CHENNAI: History works in mysterious ways. Its functioning can sometimes be used to draw parallels with the layman’s understanding, a far more superficial definition, of the butterfly effect. Sometimes, the most inconsequential events and people in history have brought about the most significant change, both good and bad. But sometimes its corollary holds good too; what seemed significant at the time of its occurrence or existence would have had no effect or consequence whatsoever.
Stairway to heaven by Led Zeppelin. Even if you aren’t familiar with the band, the song does strike a chord. Now let’s try some simple word association — where do you think Led Zeppelin got their name? If you’re a World War I buff or an amateur Modern World History buff, like myself, then you’d know that Zeppelins were airships that were popular during World War I and it uses the properties of a balloon, at least, that is my understanding of it.
I have always been fascinated by the workings of a balloon. Something that makes use of an element found everywhere (air), and it uses this said element to defy gravity. But then, I discovered kites. This has no special mechanism or isn’t designed especially like a balloon. This made kites more fascinating. Contrary to popular belief, the result of Da Vinci’s visionary Flying Machine wasn’t the Wright brothers’ airplane, but it was the airship. The airship was a blanket that was used to describe anything that was shaped and that functioned like a balloon; most commonly, the blimp, and the zeppelin. These flying machines made use of internal combustion engines and propellers to power navigable balloons. The first flight took place in 1898 by Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont in Paris.
The year 1898, which was five years before the first manned airplane in 1903. By virtue of being the ‘first of something’, the airships should have managed to make its mark in history. But to this day, it is quite unfortunate that it remains a footnote when we speak of air transportation.
No, it wasn’t because of the Hindenburg disaster. It wasn’t anything external either like it’s price, in fact, it was considered quite cheap at the time of its invention and use, it was simply because something better came along — in the form of the airplane.
Many inventions in history stay loyal to its parent. The light bulb, for example, kept getting better, but people history kept owing its gratitude to Edison’s Tungsten Light bulb, which is hardly in use today. And that holds good for most modern day inventions. It’s inventors were hailed the ‘father of’ their respective inventions.
I start my pieces with the premise, but here, I choose to end the piece with it. What if airships (blimps or zeppelins) had never been invented? It wouldn’t have had a lot of impact on World War I, given how air warfare was scarcely used. This goes on to solidify the hypothesis — history is written by the victors. Not by those whose machines hardly made an impact even though they seemed significant at the time of its invention.
Had airships not been invented, the biggest and possibly the most consequential impact would’ve been made in the world of music. Led Zeppelin wouldn’t have gotten their iconic name.
(When he isn’t writing, the creative producer with The Rascalas watches a lot of ‘cat videos’ on YouTube)