Fascinating Invention No. 13 - The Parachute
The first parachute was drawn by Leonardo da Vinci in about 1500 but he never got round to making one. That was left to Faust Vrancic, who in 1617 actually jumped from a Venice tower holding onto a parachute. At least he did not use a dog for his experiment as this is what Jean Pierre Blanchard did in 1785.
He took his dog up in the air for a balloon ride, probably jollying him along with lots of talk about the view and whatever and then…’LOOK FIFI – A CAT! FETCH!’ and he chucks him over the side attached to a not very good parachute. Maybe the dog did not die because Blanchard did use a parachute again to escape from his balloon when it suddenly exploded (I think Fifi was getting her own back).
Anyway parachutes got better because of dogs and mad Frenchmen and soon it stopped looking like a rigid pyramid and became a silky umbrella. Lots of people starting jumping from towers and then aeroplanes, just for fun. The big problem was the wobbling canopy.
Lots of people tried to stop the wobble, including Sir George Cayley, who thought that a cone-shaped parachute would do the trick; until Robert Cocking became the first person to die in a cone-shaped parachute accident in 1837.
Of course, it was someone in the army, Captain Thomas Baldwin in 1887, who said they should cut a hole in the top to stop the wobble and this worked. Parachutes became VERY BIG in the wars and now you get loads of different types and loads of different types of people use them – but not dogs.