen several amazing advances in technology, and Charles Lindbergh’s incredible 1927 non-stop flight from New York City to Paris had captured the world’s attention.

Still, many Americans had never seen an airplane flying. It was hard for them to imagine a 776-foot German airship flying overhead at 80 miles per hour! So the announcement that this technological wonder was traveling to the U.S. in 1930 on a round-trip voyage between Europe and North and South America generated a lot of excitement – welcome news in the midst of the Great Depression.

Item #MA1516 – #C18 on 1933 flown cover.

To mark the occasion – and help fund the trip – the United States issued three airmail stamps. It was the only official flight for which the Zeppelin airmail stamps were issued. The “Zeps” documented for all time the importance of the giant aircraft in the development of world airmail service. They were also issued in limited quantities – fewer than 94,000 of each denomination, and the unsold stamps were later destroyed.

Americans scrambled to buy the stamps and send mail aboard this historic flight. The stamps were placed on sale April 19, 1930. To send a letter aboard the Graf Zeppelin’s round trip, one had to buy the stamps, affix them to the postcard or letter, and place it in the mail in New York City or Lakehurst, New Jersey, to be canceled. The mail was then sent by steamer to Germany and placed aboard the airship for its three-day journey to Brazil. The Graf Zeppelin then flew to New Jersey, where more mail and passengers joined for the final leg of the trip to the airship’s home base, Friedrichshafen. Mail could also be sent on portions of the journey.

Item #M8415 – Neat assortment of 100 worldwide stamps featuring Zeppelins and balloons.

The Graf Zeppelin’s history included many records, chief among them: it was the only airship to fly around the world. Its safety record was also impressive – not a single passenger or crewmember was harmed on the daring Graf Zeppelin flights. The stamps and covers carried aboard the Graf Zeppelin have fascinated collectors from that time on – and they always will.

Click here to see video of the Zeppelin’s final leg of its round-the-world flight.

Click here to see last year’s discussion about This Day in History.

Did you like this article? Click here to rate:
Share this Article


  1. The Graf Zeppelin was almost as long as two and one-half football fields. It had to be a fascinating site to see an air craft that huge. What a fabulous round-the-world trip.

  2. It take a real collector to afford these three puppies. As a young boy, I was always in awe to see a “blimp” cruising above. The tragedy at Lakehurst is vivid as it was replayed on the newsreels for years after and now this is a program on TV featuring the incident.

  3. Graf Zeps are the most expensive and rare air mail stamps and MY FAVORITES. I finally acquired the 65 cent stamp and it was cancelled “Lakehurst NJ.” But all of the Zep covers are hard to get too. I have 3 of them all from Germany. Such beautiful and graceful machines. If they had been supported by Helium as US airships were they might have been more prevalent but they were fragile and became unnecessary as gasoline later jet fuel planes became larger and more durable. Still pretty to see though just floating through the sky.

  4. My grandfather was a stamp and cover collector from the early 1900’s until his passing in the 1950’s. Knowing my interest in the same, my mother passed a stock book of his to me. To my surprise, the first thing I ran across was a mint block of fout C18 1933 50 cent Century of Progress issue Zeppelin stamps. It couldn’t have been passed to anyone that could appreciate it more than I. Thank you, Grandad!

  5. What a wonderful, romantic era. There’s a grainy black and white photo of one of our airships, not sure which one, passing over downtown Houston, which hangs in our local burger joint. I love studying it. How thrilling it must have been to see one pass overhead, and slowly enough to really savor the sight.
    Greg Cain/Houston

  6. I am also a Graf collector. While I do not have the expensive ones, I have amassed over 200 Graf’s from around the world. Really great colors and fantastic detail. Fun…

  7. August 9, 2023

    The other short article indicated “… to return 12 days later”. Which is which, 21 days or 12 days later?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *