Parachutes lowered the risk of flight, encouraging innovation in flying.
In 1782, the Montgolfier brothers launched the first hot air balloon from the grounds of the Palace of Versailles. King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette — the last of the French aristocracy who would be beheaded during the revolution — watched as the balloon lifted in the air. In the basket was a sheep, duck, and rooster but no people.
The balloon ride lasted about eight minutes and landed not far away, the sheep, duck, and rooster no worse for the wear.
While the balloon ride seemed like great fun, the royals quickly realized there were military advantages being able to float above a battleground. At the very least, reconnaissance would be revolutionalized but — assuming the winds drifted in the correct direction — bombs could also be dropped.
There was one major problem. Whereas the sheep, duck, and rooster had no say about their flight, people were not as enthusiastic. The idea of a person flying like a bird was entirely alien. People at the time didn’t even understand how the balloons remained aloft, believing they remained aloft due to the air being expelled.
A solution was needed to create confidence so people would be willing to climb into the newfound contraption.
In response, on Dec. 26, 1783, Louis-Sebastien Lenormand jumped from Montpellier observatory to demonstrate the first successful parachute. It worked and he lived to talk about it.
In 1797, balloonist Andre-Jacques Garnerin jumped from a hot air balloon, demonstrating the first use of a high-altitude parachute jump. Garnerin was the Official Aeronaut of France, a military title despite that is sounds like a dessert.
Besides being the first to jump from a balloon with a parachute, he was also the first person to bring a woman, Citoyenne Henri, on an untethered balloon flight. French officials banned the flight due to concerns about the two being the first to join the Mile High club. Garnerin ignored the ban and the flight was uneventful. “There was no more scandal in seeing two people of different sexes ascend in a balloon than it is to see them jump into a carriage,” he later said.
Later, in 1815, Garnerin’s niece Élisa made a business charging people to watch her parachute out of balloons. Altogether, she parachuted out of balloons 39 times, never hurting herself.