Franz Reichelt saw himself as a visionary in the field of aviation technology; however, fate might've viewed him a little differently. On the freezing cold morning of February 4, 1912, Reichelt drove down the Paris streets that led to the Eiffel Tower to meet a crowd of journalists, police, and curious onlookers who were all there to see him, hopefully, make history. Instead, they would bear witness to a devastating tragedy that can only be blamed on stubborn ambition (and maybe a little stupidity).
Just after 8 am, Reichelt leapt from the first stage of the Eiffel Tower, his make-shift parachute giving way to his weight almost instantaneously, sending him plummeting into the frozen ground below. That's right – Reichelt's hubristic invention killed him; he jumped off the Eiffel Tower to his own death. But what makes his endeavor all the more heart wrenching is that, across the Atlantic Ocean, another sky-bound inventor tested a similar apparatus, jumping from the Statue of Liberty, but with far greater success.
He Was Known As The Flying Tailor
Franz Reichelt – also known as the Flying Tailor – was an Austrian-born bachelor residing in Paris, France, in the early 1900s. Earning a living as a French tailor who made high-end dresses, Reichelt's real passion was in the field of aviation and design, and he dedicated all of his spare time to inventing a parachute that would pair well with the newly invented early airplane models that had become notorious for their deadly accidents.
Reichelt no doubt hoped to be on the cutting edge of aviation technology – hoping to save the lives of pilots in the process. His dreams only became more inflated in 1911 when the Aéro-Club de France announced that a prize of 10,000 francs would be given to anyone who developed a fool-proof safety mechanism that would protect aerial explorers. Reichelt wanted to be that person.
He Had Already Begun Designing Parachute Suits Well Before The Prize Money Was Announced – And Had Even Tested Them
Reichelt was already knee deep in prototype designs by the time the prize money was announced for the perfect parachute design, and this only gave him more of a reason to continue his work. In fact, he had attempted numerous tests of his parachute suits with test dummies, most notably from the 5th floor of his apartment building.
Despite the fact that the majority of his experimental designs failed, he believed that he was nearing the design that would earn him a place in aviation history. The final design that he settled on was described as being "not much more bulky than one normally worn by an aviator, but with the addition of a few rods, a silk canopy, and a small amount of rubber that allowed it to fold out [into] a practical and efficient parachute." Or so he thought.
His Parachute Gave Way Beneath His Weight Almost Immediately
After building up quite a bit of anticipation around his proposed parachute suit test, he arrived at the Eiffel Town accompanied by two friends early on the morning of February 4, 1912, fully believing that his apparatus would save his life. However, police and spectators had been led to believe that he would use a test dummy – not himself.
"I want to try the experiment myself and without trickery, as I intend to prove the worth of my invention," he reportedly explained moments before taking his fatal leap of faith.
Despite the begging of his friends and police, Reichelt stole away to his position on the tower, and, after a chilling 40 seconds teetering upon a stool on top of a table in the 20-pound suit, he leapt from the building – his parachute falling far behind him.