The first ever parachute jump. Now that’s really something to think about. The anniversary date of this was actually a couple of days ago. It happened in 1797, in Paris. A guy named André-Jacques Garnerin was the culprit, or the hero, or the big dummy, depending on how you look at things.
Of course, the idea seemed to spring up hundreds of years earlier, in Italy, when Leonardo da Vinci opened up his notebook and began scribbling out his thoughts. It wasn’t until 1783 when someone first started putting those drawings into real-life scenarios. It was another Frenchman, named Louis-Sebastien Lenormand who fashioned a “sort” of parachute. He put together two umbrellas and jumped from a tree. Sounds more like a broken leg than a scientific experiment, what with holding two umbrellas. Or more like pulling a Mary Poppins if you ask me.
No. The real experimenting didn’t start until that André-Jacques Garnerin came around. He was the first to design and test parachutes capable of slowing a man’s fall from a high altitude.
He got in a hydrogen balloon, took it up to 3,200 feet above Paris, and skiddaddled over the side. You know, on a personal level, I feel like I have a bit of the scientific nature in my blood, or a certain aptitude for all things molecular. But I can surely tell you this. I would never throw myself out of a balloon from 3,200 feet in the name of science.
Garnerin first came up with the idea when he was being held as a prisoner during the French Revolution. He was walled up in some high tower of a Hungarian Gulag for three years. I am sure he started devising the dropping-through-air-escape on those long cold days in captivity. Using air resistance to slow his fall from a high, high place.
So. After his release, Garnerin never lost interest in the concept of the parachute. He carried it out in 1797 when he completed this first parachute jump. It was a canopy sort of thing that was 23 feet in diameter. He attached this to a basket with suspension lines. And then, he harnessed the whole thing to a hydrogen balloon. Up he went.
When he got to 3,200 feet, he put himself into that little basket on the canopy, and severed the parachute from the balloon. My Dad always said, “Measure twice. Cut once.” Well. Old Garnerin failed to include an air vent at the top of the prototype. And after he went over the side, he went wacky-out-of-control. He oscillated wildly in his descent. All Whirly-Gig. Fortunately, he landed okay. All shook up, but okay. He was about a half a mile from the balloon’s takeoff site.
He continued his life in the way of the parachutist. In 1799, Garnerin’s wife, Jeanne-Genevieve, became the first female parachutist. In 1802, Garnerin made an incredible jump from 8,000 feet during an exhibition in England.
But it is just like those big buffets with all the desserts on it. When you say, I’m just going to have one more of those little cookies with the vanilla icing on them. And you know, as soon as you bite into the thing, it was one too many.
So went Garnerin. He died in a balloon accident in 1823 while preparing to test a new parachute. I’m sure at first this was all very uplifting, but in the end, it let him down. (Sorry)
If they would have asked him to jump off a Paris bridge, everyone would have said he is in Seine. (Sorry, again)
They say everyone we meet in life is a teacher.
I hope we all learned a lesson from on high, here today.
“The sparrows jumped before they knew how to fly, and they learned to fly only because they had jumped”
― Lauren Oliver, Liesl & Po
“Jump right in, or wade in slowly.
Advantage to one, it’s over quickly.
Advantage to the other, it isn’t.”
― Maira Kalman, Hurry Up and Wait
“There really should be a legal requirement for skydiving customers to be fully informed about the age and failure history of the parachute that they are using prior to the jump.”
― Steven Magee