On Oct. 22, 1797, French balloonist Andrew-Jacques Garnerin hovered 3,000 feet above Paris’s Parc Monceau and prepared to cut the rope that tied him to the hot air balloon and kept him in the sky.
“I was on the point of cutting the cord that suspended me between heaven and earth and measured with my eye the vast space that separated me from the rest of the human race,” he said about the moment later.
Then he cut loose and descended to the Parisian crowds below in the first high-altitude parachute jump in human history, recreated today by an interactive Google Doodle.
The 28-year-old daredevil had experimented with balloons and parachutes before, but this was his first jump from such a height. His silk parachute would likely more resemble modern-day umbrellas, rather than the high-tech parachutes that accompany skydivers today.
The ride wasn’t pleasant – Mr. Garnerin reportedly vomited due to the winds that sent his parachute topsy-turvy, spinning to the ground below. But amazingly, he tumbled to Earth without a scratch. The crowds that gathered to watch his fall went wild, and the parachute jump was born.
After the jump, France bestowed him the enviable title “Official Aeronaut of France” and he continued to work in air travel for the rest of his life. Garnerin married Jeanne Genevieve Labrosse, who was the first female parachutist, and the couple traveled around the world working on balloon and parachute innovations.
Garnerin died at age 54 in pursuit of what he loved. At the construction site of a new balloon he was working on, a beam fell on him and he was killed instantly.
Today a balloon-decorated plaque sits in the spot where the famous parachutist landed several centuries before in the Parc Monceau, and there is a nearby allée (a French promenade) named after him. His pioneering jump has also evolved over history from a rickety, fingers-crossed freefall to the 400 skydivers who parachuted in Thailand in April, breaking the world record for largest free-fall formation.
Google is paying homage today with a whimsical, pastel doodle that allows users to guide Garnerin’s famous flight safely to the ground below. Though considering his feat, he likely won’t need much help.