In 1912, budding inventor Franz Reichelt sought to prove that his homemade parachute suit would be a great success by using it to jump off the Eiffel Tower.
On the morning of February 4, 1912, a man named Franz Reichelt stepped out onto the edge of the Eiffel Tower. He paused there for about 40 seconds as if he were gathering his courage. Then, he threw himself into the air.
He didn’t intend to die — this wasn’t an Eiffel Tower suicide attempt. Instead, Franz Reichelt had set out to prove that his prized invention, a bizarre parachute suit, could deliver him safely to the ground.
Reichelt had grown up in the early days of aviation. His life was filled with news stories about audacious flying machines and the bold pilots who dared to launch them into the sky. But he also noticed with growing horror that many of these pilots died in the process.
So the young Reichelt, a tailor by trade, believed he could help. He became convinced that he could design a parachute suit that would allow pilots to survive short falls.
Though he dove into his new project with unflagging enthusiasm, Reichelt’s early prototypes largely failed. Dummies that he tossed out the window of his fifth-story Parisian apartment simply plummeted to the earth. On one occasion, Reichelt even tested out one of his parachute suits himself and broke his leg after it failed to slow his fall.
But Reichelt was adamant that he could ultimately get his invention to work. He just needed the right height from which to jump. He soon became convinced that a triumphant leap from the Eiffel Tower would not only provide the right conditions for success, but would also make him famous in the process.
“I intend to prove the worth of my invention,” Reichelt told his terrified friends. “You are going to see how… my parachute will give your arguments the most decisive of denials.”
And so, as his friends begged him to change his mind, news cameras began rolling, and concerned onlookers watched from below, Reichelt confidently climbed to the tower’s platform on that fateful February morning.
For a long time, he hesitated, perhaps finally confronting the doubt and fear he’d been pushing to the back of his mind ever since he first embarked on his dream project. Then, Franz Reichelt jumped — and fell like a stone.
A great cry instantly rang out from both the crowd on the ground and from Reichelt’s friends on the platform. Police rushed to his side — but it was much too late. Franz Reichelt was dead at the age of 33.
Learn more about the fascinating life — and the even more noteworthy death — of Franz Reichelt.