The establishment of the Zeppelin Museum goes back to the year 1869, when the ‘Association for the History of Lake Constance and its Surroundings’, that had been founded the year before, exhibited its collection of artefacts, prehistoric finds and works of art from the Lake Constance region and from Upper Swabia publicly for the first time. This was the first museum to be established on the banks of Lake Constance, followed by the Rosgartenmuseum in Constance, a natural history museum in Ravensburg, and the town of Lindau’s art collections. The Association’s collections ‘moved house’ several times within Friedrichshafen, finally to be housed in the ‘Kreuzlinger Hof’, opened on 8 June 1912 as the ‘Bodenseemuseum’ [Lake Constance Museum]. A year later, the museum was extended with a ‘Zeppelin-Kabinett’ gallery.
World War I meant radical changes for the ‘Association for the History of Lake Constance and its Surroundings“. It was no longer able to hold annual members’ meetings and its finances were ruined. After the war, in 1927, the association sold its collections to the town of Friedrichshafen. From then on, the museum was called the ‘Städtisches Bodenseemuseum“ (Municipal Lake Constance Museum). At the same time, the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH [Ltd.] erected a small company museum on the site of its airshipyard. The museum was moved in 1938 to a building with a gross floor area of 1,000 m2 next to the main gate – an adequate domicile for the history of aviation. In World War II, both houses were largely destroyed by bombs, as was the historic centre of Friedrichshafen. The collections of the municipal museum were almost entirely lost, but the collections of the Zeppelin company survived intact as they had been moved and stored in a safe place. However, after the war, the French occupation army took them to France as reparations.
Despite this, Friedrichshafen municipality made great efforts to reopen the Lake Constance Museum. It acquired an art collection after the war and in 1956 finally managed to reopen the museum in the new town hall’s museum wing. This offered 800 m2 of floor space for works of art from gothic to modernist. From then on, the museum’s collection strategy no longer focused exclusively on historic art, but also extended its activities to contemporary art. Initially, the museum did not present the Zeppelin history, as France did not return a large part of the Zeppelin company’s collection to Friedrichshafen until 1960. It was accommodated on the 4th floor of the town hall museum wing. In 1985 it became possible to redesign and restructure these galleries to make them more attractive for the growing number of visitors.
From 1987, visitor numbers gradually rose to over 100,000 per year – too many for the space available in the town hall museum wing. The valuable paintings that had been added to the collection over the years (including, for example, the Dix Collection) required better conservation conditions, too, which would only have been possible in the town hall wing at great cost. The local authorities therefore decided to build a new museum. In the late 1980s, they were able to buy the old harbour railway station building (which had been opened in 1933) from the Deutsche Bundesbahn. With substantial financial assistance from the Zeppelin Museum’s support association, the town took on the task of converting the building and rearranging the collections. Opened in 1996, the converted station building accommodates the museum’s technology and art collections, eductional department, LZ Archives, library, restaurant and shop on a total floor area of 4,000 m2. With the move to its new home, the museum was renamed the Zeppelin Museum. It has since been able to welcome more than 240,000 visitors every year.