Franz Reichelt was a Viennese tailor who settled in Paris, where he decided to pursue a sideline as an inventor. His was the early era of aviation, and seeing in that field a need that his speciality could meet, he designed an overcoat that could also serve as a parachute (pictured above).
When he showed his initial designs to the Aeronautical Society, they suggested that he return to tailoring and forget this nonsense. His friends, likewise, were not supportive of his unusual hobby, but Franz was no ordinary man—he pressed on.
In order to test the prototypes for his invention, he climbed to the roof of his apartment block and dropped a dummy made from a tailor’s form into the courtyard below. All of his tests failed, every dummy landing at full speed. Franz concluded that he wasn’t dropping them from a sufficient height for the canopy to fully inflate before they landed. Months of negotiations with City Hall finally gained him permission to perform a test from the top of the Eiffel Tower.
On the assigned day, he ascended the tower without a dummy and declared:
Je veux tenter l’expérience moi-même et sans chiqué [sic], car je tiens à bien prouver la valeur de mon invention.
(I will try the experience for myself, without trickery, and thus prove the value of my invention).
His friends tried once more to dissuade him, but he would hear none of it. A guard stopped him on his way to the first platform, and—having seen a few of the dummy drops—refused him admission. They argued back and forth until an official sympathetic to Franz’s plan was reached by telephone, after which the guard stood aside.
At last, Franz was ready. He stood in sartorial splendor at the edge of the observation platform, sure that his brilliant invention would prove them all wrong, then stepped out into the cold blue morning sky and fell three hundred feet to his death, leaving a crater at the foot of the tower. Remember: if you work hard, believe in yourself and ignore the naysayers, you might be lucky enough to share his fate.
This entry is part of Jack Rusher’s archive, originally published January 4th, 2012, in New York.