17. Franz Reichelt believed he could fly – but his prototype parachute failing to save him when he jumped from the Eifel Tower
In 1910, the French aviator Colonel Lalance offered 10,000 francs – a sizable sum for those times – to anyone who could invent a safety parachute for pilots. This was a time when taking to the skies was a very risky business indeed and fledgling air forces across Europe were keen to find ways of getting their men back down to earth safely should their flying machines fail. The Austrian-born Franz Reichelt embraced the challenge. He invented a ‘flying suit’, a lightweight wearable parachute. He tested it on dummies. And it worked – albeit from just five floors up. Keen to demonstrate his new invention, Reichelt announced he would jump from the Eiffel Tower and float back down to the ground.
In February of 1912, the ‘Flying Tailor’ told the French press he had been given permission to jump from the Parisian landmark. So, early on a Sunday morning, he homemade suit and climbed to the top. Crowds gathered below, keeping the landing zone free. Tragically, the parachute only half-opened, wrapping itself around him. He plummeted to the ground and was killed almost instantly. Afterward, the Parisian police and even Reichart’s friends revealed that they had expected him to use a dummy for the test jump rather than go for it himself.