Scientists who study archeology say that there may be some evidence of prehistoric parachutes. But the first written history of the device comes from China about 2,100 years ago. Scientists cite an ancient book that describes parachutes. However, there is no archeological evidence that proves that an actual parachute was ever made. Later, people from northern Africa and Italy also had ideas about a similar invention. In fact, a Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawing corresponds closely with the modern parachute design!

In 1783, French scientist Sebastian Lenormand invented the first modern parachute. Sebastian brainstormed with other scientists to come up with a way to help people jump safely out of burning buildings. He thought the solution was to give people an object to restrict their speed while they traveled toward the ground. Many people thought that he was up to some kind of fraud, but Sebastian had a lot of integrity. His budget was limited, so he first tested his theory by using two umbrellas. He jumped out of a tree and found that the umbrellas worked. Next, he refined his invention. Rather than using umbrellas, he knit a large parachute. Finally, he jumped off a tall building on a French estate and landed safely in the courtyard.

Sebastian’s work gave another man an idea. Jean-Pierre Blanchard had a different outlook than Sebastian. He was a hot air balloon addict. He was one of the first people to ride in a hot air balloon powered by hydrogen gas. He was a proponent of using the parachutes to exit from hot air balloons. Starting in 1785, he used his dog to show that animals could land safely from hot air balloons by using parachutes. Then, in 1793, he was faced with a chaotic experience. The hot air balloon he was riding in burst and started to fall. He was forced to use a parachute himself. And much to his relief, it saved his life!