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History of Skydiving

In 90 B.C., according to the book Si Ji (Historical Records) written by a famous Chinese historian Si Ma Chian who lived during the Western Han dynasty, there was a legend which described how the emperor Shun nearly 2000 years before the Han Dynasty (4000 years past the present) use a sort of parachute to survive a fall.

According to the legend, Shun’s father Gu Sou intended to kill him by forcing him to get on top of a roof and then burning him to death. Fortunately Shun held two large bamboo hats to escape from the roof and land on the ground safely. This is the principal of using bamboo hats to increase air resistance to reduce the falling speed.

In 1485, Leonardo DaVinci sketched the blueprints for the first parachute (Read more about the DaVinci Parachute). Adrian Nicholas landed a replica of DaVinci’s model 515 years later, on June 26, 2000. His parachute was made of rope, canvas, and wood and  weighed 187 pounds. Despite this, Nicholas completed the 10,000 feet jump by cutting away at 7,000 feet, using a regular parachute the rest of the way.

To demonstrate it, Vrancic jumped from a Venice tower in 1617 wearing a rigid-framed parachute. Vrancic detailed his parachute and published it in “Machinae Novae,” in which he describes in text and pictures 56 advanced technical constructions, including Vrancic’s parachute (which he called the Homo Volans).

Credit for the invention of the first practical parachute frequently goes to Sebastien Lenormand, who demonstrated the parachute principle in 1783.

In 1797, a french man named Andre-Jacques Garnerin made a successful parachute descent from a hot air balloon 3,200 feet above the earth with a canvas canopy and a small basket (Read more about it here).

Fun fact: Jeanne-Geneviève Labrosse saw Garnerin’s impressive leap, and a year later became his wife! She became the first woman to pilot a balloon, and in 1799 the first female to jump, upping her husband by 1,000 feet and jumping from 3,000 feet.

In 1911, Grant Morton, using a silk parachute, jumped out of a Wright Model B airplane in Venice Beach, CA. Less than a year later, Captain Albert Berry made the second jump from an airplane on March 1, 1912 at Kinlock Field, south of St. Louis, Missouri.

In 1914, Tiny Broadwick demonstrated parachutes to the U.S. Army, which at thetime had a small, hazard-prone fleet of aircraft. The Army, reluctant at first to adopt the parachute, watched as Tiny dropped from the sky. On one of her demonstration jumps, the static line became entangled in the tail assembly of the aircraft, so for her next jump she cut off the static line and deployed her chute manually, thus becoming the first person to jump freefall.

In 1930, the first known parachuting competition took place in Russia at the International Sports Festival. Contestants received points for accurately landing on a ground target.

In 1946, the United States Parachute Association (USPA) is established in Mineola, NY. First called the National Parachute Jumpers-Riggers, then in 1957 renamed the Parachute Club of America, and finally in 1967 the USPA. In 1946 the USPA served about 100 members, today there are over 40,000!

With the development of parachute technology during World War II, skydiving became more mainstream. In 1952, skydiving became a national sport after many returning soldiers started participating and having regular competitions.

On October 14th, 2012, 43 year old Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner successfully jumped from 39 kilometers, literally the edge of space. Felix is the first person to break the sound barrier without vehicular power on his descent. His achievement was broadcast on national television and entered into the Guinness Book of World Records.


For a more in-depth look at the history of skydiving, visit the International Skydiving Museum & Hall of Fame Website.