The article below was published in Pinnable’s newsletter in .

Lake Constance

The Dornier Museum

When the Dornier Metal Works in Friedrichshafen were founded in 1922, it was the right time & place for an aircraft manufacturer to start a firm in Germany: the Allied ban on producing civilian aircraft would be lifted in May, and moving forbidden product lines to the Swiss side of Lake Constance was not too difficult. Dornier’s earliest successful product was the Do J Wal (‘Whale’), a flying boat introduced in November 1922. Over 250 were made between 1923 & 1936, initially in Italy, where it was okay to build military-purpose planes, and from 1931 in Germany as well. The Do B Merkur (‘Mercury’), a passenger plane that first flew in 1925, was considered the most economical aircraft in its class, and by 1928 the Luft Hansa aviation company had sixteen of them flying around. Production really took off after the Nazis seized power in 1933, and Dornier became a major manufacturer of bombers. The two most popular ones — the Do 17, nicknamed ‘the flying pencil’, and its successor, the Do 217 — were built by the thousands.

Dornier Merkur at the Dornier Museum
Luft Hansa’s Do B-Bal Merkur Silberfuchs at the Dornier Museum

The Dornier Museum in Friedrichshafen at Lake Constance shows how Claude Dornier’s business evolved from a department of the Zeppelin airship factory into a major aerospace company, until it finally dissolved, through a series of mergers, into what is now the Airbus corporation. Highlights include replicas of a Whale used by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen for his 1925 expedition to the North Pole, and Luft Hansa’s Mercury Silberfuchs (1927). The the Do X (1929), the legendary colossal twelve-engine flying boat, gets a fair bit of attention; among more recent exhibits are a Do 31 VTOL cargo aircraft (1967), a 1970s Alpha Jet produced by Dassault & Dornier, and a Do 328 commuter airliner (1991), which was the last aircraft designed in Friedrichshafen. The historical exhibition proudly presents Dornier’s technical achievements, and reminds visitors of the devastating effects of strategic bombing. The final section of the exhibition shows products in fields less relevant to the company, such as space technology.

Reader comments


The Treaty of Versailles (§ III, art. 201 & 202) stipulated that the manufacture of aircraft was forbidden in Germany during the six months following the coming into force of the treaty, and that all German military & naval aeronautical material had to be handed over to the Allied powers within three months. In June 1920, five months after the treaty’s effective date, an Inter-Allied Conference decided to extend the production ban until further notice because the Germans had failed to meet the disarmament demands. After the Inter-Allied Aeronautical Commission of Control confirmed in February 1922 that Germany had fulfilled its obligations at long last, the Allies lifted the ban in May 1922. At the same time they introduced restrictions to ensure that newly built aircraft would not meet military requirements; these were dropped in May 1926, when the № 1381 League of Nations Treaty granted the Germans complete freedom in the sphere of civil aviation. (It also strictly prohibited anything to do with military aviation.) Dornier’s first post-war airliner built on German soil, the Do R Superwal flying boat, made its maiden flight four months later.


When the aircraft factory Zeppelin-Werk Lindau, a 1917 spin-off from Luftschiffbau Zeppelin, was renamed Dornier-Metallbauten in 1922, its director Claude Dornier (1884–1969) acquired one tenth of the company’s shares. Since Allied regulations banned German manufacture of aircraft that could fly 170 kph or carry 600 kg, production mainly took place in Pisa, at Costruzioni Meccaniche Aeronautiche, in which Zeppelin was a major shareholder. In 1927, production started on the Swiss side of Lake Constance, at the AG für Dornierflugzeuge in Altenrhein, a joint venture set up in 1925 between the German government (51%), DMB and Dornier himself (24½% each), which dissolved in 1933, when the Do X programme ended. After the Nazis came to power, the Dornier-Werke — which was the company’s new name after Zeppelin withdrew from DMB in 1932 and Dornier assumed full ownership — took on production in Altenrhein as well as in various locations within Germany.


One could also argue that Dornier was founded in 1914, when Zeppelin established its ‘Do’ department in Seemoos, where the seaplanes Rs I–IV were developed. (Today, the original wooden barracks from Seemoos can be found next to the museum.) After Daimler-Benz acquired Dornier in 1985, it amalgamated the company with MBB and MTU to become DASA in 1989, 75 years after Dornier’s founding in 1914. In 2000, DASA became part of EADS, which later changed its name to Airbus.


The Do X seaplane was built by Do-Flug AG, the Aktiengesellschaft für Dornier-Flugzeuge in Altenrhein, in the Swiss canton of St Gall, a company set up to circumvent Allied regulations. The Do X was the largest, heaviest, and most powerful flying boat of its time. Of the three Do Xs ever built, none survived: the X1 was destroyed in 1943 during an air raid; the X2 & X3 had already been scrapped in 1937. The closest you can get to seeing a real one is in Altenrhein, where the FFA Museum houses a 1:8 scale model of the Do X.


At the Dutch National Military Museum in Soest we have a Do 24, a flying boat developed in 1936–1937 for deployment in the Dutch East Indies by the Royal Navy. Our Do 24T was built under licence in 1944 by the Dutch manufacturer Aviolanda for the Spanish Air Force. After its return to the Netherlands in 1991, it was repainted in the livery of the Dutch Naval Aviation Service to resemble the X-24, one of six Do 24Ks ordered in 1938 from Dornier’s subsidiary Aero-Metall in Zurich and built in 1939 in Altenrhein. (The original X-24 seaplane was scrapped in 1944.)


Dornier’s subsidiary in Wismar, the Norddeutsche Dornier-Werke, was bombed by the RAF twice, on 24 June 1940 & 25 August 1944; the last attack demolished 80% of the works. The factory of the Dornier-Werke in Friedrichshafen was destroyed by bombing on 28 April 1945. (Dornier had further production facilities in Munich & Lindau, NDW in Lübeck & Berlin.)


At the Potsdam Conference in July & August 1945, the USSR, USA & UK agreed that in order to eliminate Germany’s war potential, the production of all types of aircraft would be prohibited. This situation lasted until the occupation of Germany ended in 1955. The first post-war German aeroplane to be mass-produced was Dornier’s Do 27, a single-engine STOL utility aircraft.

Comments on this topic are now closed.