U.S. stamps have honored several kinds of lighter-than-air craft. Balloon stamp subjects include today’s colorful civilian hot-air balloons as well as famous balloons of the American past, both military and civilian.
Other U.S. stamps have honored historic American balloons. The balloon Jupiter carried the first official U.S. airmail during its flight on August 17, 1859. The Union Army balloon Intrepid was one of several balloons used during the Civil War as observation posts. In 1935, the U.S. Army’s Explorer II balloon set an altitude record that was unbroken for more than 20 years, reaching a height of 72,395 feet (over 13 1/2 miles) above the surface of the Earth.
During its heyday, the Graf Zeppelin was the most famous airship, or dirigible, in the world. Its name honored the pioneering German airship designer, Graf (or Count) Ferdinand von Zeppelin. Among its many feats was a flight around the world in 12 days in 1929, just a year after it was put into service. The Graf Zeppelin was the only airship ever to fly more than a million miles. Over time, it carried 18,000 passengers and many thousands of pieces of mail before being retired from service in 1937 after the Hindenburg disaster.
Three of the Graf Zeppelin stamps, known as “Zepps” to collectors, were meant for use on airmail sent via the Graf Zeppelin’s first Pan-American flight in 1930. The fourth was issued in 1933 and was meant for use on mail carried by the Graf Zeppelin to the “Century of Progress” Chicago World’s Fair. The design shows the airship between the Federal Building in Chicago, at left, and its home hanger in Friedrichshafen, Germany, at right.