I’m sure more than a few people have wondered the same thing about skydiving and its conception. It’s not like someone woke up one day and thought to themselves “You know what might be cool? Jumping out of a plane thousands of feet in the air and then trying to slow my inevitable high-velocity drop using some strings and fabric.” Although if that were the case we’d have tons of respect for that person.
To know the history of skydiving you need to know a bit about the history of parachuting, since it’s a pretty important, some might say vital part of the extreme sport:
As early as the 1100s, the Chinese were said to have practiced slowing their descent by jumping from high ridges and using woven tarps. Leonardo Da Vinci also had some preliminary blueprints of triangular parachutes that were years later successfully tested. But it was Andre-Jacques Garnerin who, in 1797 completed the first high-altitude jump from a hot air balloon.
From there, parachutes and sky jumping evolved and in 1912, it was Captain Albert Berry who is widely considered to be the first man to accomplish a successful dive from an aircraft. On March 1st at the Jefferson Barracks just outside St-Louis, Missouri, Berry and his pilot Tony Jannus flew their Benoist Pusher Biplane to about 1,500 feet where Albert then jumped. His 36-foot diameter parachute was in a container attached to the bottom of the plane, that’s right, no ripcord! His fall essentially “deployed” the chute at about 500-feet from the biplane. In fact, he was attached to the parachute by a harness but was sitting on a trapeze bar. When the chute was pulled from its containment and opened, he had a comfortable ride as he slowly descended back to the barracks below.
Jannus reportedly recounted that before the jump, they flew over an insane asylum where Berry told him “That’s where we both belong”. Jefferson Barracks still holds celebrations to honor the duo and it still holds a lot of significance both to the history of the U.S military and to what is now one of the most thrilling extreme sport in the world. I wonder what Captain Berry would think if he knew people in the future did this for kicks?
The Skydiving.com teams tips our hats to one of the unintentional founders of the sport that we love so much. We have an amazing network across the country that offers Americans the opportunity to do something absolutely unforgettable. Browse around our new and improved website for information on everything skydiving and where you can reserve your spot in the clouds.
About the photo:
Pilot Tony Jannus (left) and Capt. Albert Berry, the first man ever to parachute from an airplane. This photo was taken by the Bain News Service sometime between 1910 and 1915 — presumably in 1912 or after, since 1912 was the year Albert Berry made his first jump.
The pair are sitting in one of the old-style airplanes of those early days. The parachute itself was held in the cone at Berry’s feet.
Photo from the Bain News Service collection at the U.S. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. (LC-DIG-ggbain-10188)