Franz Reichelt “The Flying Tailor” created a jacket that doubled as a parachute and tested it by jumping off of the Eiffel Tower. (It ended in tragedy.)
Franz Reichelt, an Austrian tailor who later moved to France, was obsessed with the idea of human flight. He was an early designer of a basically frameless parachute made out of nothing more than silk, some rubber and a couple of rods. Late 18th century parachute experiments by Louis-Sebastien Lenormand or Jean-Pierre Blanchard – experiments that are seen as successes – had relied on fixed-canopy solutions, which means that the parachute was already open at the time of the exit. These designs were well suited for high altitudes.
When Franz Reichelt began to work on his design in the summer of 1910, he was aiming at a “parachute-suit” to be worn by the jumper, a suit that had to be folded out before the leap by spreading the arms. With his “bat-suit”, as the public called it, Reichelt was hoping to have come up with a parachute suited for low altitude jumps and jumps out of airplanes. (Here, tests had regularly ended in the death of the aviators.)
Reichelt’s suit had successfully landed dummies thrown out of his apartment window on the fifth floor; as he kept pushing his design forward to reduce the weight to about 9 kilograms, dummy tests failed. Reichelt, the Flying Tailor, kept asking police officials for the permission to conduct a test from the Eiffel tower. After some back and forth, he was granted a permission for dummy tests in February 1912.
At 7 a.m. on February 4th in 1912, Reichelt arrived at the Eiffel tower in a car, already clad in his bat-suit. He declared he would jump himself rather than using a dummy. Friends and bystanders tried to persuade him not to do it, but at 8.22 a.m., Franz Reichelt unfolded his suit standing on a chair on a bar table and jumped from 57 meters off into the icy Parisian air.
The suit did not catch air as Reichelt had hoped it would. After five seconds of free fall, he was dead in an instant. His crushed body left a 14cm deep crater in the frozen ground underneath the tower.
Marcel Bovis’ 1939: Reflections of the Eiffel Tower
Marcel Bovis was a self-taught photographer. Beginning in 1927, Bovis often photographed Paris at night (his most famous photo is Cafe de Nuit). He loved fairs and circuses, and published a book about them in 1948, called Fetes foraines. (information provided by New England Art Express)