The idea of parachutes seems to have been thought of early in our history. Individuals in China may have used parachutes as early as the 1100s, and inventors such as Leonardo da Vinci of Italy created 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, he jumped off a Balloon in Paris.
The first parachute designs for airplanes were not developed until after the Wright Brothers made their first flight in 1903. Parachutes were first used for military purposes in World War I (1914-1918). Balloon-borne observers, who often drew enemy fire at their lofty positions, used them for a quick escape.
After World War I, aerial showmen called barnstormers began the think and discoveries that would also help future aviators and skydivers. Each year barnstormers traveled across the United States demonstrating airborne performances and parachute jumps. With this increase of parachuting awareness, competitions also began. In 1930 the first accuracy landing competition was held, in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
During World War II (1939-1945) the military sent out soldiers with parachutes and parachute training called paratroopers. Parachutes made it much easier for the miltary to deploy troops through water because after the paratroopers landed they helped the boats come ashore.
After World War II there was a surplus of nylon parachute equipment. This, coupled with the U.S. Army's formation of military sport parachuting clubs, led to modern recreational skydiving in the United States. Similar conditions began in other countries, and in 1951 Yugoslavia hosted the first parachuting world championships, which was the beggining of parachute competition which would lead to other discoveries with parachutes such as sky surfing.
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 more maneuverable. In 1964 Domina Jalbert, a French Canadian kite builder, conceived 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 non-sport uses of sport-generated designs were also invented, including military HAHO (high altitude, high opening) designs, which enable soldiers to fly silently over great distances; smoke jumping designs for accurately delivering firefighters into remote forest fires from low altitudes; 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, and jumps by celebrities such as former U.S. President George Bush raised awareness of the sport.