James Floyd Smith

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James Floyd Smith
James Floyd Smith (San Diego, ca. 1917).jpg
Smith circa 1915 in San Diego
BornOctober 17, 1884
DiedApril 18, 1956
Resting placePortal of Folded Wings
Known forParachute
Spouse(s)Hilder Florentina Youngber
Albert Smith on the left, James Floyd Smith (1884-1956) on the right, circa 1915 in San Diego

James Floyd Smith (October 17, 1884 – April 18, 1956) was a test pilot and instructor for Glenn Martin, and was a manufacturer of parachutes. He built and flew his own plane in 1912, and invented the manually operated parachute for the Army in 1918. He was awarded the Aero Club of America Medal of Merit.


He was born in Illinois on October 17, 1884, then his family moved to Union, Oregon. In 1907 he married Hilder Florentina Youngber of Galesburg, Illinois. Their first son, Sylvester Smith, was killed at age 11 by a car in 1919, in Chicago. They had a second son, Prevost Vedrines Smith (1913–1991) aka Prevost Floyd Smith. In 1930, the family was living in Morrisville, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and Floyd was working as an engineer.[1] Prevost and Floyd started the Smith Parachute Company at Gillespie Field in San Diego County, California which became the Prevost Smith Parachute Company.[2]

Floyd died on April 18, 1956 in San Diego, California of cancer.[3] He was buried in the Portal of Folded Wings Shrine to Aviation.[4][5][6]


A patent was filed on July 27, 1918 and issued May 18, 1920 for his parachute. The assignee was the Floyd Smith Aerial Equipment Company of San Diego, California. Floyd with Leslie Leroy Irvin, developed a 28-foot backpack parachute. On April 28, 1919, Irvin jumped from a de Havilland biplane traveling at 100 miles per hour at an altitude of 1,500 feet. After Irvin bailed out of the airplane and falling free, he manually reached the ripcord handle and pulled it, and the parachute fully deployed at 1,000 feet. Irvin became the first American to jump from an airplane and manually open a parachute in midair. Floyd's original 1919 ripcord parachute is on display at the Air Force Museum at Dayton, Ohio. [1]


  1. ^ 1930 US Census; Morrisville, Bucks County, Pennsylvania
  2. ^ "James Floyd Smith". Early Aviators. Retrieved 2011-11-15. ... he and Floyd started the Smith Parachute Company in San Diego County, which became the Prevost Smith Parachute Co. after Floyd's death in 1956.
  3. ^ "Of Fleeting Fame; Unusual achievements of some unusual people who died in 1956". New York Times. December 30, 1956. Retrieved 2011-11-15. He invented the modern ripcord parachute ...
  4. ^ "Died". Time magazine. April 30, 1956. Retrieved 2011-11-15. James Floyd Smith, 71, onetime dauntless barnstorming flyer and test pilot, who invented the modern ripcord parachute, founder of the Pioneer Parachute Company; of cancer; in San Diego.
  5. ^ "James Floyd Smith". Catholic News Service in Star-News. December 18, 1956. Pasadena, California. Memorial services for James Floyd Smith, pioneer aviator and one of the first men to ever parachute from a plane, were held at the Portal of the ...
  6. ^ "James Floyd Smith, 71". Washington Post. December 18, 1956. Aeronautic engineer and pioneer flier who invented the first successful free type of manually operated parachute now used by the Air Force, established three altitude records for seaplanes and was awarded the Aero Club of America Medal or Merit; in San Diego, California. ...

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