A Leap from the Clouds

The Balloon-Parachute Act and the Daredevil Heritage of Aviation


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About the Book

In the late nineteenth century, circus aerialists collaborated with show balloonists to perform death-defying stunts, initially by suspending themselves from trapeze bars beneath a balloon, later by jumping from the balloons using fabric parachutes. By the 1890s, these performances became a worldwide craze, remaining in rural fairs and fetes for decades. Many of the original balloon-parachute pioneers went on to play key roles in the creation of airships, test flying the first gliders and airplanes. Based on extensive historical research, this unusual account explores how a nineteenth-century daredevil act united with the desire to achieve human flight. These performers’ contributions did not come without a price: dozens, if not hundreds, of people died in horrifying events witnessed by thousands of spectators. This book chronicles the act that had no practical purpose other than entertainment, which eventually evolved into the development of the free-fall parachute pack—a key aviation need—and the foundation of a new activity known as skydiving.

About the Author(s)

Jerry Kuntz is a librarian and writer residing in the Hudson Valley, New York. He has authored and edited several works on the history of nineteenth-century science, technology, entertainment, and crime.

Bibliographic Details

Jerry Kuntz

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 240
Bibliographic Info: 44 photos, appendix, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2022
pISBN: 978-1-4766-8960-9
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4742-5
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Preface: The Leap from the Clouds
One—A ­­Lighter-Than-Air Enlightenment
Two—Show Ballooning and Aerial Gymnasts
Three—Disciples of Donaldson
Four—Tom Baldwin’s San Francisco Leap
Five—Gold Rush in the Heavens
Six—The Craze Arrives in Britain
Seven—A Global Frenzy
Eight—A Carnage of Daredevils
Nine—Eldorado and the New York Balloon Company
Ten—Other Company Troupes
Eleven—Notable Parachuting Performers
Twelve—The ­­Balloon-Parachute Act and Society
Thirteen—Kites, Gliders and Airships
Fourteen—L. Guy Mecklem
Fifteen—Airplanes and Skydiving
Appendix: Notable ­­Balloon-Parachute Era Aeronauts
Chapter Notes