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An Unsung Hero: Štefan Banič, Inventor of the Military Parachute

Much-deserved recognition was long in coming for Stefan Banič, whose designing of a workable parachute on the eve of World War I saved the lives of many American flyers.

Štefan Banič (23 November 1870 - 2 January 1941) was a Slovak inventor who devised a military parachute, the first parachute ever deployed in actual use.  He patented his parachute in 1914 and donated the patent (No. 1,108,484) to the U.S. Army. Banič’s parachute became standard equipment for all U.S. aviators in World War I, and it saved many lives.

He received no money or recognition for his invention during his lifetime. In 1997, the Stefan Banič Parachute Foundation was created to honor his legacy and memory. The foundation annually bestows the Stefan Banič Award on the world's leading parachute-industry professionals and manufacturers, past or present.

A Lifetime of Helping Others, an Immigrant with the American Dream

Banič was born in Neštich , Austria-Hungary, which is now part of Smolenice, Slovakia.  As a young man, he was an employee of a Hungarian Count Palffy.  He was fired from his job for trying to improve conditions for fellow workers and the townspeople.  He was also refused enrollment to the high school because of his Slovak consciousness.

Banič came to America in 1907 and settled in Greenville, Pennsylvania, where he worked in the coal mines. He later was a stone mason and an employee of the Chicago Bridge and Iron Company, where he improved productivity through his innovative ideas. Banič also attended technical school at night. He became fluent in the English language, as evidenced by his petitions for a U.S. Patent and the technical descriptions of his parachute device.

A Daring Test of His Invention

Having witnessing a plane crash in 1912, Banič constructed a prototype of a parachute in 1913.  The idea of a parachute had been known and discussed long before, and people had actually jumped from high places with them.  Banič’s invention was different from those we know today – it was like an umbrella that was attached to the body.

Banič tested his invention in Washington, D.C. before U.S. Patent Office and military representatives.  He first jumped from a 15-story building, and in 1914 he jumped from an airplane.

After donating his patent rights to the newly formed Army Signal Corps and to the American Society for the Promotion of Aviation, Banič was made an honorary member of the Army Air Corps - now the Air Force - and the Society.  It was a time when entrepreneurs and inventors often gained wealth and fame for their work. He received neither, even though his invention was important to war effort and to the subsequent development of modern aviation.

After World War I Banič returned to Slovakia where he helped to explore the Driny karst cave in the foothills of the Little Carpathian Mountains near his home town.  He died in 1941.  In 1970, a memorial to him was unveiled at the airport in Bratislava, capital city of Slovakia.

Recognition: Better Late than Never

In 1989, Banič’s first American home town, Greenville, Pennsylvania, celebrated the 75th anniversary of his invention with a gathering that included Army and Air Force officials. It was the first tribute to Stefan Banič in America.  In November 1990, a bronze plaque honoring Banič was presented to the town by the Slovak Museum & Archives of Middletown, Pennsylvania.

Another Slovak, Slavo Mulik, was founder of the Stefan Banič Parachute Foundation. Mulik was born in 1944 and started skydiving in 1960.  He made more than 2,300 jumps and obtained American licenses as an instructor, commercial pilot and expert parachutist. He served with the 82nd Airborne and was awarded Golden Wings and Diamond Wings.

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