Pack Man

Charles Broadwick invented a new way of falling.

Glenn Martin (standing). By 1913 Martin was taking credit for Broadwick’s invention, and the following year he patented it. Here, he and Tiny watch Broadwick stitch up the canopy of a parachute. (Library Of Congress)
Air & Space Magazine

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Broadwick took pride in his craft, but money was always the master. Aeronauts, like other entertainers, continually sought fresh additions to their acts: lions, monkeys, explosives, one-armed men. Broadwick was about to discover a perfect drawing card: a spitfire of a young woman named Tiny.

In the spring of 1908, Broadwick was performing with the Johnny J. Jones Exposition Shows, touring the South. Georgia “Tiny” Jacobs, 15, a deserted wife with a baby daughter, had hitched a ride with friends to see Jones’ carnival in nearby Raleigh, North Carolina. Due to a farmers’ strike, Tiny was on hiatus from her grueling cotton mill job. Watching Broadwick’s spectacular show, she resolved: “That’s what I want to do.” While the rest of the crowd ran off to witness his landing, Tiny waited for Broadwick to return to the launching grounds. She desperately wanted to be an aeronaut. The story goes that Broadwick needed convincing, but after he got her mother’s permission and in turn promised to send money back for the baby, he added the young woman to the troupe.

As the Jones shows continued to tour the South, “Tiny Broadwick” became an instant headliner. Just under five feet tall and dressed in a ruffled dress, bloomers, and bonnet, “the Doll Girl” was usually described as younger than she was, and almost always referred to as Broadwick’s daughter. (Interestingly, she was sometimes referred to as his wife. Even a member of Tiny’s family is unclear on what the relationship was.)

As Charles and Tiny plied their balloon-and-chute trade on the carnival circuit, aviation advanced rapidly: Smoke balloons became antiquated; dirigibles, passé. The aeroplane had arrived. In 1912, on a field south of downtown Los Angeles, crates full of engines, bamboo frames, and white canvas wings were being pried open, and the parts assembled into monoplanes and biplanes for the third Dominguez Air Meet, which newspapers anticipated would be the greatest aviation event yet held in the United States. Attendees would include the most famous members of the flying world: airplane designer Glenn Curtiss, future manufacturer Glenn Martin, pilot Lincoln Beachey. Also in attendance would be Charles Broadwick and Tiny, who had moved west the year before.

On opening day, Tiny ascended with a hot-air balloon and did a double parachute drop, descending partway with one parachute, then cutting away from it, opening a second, and completing her descent. Glenn Curtiss expressed disapproval of parachuting, telling a reporter that he instructed his pupils to never jump in the event of an emergency: “It’s much safer for an operator to remain in his seat.” Phil “Skyman” Parmelee added: “None of that parachute jumping for us aviators,” he told the Los Angeles Times; “it’s too dangerous.” (A few months later, Parmelee’s biplane would flip in high winds, and he would die at age 25.) These sentiments were not surprising. At the time, no one had attempted to jump from an airplane. (The first such jump would be made two months later, when Albert Berry leapt from Tony Jannus’ flimsy Benoist 1,500 feet over St. Louis, Missouri.)

At the Dominguez Field meet, shrewd businessman Glenn Martin took notice of Broadwick’s “coatpack” parachute—with media darling Tiny as its demonstrator. The following year, Martin garnered headlines and world records for Tiny. In June 1913, he dropped Tiny from his biplane over Griffith Park in Los Angeles, and two months later, he dropped her from a hydroplane over Lake Michigan. Wearing Broadwick’s coatpack, she became the first woman to parachute from an airplane, and the first person to parachute from a hydroplane.

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.

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