Google’s newest interactive Doodle, which was unveiled Tuesday, pays homage to André-Jacques Garnerin, a French aeronaut who completed the first frameless parachute jump 216 years ago on this day.
Others conducted successful drops in hot air balloons and more rudimentary parachutes before Garnerin came into the picture and invented the frameless parachute. He began experimenting with his designs while he was a prisoner of war in Hungary, and completed his first parachute in 1797 after being released.
On Oct. 22 of that year, in Parc Monceau in Paris, Garnerin bravely tested out the parachute -- a device made of silk that was 23 feet in diameter and resembled an umbrella. Using a hydrogen balloon, he ascended to a height of 3,000 feet before he cut the cord. However, Garnerin realized he had made an error by not including an air vent in the top of the parachute to regulate movement, and that flaw caused him to oscillate wildly inside of the basket.
Writing about the moment he severed the connection, Garnerin explained: “I was on the point of cutting the cord that suspended me between heaven and earth and measured with my eye the vast space that separated me from the rest of the human race.”
As Richard Hamblyn states in “The Invention of Clouds,” Garnerin successfully completed an even riskier jump five years later in London’s Grosvenor Square, parachuting from a height of 6,000 feet. Although the drop left Garnerin “badly shaken and airsick,” he followed it up with a series of other jumps in the city. A comic song written after the jump went: “Garnerin at first such applause did obtain, that the clouds he resolv’d he would visit again.”
In 1823, Garnerin was at work on another balloon at a construction site when a loose beam collapsed and struck him in the head, killing him instantly.