One of the book-related research tangents I’ve become ensnared in is the early history of parachuting. As you might suspect, the development of this important life-saving technology produced more than a few martyrs to the cause, as well as some heroes with complicated backstories. One of my favorite examples from the latter category is Carroll Eversole, an early airmail pilot who believed he could make a mint in the parachute development game. Like many inventors of that era, he saw nothing wrong with risking his neck to prove his technical savvy:
On February 18, 1921, Eversole was flying a dreaded twin de Havilland airplane from Minneapolis, Minnesota, when shortly after takeoff, and using a parachute, he bailed out of the airplane. A Chicago newspaper which wrote excitingly of this event, the first airmail pilot to survive a jump from a mail airplane, noted that the chute was “one of his own making.” Other witnesses remembered Eversole taking time to examine the parachute in detail before taking off. Officials investigated the crash and determined that Eversole had used the event to publicize the new parachutes, destroying an airmail airplane in the meantime. Eversole was quickly fired. His fellow pilots had mixed feelings about Eversole’s stunt. Few thought what he did was right, but none of them were sad to see a twin de Havilland airplane smashed into pieces.
Eversole had an alternate explanation for his post-jump dismissal: He claimed that he was fired for blowing the whistle on the drunkenness of U.S. Postal Service mechanics, whose incompetence led to the deaths of numerous airmail pilots. This excuse wasn’t enough to get his termination rescinded, but it did cause some USPS heads to roll.
What I’m missing is evidence that Eversole’s skydiving gamble ever paid off. Though his stunt was incredibly bold by modern standards, it was pretty much par for the course back in those days. More important, the market was flooded with worthy competitors; there is no single parachute design that trumps all others, given the personal preferences of pilots and the vagaries of aircraft. Based on the advertisement above, it seems that Eversole eventually ended up in some sort of business relationship with parachute manufacturer James Floyd Smith, a man known for his litigiousness. Here’s to hoping that Smith treated Eversole with the respect due a man who did something all-too-rare in modern capitalism: risk something more precious than borrowed money.