April 19, 1919: Leslie Leroy Irvin breaks his ankle when he lands hard. Irvin was born in Los Angeles in 1895 and began working as a stunt man for the new California film industry as a teen. He performed acrobatics on trapezes and even jumped from a balloon, floating to the ground using a parachute. He made his first jump when he was fourteen and jumped from an airplane for the first time in 1914, sailing 1,000 feet to the ground. The stunt was part of the movie, Sky High.
Early parachutes were bunched up cloth held by the jumper, who released the cloth, hoping it would catch the air and lower him gently to the ground. The next step was to place the cloth in a canister, attached to the jumper’s body. Next came a different style of parachute designed by Theodore Moscicki, a Polish inventor, where the chute was stored in a backpack type case and used a rip-cord to release the chute to the air. Irvin was working for the Army Air Service as part of the parachute research team. On this day, he made the first premeditated free-fall jump with a chute perfected by Floyd Smith and Major EC Hoffmann of the US Air Service Engineering Division..
The chute itself performed flawlessly, even though the landing needed a bit of help. Within two months, The Irvin Airchute Company was formed. Irvin’s parachutes were much safer. His catalog listed the first person saved by the company’s product: William O’Connor was saved by the product on August 24, 1920. By 1922, Irvin formed the “Caterpillar Club” for airmen who had been saved by using an Irvin Chute. By 1933, his company was being used by 37 air forces worldwide.
The company expanded to make other safety equipment such as car seat belts and straps for cargo. In 1960, the company made the parachute used on Discoverer 13, an orbiting space capsule. Due to a clerical error, the letter G was added and Irving was part of the company name until 1970. Since 1996, they have been called Irvin Aerospace Inc. and they remain world famous for making parachutes as well as inflatable life-saving equipment. On July 1, 2012, they will become a division of HDT Global.
Life depends on a silken thread. – Caterpillar Club motto
Out of 10,000 feet of fall, always remember that the last half inch hurts the most. – Captain Charles W. Purcell
Young man at EAA Oshkosh: What color are your parachutes?
Ron Terry, aerobatic pilot: I don’t know and I hope I never find out!
Both optimists and pessimists contribute to our society. The optimist invents the airplane and the pessimist the parachute. – Gil Stern
Also on this day:
Look It Up – In 1928, the last fascicle of the Oxford English Dictionary is published.
Trippin’ – In 1943, Albert Hofmann tried LSD.
Sex Is Obscene – In 1927, Mae West was sentenced to jail for her play, Sex.