People in China may have used parachutes since the 1100s, and inventors such as Da Vinci had plans for parachute-like devices, but skydivers consider French inventor André-Jacques Garnerin to be the first parachutist. He first made a jump using a parachute in 1797, jumping from a balloon over Paris.
The first parachute designs for use in airplanes were only developed after the Wright Brothers made the first aircraft flight in 1903. As aviation became more common, parachute use also increased. Parachutes were first used for military purposes in World War I. Balloon-borne observer used them to escape.
After World War I, aerial showmen called barnstormers promoted the skydiving greatly. They traveled across the United States demonstrating airborne performances and parachute jumps. Competitions also began due to this. In 1930 the first accuracy landing competition was held in the Soviet Union.
During World War II military forces used parachute-equipped soldiers called paratroopers. The most famous use of paratroopers occurred on D-day. Allied paratroops landed behind enemy lines before sunrise and secured areas to make it easier for other soldiers to come ashore from boats.
After World War II there was a surplus of nylon parachute equipment in many countries so that they were used for sport and in 1951 Yugoslavia hosted the first parachuting world championships.
Specially developed sport parachute systems began replacing military surplus systems in the mid-1960s as parachutists began calling the sport skydiving and calling themselves skydivers. Sport modifications to military parachutes improved their opening characteristics and made them easier to handle. In 1964 Domina Jalbert, a French Canadian kite builder, made the ram-air design that rapidly became the standard parachute for skydiving.
During the 1970s and 1980s sport skydivers tested improved designs and materials. Special sport-generated designs were also invented and a variety of applications for two-person and four-person tandem jumping equipment.
After the late 1980s skydiving continued to grow in popularity around the world. Reliable, lightweight, and easy-to-operate equipment made the sport accessible to a larger population.