Charles Broadwick invented a new way of falling.
- By Lisa Ritter
- Air & Space magazine, May 2010
Library Of Congress
(Page 3 of 5)
Martin and Broadwick apparently reached a curious agreement about the coatpack. Accounts vary, but newspapers repeatedly report that the device had been invented by Martin. A 1914 Los Angeles Times article about “Martin’s Life-Vest” says: “Although the life vest is…[Martin’s] own invention, the actual construction was done by Charles Broadwick, an old balloonist, under Martin’s direction.” Broadwick seemed to acquiesce, telling the San Diego Union in 1914: “I have spent many years of my life, giving up my time and pleasure to help Mr. Martin develop the parachute to the stage where we have it today.”
At most, Martin took Broadwick’s design and slightly tweaked it for suitability to the airplane. Taking credit for the invention of the packed parachute was shameless, but Martin went further: In March 1914, he applied for a patent for Broadwick’s device.
Over the years Martin held to his claim. A 1946 Martin Company newsletter gushed that he had invented the packed parachute and—oddly—the “first free-fall parachute.” In a 1927 deposition, Broadwick finally took credit, saying, “It was my own invention” and that Martin’s claim was “simply an advertising matter.” Tiny later verified this, telling an interviewer for the Columbia University Oral History Department that when they all first met, Martin “knew nothing about parachutes.”
But Broadwick apparently did not let the Martin arrangement sour him. Still cutting a handsome figure, he entertained the West Coast ladies. He was a real “sheik,” Tiny reminisced years later in Getting off the Ground by George Vecsey and George C. Dade, a book about pioneer aeronauts. “He was a fine-looking man. He’d go out and pick out the best-looking women and take ’em out to dinner. That was his excitement, aside from working with the [parachutes]. I’ve seen him take four beautiful women into the Ship’s Café, down in Venice.” As for Tiny, she had married a young seaman in 1912.
As the Great War loomed in Europe, Broadwick offered a nobler use for his coatpack.
At about nine pounds, the pack was now lighter, smaller, and better suited to snug cockpits. In a series of demonstrations between early 1914 and early 1915 at North Island in San Diego, Charles and Tiny wowed pilots, generals, Congressmen, and reporters with this “life preserver of the air,” as it came to be called.
At first, the idea of using the device to save airmen’s lives received consistent, albeit faint, praise. The Army even purchased two Broadwick packs for further testing—but they ended up on a shelf until after the war.
Pilots weren’t eager to adopt a parachute either. They argued that carrying one showed a lack of trust in one’s machine and in one’s flying ability. Army brass arguments wavered between two conflicting fears: that the presence of parachutes would make pilots abandon their machines needlessly, and that current parachutes weren’t reliable enough in all situations.