The Digital Edition Dirigibles

At the highest inhabitable level of the Empire State Building in New York City is something redolent of the University of Missouri’s new EmPRINT digital edition project.

When the Empire State Building was designed in the late 1920s, architects gave its top floor a function that nowadays makes sense only in retrospect of their knowledge of what was then the highest technology in transportation media. The architects gave it a dirigible docking port.

Read the history of aviation until 1930 and you might understand why the architects’ belived that lighter-than-air crafts were the transportation medium of the future. For nearly one and a half centuries — ever since 1783 when two Frenchmen became the first world’s aviators, using a linen balloon to ascend into the skies over Paris — balloon-format aircraft had been the top technology for air transportation. Though the Wright Brothers invented heavier-than-air aircraft only 27 years before the foundation of the Empire State Building was laid, that was only as long ago as 1988 is now. When Charles Lindbergh flew his tiny heavier-than-air craft solo across the Atlantic 42 months before the Building was completed, dirigibles had already been ferrying hundreds of paying passengers in comfort across the world’s oceans for nearly a decade.

During 1929 alone, the Graf Zeppelin logged more than a million miles and hundreds of transoceanic and transcontinental flights. At 776-feet long, it was the size of an ocean liner (the steamship Titanic was only 106 feet longer but 18 feet less taller) and had many of the creature comforts of a steamship. Passengers aboard it and sister ships such as the Hindenburg traveled in ornate individual cabins with shower baths and clubrooms featuring grand pianos, with meals cooked aboard by expert chefs. No wonder that the architects of the Empire State Building thought dirigibles would be the transportation medium of the future and built a docking port, aerial gangway, and customs shed atop their iconic skyscraper.

No wonder too that the architects of the University of Missouri’s EmPRINT digital edition may think that Adobe Acrobat editions will be the future of news communications media. Indeed, the newspaper design has been the primarily format for news vehicles during the past half millennium. During that time, there’s been no better vehicle for conveying news than ink on dried sheets of cellulose pulp.

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