Behind the Photo: How Tiny Broadwick Became the First Woman To Skydive From an Airplane


On June 21, 1913, Georgia “Tiny” Broadwick became the first woman to skydive from an airplane. She performed her stunts all around the United States, often jumping from hot air balloons and airplanes like the one pictured here. Wikimedia Commons photo.

On June 21, 1913, 20-year-old Georgia “Tiny” Broadwick became the first woman parachutist to jump from an airplane. The historic achievement wasn’t a publicity stunt (though it received plenty of attention from the press), but rather an attempt to push the boundaries of her unusual profession.

Six years earlier, when she still went by the name Georgia Anne Thompson, Tiny attended the North Carolina State Fair. There, she witnessed parachutists from “The Broadwicks and Their Famous French Aeronauts” leap from hot air balloons before an amazed crowd. The spectacle lit a spark in 14-year-old Tiny, and she decided right then and there she would become a parachutist herself. So she approached the head of the Aeronauts, Charles Broadwick, and asked him if she could join the troupe. Broadwick agreed, and Tiny became his apprentice. A year later, Broadwick legally adopted her, and so she took on his last name.

For the next four years, Tiny toured the United States with the Broadwicks and Their Famous French Aeronauts, performing skydiving stunts from hot air balloons. In 1912, she met the famous stunt pilot Glenn Martin at one of her shows in Los Angeles, and he asked whether she’d be interested in jumping out of one of his airplanes. Tiny immediately accepted his offer.

Thus, on June 21 of the following year, Tiny mounted a trapeze-looking swing affixed to the side of Martin’s Model T biplane, and the pair ascended into the sky over Los Angeles, en route to making history. Tiny’s parachute, which Charles Broadwick designed specifically for this endeavor, was made of silk and packed into a knapsack. The knapsack was attached to a canvas jacket worn by Tiny, while the parachute was connected by string to the fuselage. When Martin reached 2,000 feet in altitude, Tiny pulled a lever, dropping her seat out from under her, then free-fell for a few seconds until she deployed her chute and floated down into Griffin Park.

Tiny’s reputation as a parachutist grew as a result of the jump — so much so, in fact, that in 1914 she was recruited by the US Army Air Corps to teach soldiers how to properly skydive from an airplane.

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Matt Fratus is a history staff writer for Coffee or Die. He prides himself on uncovering the most fascinating tales of history by sharing them through any means of engaging storytelling. He writes for his micro-blog @LateNightHistory on Instagram, where he shares the story behind the image. He is also the host of the Late Night History podcast. When not writing about history, Matt enjoys volunteering for One More Wave and rooting for Boston sports teams.
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