Events and People

USS Los Angeles: A Naval Dirigible

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With the Exposition grounds located adjacent to the Navy Yard at League Island, the U.S. Navy and the military in general were very involved in the Sesquicentennial Exposition. The Navy developed a Navy Historical Exhibit in one of the buildings in the yard, and several different types of ships were moored at the Reserve Basin near Navy Yard. Camp Anthony Wayne, a model Army camp, was created in League Island Park and Camp Samuel Nicholas, a model Marine camp, was located just outside the Navy Yard within the grounds of the Exposition.[1]


The U.S. Navy’s contributions to the Sesquicentennial also included a visit from the Navy’s dirigible the Los Angeles. On Friday, September 10, the dirigible flew over Philadelphia, circled part of the Exposition several times, and then landed on the Exposition grounds with the help of a landing party of 200 sailors. Under the control of Commander Charles H. Rosendahl, the dirigible’s home port was located in Lakehurst, New Jersey. After the visit to the Sesquicentennial, the Los Angeles traveled to Stroudsburg, PA where the State American Legion was in session.[2]

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The golden age of dirigibles, also known as rigid airships and zeppelins, occurred from roughly 1900 until the 1930s. The first dirigible successfully lifted off on November 3, 1897 near Berlin, Germany. Although this dirigible crashed shortly after lift off, governments in several countries continued to investigate the use of dirigibles or rigid airships for military and transportation purposes. By the early twentieth century, the German company Luftschiffbau Zeppelin was the major manufacturer of rigid airships. These dirigibles would serve as both weapons and observational tools during World War I. Germany used dirigibles to drop bombs on Paris and London while both France and England used semi-rigid and non-rigid airships to patrol their coasts, provide convoy protection, and spot enemy submarines.[3]

After World War I, mandates prevented Germany from building dirigibles. The United States government, however, allowed the Zeppelin company to build one airship that would be given to the United States by Germany as partial war reparations.[4] As part of the agreement between the nations, the ship was to be used only for “civil” purposes. Built in Friedrichshafen, Germany, the rigid airship was 2,472,000 cubic feet and completed in August 1924.[5] Known initially as the ZR-3, the ship flew across the Atlantic in mid-October 1924 and docked at its home port of Lakehurst, New Jersey. The airship flew to Washington D.C. on November 25 where it was christened the Los Angeles by Mrs. Calvin Coolidge, the wife of the president, and then placed into naval commission by Rear Admiral B.F. Hutchinson.[6] During its career in the U.S. Navy, the Los Angeles performed flights to explore the use of rigid airships in the military. The airship also made several trips across the US and took part in research into the possibility of basing airplanes on board airships.  In late 1932, the Los Angeles was decommissioned and put into storage at Lakehurst, New Jersey. From 1934 to 1937, the airship participated in non-flying experiments before finally being dismantled beginning in October 1939.[7]

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While little is known about the visit of the Los Angeles to the Sesquicentennial, its appearance at the Exposition provides an illustration of the growth of airship manufacturing in the early decades of the twentieth century. Along with the Los Angeles, the U.S. Navy operated other rigid airships including the Shenandoah (destroyed on September 3, 1925 in a storm over Ohio) and two ships built by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company- the Akron (lost in a storm over the Atlantic Ocean on April 4, 1933) and the Macon (crashed in the Pacific Ocean on February 12, 1935).[8] After the 1930s and the Hindenburg disaster on May 9, 1937, interest in rigid airships declined in favor of further investigation into a variety of airplanes and aircraft carriers.

[1] Austin, E.L. and Odell Hauser, Editors. The Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition: A Record Based on Official Data and Departmental Reports. Philadelphia: Current Publications, Inc., 1929, p. 183-188.

[2] Ibid., p. 303.

[3] Rumerman, Judy. “The Era of the Dirigible.” U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission

[4] Ibid.

[5] “USS Los Angeles (ZR-3), Airship 1924-1939.” Department of the Navy- Naval Historical Center.

[6] The Washington Post.  “ZR-3 is Christened ‘Los Angeles’ and Dedicated to Peace.” November 26, 1924.

[7] “USS Los Angeles (ZR-3), Airship 1924-1939.” Department of the Navy- Naval Historical Center.

[8] Rumerman, Judy. “The Era of the Dirigible.” U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission