1797: First Ever Parachute Jump Is Made Over Paris

By Grace Taylor
Schematic depiction of Garnerin's first parachute used in the Parc Monceau descent of October 22, 1797. Illustration dates from the early nineteenth century. (Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons)

Parachuting is one of the most exhilarating experiences in life, according to the hundreds of thousands of people who decide to take the plunge each year. While over three million jumps from airplanes occur every year in the United States alone, parachuting as a practice began long before the invention of flight. In fact, the first parachute jump took place in 1797, a good 106 years before the Wright Brothers ever got their craft off the ground.

The Flying Frenchman

That was the year André-Jacques Garnerin, French physicist, veteran of war, and balloonist extraordinaire, took his miraculous first jump. Born on January 31, 1769, Garnerin grew up in beautiful Paris and soon fell in love with both ballooning and revolting. During the French Revolution, he was a proponent of using massive air balloons (the only real way of flying at the time) for war purposes, but he was captured and spent three years as a prisoner of war in present-day Hungary. While wasting away in miserable conditions, Garnerin often imagined escaping his torment by jumping off the tall prison walls to freedom.

Luckily, Garnerin was released before he resorted to leaping and went on to study ballooning further with fellow famed French scientist Jacques Alexandre César Charles, who had mastered the art of ballooning, being one of the first to successfully get off the ground after studying the effectiveness of hydrogen as a propellant. Throughout the 1780s, Charles showed off his invention of what we would now call a hot air balloon to hundreds of thousands of awed spectators, including one of America's own Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin.