200th Anniversary of Skydiving


"Yo dude, I didn't know skydiving was THAT old!"


This page was created on October 20, 1997

[Originally posted to rec.skydiving Newsgroup on 17 Oct 1997]

On October 22, 1797, Andre-Jacques Garnerin made the first parachute jump. He rigged a parachute onto a balloon and released at altitude. Instead of wearing a harness, he stayed in the basket attached to the parachute that was attached below the balloon. Because the parachute was unmodified (it would be much later until someone figured out how to use vents), the canopy oscillated like mad (sometimes a full 90 degrees swing) and Andre became awfully sick. There was some mention that someone else made the first jump a few years earlier but there is no documented evidence.

Andre-Jacques Garnerin found interest in parachuting while he was in prison, captured during the French Revolution, and was confined for three years in Hungary. During this time, he began toying with the idea of using a parachute as a means to escape by using it to jump off the high prison walls. From the book, The Big Umbrella, had a writing by Garnerin explaining his programme:

Garnerin's dream to escape from prison, which could have been the first BASE jump, was never realized, but he never gave up the idea about developing a parachute after he was released.

Andrei went on to make 200 more jumps, including the first in UK, a demo jump in 1802. All jumps were the same, ride to altitude in the basket, chop from the balloon, hang on as the basket and canopy oscillates like mad, and recover from the motion sickness after landing.

Garnerin's wife, Jeanne-Genevieve, became the first woman to parachute on 1799. Andrei's niece also got into parachuting and went on to make a total of 40 jumps. Although like Andrei, none of these were freefall, all jumps were canopy rides. Sorry but even if it was a freefall, there wasn't enough parachuting women to complete a WSCR! It was to be another 110 years later or so for the first freefall, even for a split second, by Tiny Broadwick.

When Andrei made his demo jump in England (click here for picture of that jump), he carried a French flag with him, but hidden if he bounced so there would be no embarrassment to his native country. But after he saw he had a good canopy, he waved the French flag to the British crowd below, "Viva La France!" However, the London evening newspaper of the day, The Sun, was not impressed by the demo jump. They wrote:

Exhibition skydiving needed improvements of much more than just USPA or BPA Pro Ratings.

Skydiving was born but many more improvements in equipment and technique were yet to be developed. It wasn't until the later part of the 19th Century when the first all fabric parachute was used by Capt. Tom Baldwin at Quincy, IL. Yes, this was done at the same place of the World Free Fall Convention (that's why it is called Baldwin Field). In the airport terminal, there is a display about Tom Baldwin's jump.

During the 20th Century, skydiving developed to what it's now today. Harness mount parachutes with ripcords were developed as a method of escape from bad airplanes. Parachutes became widespread as a means of quickly delivering soldiers. Square parachutes were developed by those who did not like getting slammed into the ground. TSOs were developed to provide safe and regulated equipment. Associations were formed to provide licensing, training programs, and safety guidelines. It has now evolved into a recognized sport with everything from student programs to competition, and with DZ parties (where people drink beer and tell lies).

200 years to day of Garnerin's first jump, about 80 skydivers jumped from a Transall and landed near the Eiffel Tower. They belonged to the French Air Force, French Army and national skydiving teams (accuracy, CRW, RW). There were a few tandems including a dog. CNN covered that event and they have an article about it at http://cnn.com/WORLD/9710/22/france.parachute.reut/index.html. The site also has photos including one of the plaque that commemorates Garnerin's jump.


"World's First Parachute Jump made in 1797". George Galloway has written a fascinating essay on Andre-Jacques Garnerin at http://precision.aerodynamics.com/1st_jump.htm
The Big Umbrella, by John Lucas, Drake Publishers Inc. Great Britain, 1973.
The Silken Angels, (early 1960s) [author unknown as I lost the book!]
Parachuting, The Skydiver's Handbook, Dan Poynter, 1989
The Sky People, Peter Hearn, 1990
Parachuting's Unforgettable Jumps, Howard Gregory, 1987

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