Minds that went off the beaten track are at the origin of groundbreaking inventions in the history of mankind. Such minds also got the financial support they needed, to implement their ideas. What today is, to us, something of the ordinary, in its time was rated as something zany, equally interesting and amusing. The zeppelin is one of the inventions in the history of mankind with a great potential in its time. However, subsequent inventions outclassed the balloon. One of the most popular balloons was the one devised by inventor Samuel Fergusson, a character in a novel by Jules Verne, the author who in 1863 imagined a balloon journey over Africa.
The first flight with a hot-air balloon was made in Paris in 1783, by French mathematician and inventor Jacques Charles, and the balloon with a gondola had been gaining ground ever since. The Romanian space had also known the flight with a balloon, more than a century since the maiden flight in France in late 18h century. The zeppelin named “Romania” was an uncanny apparition in the sky above Bucharest. It was received with loads of bewilderment and enthusiasm by those who attended the event.
More than 100 years ago, the Carol Park of today and the Filaret Hill made one of Bucharest’s points of attraction. The city’s first railway station had been operational since 1869 on the Filaret Hill and it was also there that the Great Exhibition of 1906 would be mounted, marking 40 years since the coronation of King Carol 1 as King of Romania in 1866. Later, the technical Museum was inaugurated also in Carol Park. A string of factories were operational around the park, among which the Filaret Electrical Plant, an imposing brick building erected in 1908, supplying power for the city. In 1905, the year of our story, the plant was still a project. Close by the future Electrical Plant, in 1905, four personalities of Bucharest, Prince George Valentin Bibescu, together with three army officers, lieutenant Eugeniu Asachi, lieutenant Paul Moruzzi and major Demetriad went aboard the first zeppelin flying over Bucharest and Romania, in order to make scientific observations and experiments.
Anthropologist and historian Calin Cotoi.
“Before 1905, a prince Bibescu bought a zeppelin in Munich which he baptized “Romania”. Jointly with Eugeniu Asachi, a lieutenant in the Romanian army, who served a year in the Austro-Hungarian army in the war zeppelins battalion and knew how to handle something like that, Bibescu flew in the zeppelin. It was a big, yellow zeppelin, and its maiden flight was also its very first marketing act. As he was flying, he threw chocolate bars of a company that also paid him to do that in Bucharest. It is so nice, Asachi tells us, how they hover over Bucharest, people wave them hello. As soon as they get out of Bucharest and, Asachi says, the peasants start looking daggers, menacingly pointing their guns at us.’ In 1906, after another failed attempt, they succeeded to lift themselves up in the air and take the first aerial photos of Bucharest and part of Romania, also making scientific experiments. It’s somehow the momentum of the attempt to map out Romania from an outside point as well as from the inside.”
The four passengers of the zeppelin, on the day of October 20, loaded several instruments onto the gondola, instruments they needed for their measurements. In a couple of hours and with no other major incident, the zeppelin landed safely at a distance of around 75 kilometers from Bucharest, in the village of Sapunari.
Ten days later, on October 30, 1905, another expedition followed, mounted by the “Romania” zeppelin, heading towards the northern part of Bucharest and landing 30 kilometers away in the north-west, nearby the Peris railway station. In another couple of months, on March 26, 1906, a crew made of four army officers flew 120 kilometers south-west of Bucharest until they reached the town of Zimnicea, Romania’s southernmost locality, lying on the banks of the Danube. In the summer of 1906, on June 16, two other officers tried to fly the longest route possible at that time, with the zeppelin. Their ambition was to reach northern Romania, in Bukovina, 500 kilometers from Bucharest. Because of severe weather conditions, after more than 24 hours, they had no choice other than to land 100 kilometers north of Bucharest, aborting their otherwise noteworthy flight.
Raising in the air in a zeppelin over Romania was more than the answer to the call of an adventurous spirit. It was a project with a broader scope, that of providing a bird’s eye view of the territory. Geography went hand in hand with folklore, with demography, with history, with military art, in short, with the urge to provide a cartographic image of the state. Those who boarded the zeppelin imitated Western models of doing science and education, of seeing the earth vertically better than they had seen it horizontally up until then.