When was the first parachute jump? Google poses the question with a doodle that spotlights French parachutist Andre-Jacques Garnerin. On Oct. 22, 1797 -- 216 years ago today -- in a Paris exhibition, Garnerin rose to a height of 3,200 feet, then made a dizzying descent to Earth by parachute and took his bows.
Others had parachuted before Garnerin, but he's credited as the first to jump using a parachute without a rigid frame. In the aeronaut's jumps, he used a white canvas umbrella-shaped parachute, 23 feet across.
The 1797 jump was rough, though. He lifted off in a craft that incorporated his parachute. On top was a hot-air balloon. At 3,200 feet, he cut off the balloon, his parachute opened and he made a rather wild descent to the ground. It is said that French astronomer Jerome Lalande saw this nausea-inducing fall and suggested creating a vent in the parachute. It helped.
Garnerin performed his stunts across Northern Europe and in 1802 jumped from 8,000 feet during an exhibition in England.
Others before Garnerin had dreamed of throwing themselves from great heights and floating safely to the ground. The idea came to Leonardo da Vinci hundreds of years before Garnerin ever made his historic descent. Leonardo described a "tent of linen" with which a person would "be able to throw himself down from any great height without suffering any injury."
In 1783, gutsy inventor Louis-Sebastian Lourmand made the first-ever recorded successful parachute jump with a rigid-frame cloth parachute 14 feet in diameter. He didn't jump from a hot-air balloon, though. He jumped out of a tree. Still.
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