Tiny Broadwick

Personally, I see no reason to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, but I know that there are countless numbers of people who absolutely love the thrill of doing just that. In fact, before planes were invented there were parachutes. In 1783, gutsy inventor Louis-Sebastian Lourmand made the first-ever recorded successful parachute jump with a rigid-frame cloth parachute 14 feet in diameter. He, of course, jumped from a balloon, because there were no planes then. I can’t imagine how that jump went. The parachute was not soft and flexible, but rigid!! My mind can see so many things going wrong with that jump. In the early years of parachute jumping, the jumpers were men, because women were considered far too “fragile” and “delicate” for such activities, so I doubt if it would have even been allowed, had a woman asked.

That all changed when a little woman named Georgia “Tiny” Broadwick came on the scene. Born to parents George and Emma Ross on April 8, 1893, Georgia Ann Thompson weighed about 3 pounds. She was the last of seven daughters, and because of her size, she was given the nickname “Tiny” since she weighed only 85 pounds and was 4 feet 8 inches tall, when she was fully grown. In those days, women often married very young, and at age 12, Tiny Broadwick had married and, at 13, had a daughter, Verla Jacobs (later, Poythress). By 15, Broadwick was abandoned by her husband and working in a cotton mill. It was then that she saw Charles Broadwick’s World Famous Aeronauts parachute from a hot air balloon. She was hooked and decided to join the travelling troupe. She left her daughter in the care of her parents. She later actually became Broadwick’s adopted daughter, to ease travel arrangements. Rumors also flew that she was his wife, but although her own family was later unclear on the relationship, that was not proven.

Although she would eventually make her jumps from airplanes, in her early career Broadwick jumped from balloons. Nevertheless, when the time came, Georgia “Tiny” Broadwick was not afraid, and she became the first woman to jump from an airplane too. She loved parachuting, and between 1913 and 1922 she completed over 1,100 jumps. Making that many jumps taught her that parachutes needed some improvements. So, she invented the ripcord, which is standard on every parachute to this day. Broadwick is also the only female member of the Early Birds of Aviation.

In 1914, she demonstrated parachutes to the US Army. At that time, the Army had a small fleet, but they were just as likely to crash as fly. I suppose that in that situation, knowing how to get out of the plane was crucial. Nevertheless, the Army was reluctant to adopt the parachute at first. They watched Tiny fearlessly dropped from the sky. Then, on one of her demonstration jumps, the static line became entangled in the tail assembly of the aircraft. As a solution, Tiny cut off the static line and deployed her chute manually on her next jump, thus becoming the first person to jump free-fall. This demonstrated that pilots could escape aircraft by using what was later called a ripcord, and for that she is now famous. Broadwick died in 1978 and was buried in Sunset Gardens in Henderson, North Carolina.

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