“Lighter-than-air” refers to balloons and airships, which use helium, hydrogen, or hot air for lift rather than engine power. After the first balloon flight by the Montgolfier brothers in France in 1783, the desire to control the direction of the balloon led to many novel designs. These "airships" finally flew under controlled flight in Europe and the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Airship designs include rigid (zeppelin-type), semi-rigid (Italian polar airships), and non-rigid (blimps) fuselages. The first flight of a "zeppelin" occurred July 2, 1900, in Germany in an airship with lightweight metal framework covered by fabric that held individual gas cells. Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin designed this marvel. Europeans and Americans soon replicated von Zeppelin’s design.
By the 1920-30s, zeppelins flew mail to the arctic, around the world, and on regular transoceanic service. They provided vital links before airplane service was available. Between 1928 and 1937, the Graf Zeppelin carried mail from almost every country in the world on its many flights. The Hindenburg disaster at Lakehurst, New Jersey, on May 6, 1937, dramatically ended the golden era of airships and airship posts. Today NT (New Technology) zeppelins and blimps fly advertising, carry tourist passengers, serve for aerial scientific research, and provide camera platforms for television.