In August of 1929, the 775-foot, hydrogen-filled LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin became the first lighter-than-air craft to circle the globe. The rigid airship traveled from Lakehurst (New Jersey) to Friedrichshafen (Germany) to Tokyo (Japan) to Los Angeles (California) and back to Lakehurst in about three weeks, from August 8 to August 29.
The Pacific crossing didn’t actually take the ship directly to Los Angeles, but to San Francisco first. The ship’s commander, Hugo Eckener, “deliberately timed his flight…to make a dramatic entrance through San Francisco’s Golden Gate with the sun setting behind the ship.” The dirigible made several passes over San Francisco on August 25 before continuing down the coast to L.A.
The scene must have made a big impression on the the Wong family of San Francisco, because a week later, on September 1, they welcomed a baby boy and named him Zeppelin Wai Wong.
Zeppelin Wai Wong went on to attend Stanford and become a successful attorney. In 1953, San Francisco journalist Herb Caen mentioned Zep in his book Don’t Call it Frisco:
One of San Francisco’s more oddly named citizens is a Stanford graduate named Zeppelin Wai Wong — and naturally, everybody wonders how come. Very simple, really. Zeppelin (or “Zep”) was born in San Francisco on September 1, 1929, while the German dirigible, Graf Zeppelin was droning overhead — and he thinks the strange name (his father’s idea) is O.K. “Could be worse,” he points out “Suppose it had been the Shenandoah?”
(The USS Shenandoah was a U.S. Navy airship that had crash landed in 1925.)
The LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin remained in service until mid-1937, when it was grounded permanently following the Hindenburg disaster.
- Caen, Herb. Don’t Call it Frisco. New York: Doubleday, 1953.
- Graf Zeppelin History – Airships: The Hindenburg and other Zeppelins
- “Reunion Attracts 2,000.” St. Petersburg Times 19 Sept. 1960: 14-A.