The Eiffel Tower is one of the most iconic architectural landmarks in the world.
Many people travel to its home in France for the sole purpose of seeing the remarkable structure, and enjoying the views of Paris from the top.
Over 1,000 feet tall, it is the tallest building in the city of Paris.
While normal visitors may be intimidated by its dizzying heights, there was once an extremely brave and eccentric inventor who went a step further.
In 1912, Franz Reichelt jumped from the top of the Eiffel Tower.
Born in Vienna in 1879, the tailor, inventor, and parachuting pioneer moved to Paris in 1898 at the age of nineteen, and in 1909 went on to obtain French nationality. Reichel never married, and it appears most of his family did not make the move to Paris with him.
He opened up what became an extremely successful dressmaking business, directed at other Austrians living in Paris.
Franz Reichelt’s interest in parachutes grew with the rise and popularization of aviation. He was upset to hear about how many accidents took place in the sky, and wanted to do what he could to make planes and flying safer for every person involved.
Beginning in 1910, he started developing a lightweight protective parachute suit.
In 1911, a prize was offered to the inventor who could create a safety parachute for aviators, as it was becoming more and more important for there to be better safety on aircrafts. To win the competition, the suit had to be lighter and better than any previously designed.
The suit that Franz Reichelt invented did not in any way limit the movement of the person wearing it. He hoped it would allow pilots to survive mid-air deployment from their aircraft during emergencies.
Using Reichelt’s suit was allegedly quite simple: all the wearer had to do was extend their arms out to form a cross with their body while falling, and their descent would be slowed. When the parachute was out, it resembled a cloak with a silk hood.
To publicize his final suit design, Franz Reichelt annouced to the papers in 1912 that he would demonstrate his invention with a test from the top of the Eiffel Tower. When he arrived at the tower, he had two friends with him, and was already wearing his newly invented parachute suit.
On the day that he went to test his new parachute by jumping off the Eiffel Tower, the weather was extremely cold, with freezing temperatures and strong winds. A number of police officers were present to observe the suit’s demonstration. The police granted him permission under the assumption that the parachute would be tested with a dummy. Reichelt had hidden from everyone his true intention: to make the jump himself.
Unfortunately, the suit failed to adequately slow his descent, and Reichelt was killed falling from the Eiffel Tower.
While this story ultimately did not have a happy ending, it is a fascinating tale of bravery and invention. Reichelt is now popularly remembered as The Flying Tailor.