Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 22, 2015
André-Jacques Garnerin's parachute

André-Jacques Garnerin’s parachute

October 22, 1797: The first descent using a parachute is successful. André-Jacques Garnerin was born in Paris in 1769. He was captured by the British during the Napoleonic Wars and turned over to the Austrians who held him in prison for three years. He was a student of ballooning pioneer Jacques Charles. Garnerin and his older brother were famous for their hot air balloon work. They regularly staged tests and shows of ballooning feats at Parc Monceau in Paris.

Garnerin began experimenting with parachutes and based his design on umbrellas. He used his silk parachute on this day at Parc Monceau. The parachute looked like a closed umbrella while ascending. There was a pole in the center of the 23 foot diameter cloth and a rope ran through a tube in the pole. The rope was connected to the hot air balloon.  Garnerin was in a basket attached to the bottom of the parachute. About 3,000 feet up in the air, he cut the rope connecting his parachute to the balloon. The balloon continued to rise and Garnerin and his parachute (and basket) floated to the ground. The basket swung violently while it fell and it bumped and scraped along the ground on impact. But Garnerin emerged uninjured.

The Garnerin brothers created a stir when they announced in 1798 that their next flight would include a woman. They had to go to officials to explain how the decreased air pressure was not going to harm the internal organs of their delicate passenger. There was a fear that the poor woman would lose consciousness and there was also the impropriety of her being aloft in such close quarters with – men. They were forbidden to take a woman up since she was ill equipped to understand the dangers inherent in the ascent. More meetings were held and the ruling was overturned. Citoyenne Henri and Garnerin made their trip on July 8, 1798 and flew about 19 miles without ill effect on the delicate passenger.

Garnerin was the Official Aeronaut of France and he and his wife made a trip to England in 1802 during the Peace of Amiens. They made a number of demonstration flights while visiting. On September 21, Garnerin rose from the Volunteer Ground in North Audley Street in Grosvenor Square and then made a parachute descent into a field near St. Pancras. Ballooning was a family affair. He often went up into the air with his brother. His wife was first his student and then married Garnerin. She was the first woman to parachute. His niece was also a trained balloonist, beginning to fly at age 15. Garnerin was struck by a wooden beam while making a balloon and died from his injuries in Paris on August 18, 1823. He was 54 years old.

Bold Garnerin went up / Which increased his Repute / And came safe to earth / In his Grand Parachute. – English ballad

The young citoyenne who will accompany me is delighted to see the day approach for the journey. I shall ascend with her from the Parc Monceau, some time during the next ten days. – André-Jacques Garnerin, advertising his upcoming flight with a woman

Both optimists and pessimists contribute to our society. The optimist invents the airplane and the pessimist the parachute. – Gil Stern

The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision. – Maimonides

Also on this day: When the World Was New – In 4004 BC, the world was created – according to the math.
Where Is He? – In 1844, Jesus Christ did not return to Earth.
Pretty Boy – In 1934, Charles Floyd was killed.
No, Thanks – In 1964, Jean-Paul Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize.
Shipwreck – In 1707, four ships sunk off the coast of England.



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