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.




Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 19, 2012

Leslie Leroy Irvin

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.


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