Leo Stevens Award, History

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by Pat Works

The Leo Stevens Award is the major parachuting award in the United States. Donors and recipients have included Ambassador James Gavin; Brigadier General Harold Harris (1952) for having made the first emergency jump out of a U.S. army airplane in 1922; Joe Crane, founder of the National Parachuting Jumpers-Riggers, forerunner of the Parachute Club of America, now U.S. Parachute Association; Dr. William R. Lovelace who invented and demonstrated the bail-out oxygen bottle from a B-17 at 40,000'; Captain Joseph Kittinger who parachuted from 102,800'; Eddie Rickenbacker, World War I ace and founder of Eastern Air Lines. And, among sport parachutists, Jacques-Andre Istel for the development of parachuting as a sport, Lewis B. Sanborn for development of free fall photography; Stephen L. Snyder for his invention and development of an automatic opener for the reserve parachute; and Lee F.Guilfoyle for his invention of the pilot chute assist system.

Leo Steven Award coin frontLeo Steven Award coin backAccording to papers left to the Leo Stevens Fund by Joe Crane, A. Leo Stevens (1876-1944) invented the manually operated safety pack parachute, and in 1902 constructed and flew what may have been the first dirigible airship in the U.S. He is credited with over 3,000 balloon ascensions and financed and managed several Pioneer aviators and parachutists.Rodmal Law+Leo Stevens Flyer

Stevens was one of America's first parachutists. His more interesting mishaps included landing on the spire of Notre Dame Cathedral in Montréal in 1895, and a slight miss landed him in the Atlantic Ocean, two miles off the coast of New Jersey near Long Branch. He also barely missed the gorge of Niagara Falls. During World War I, he was an army instructor at Fort Omaha, Nebraska.
Parachuting was spectacular in those days. A Mr. Rodman Law, using a Stevens parachute is credited with a jump from the arm of the Statue of Liberty. Also, with a jump from the Brooklyn Bridge and, one from the Bankers Trust building at the corner of Broad and Wall Streets in New York City.

The Aeronaut Leo Stevens Memorial Fund was founded in 1945 by Mr. Augustus Post who also founded the world's first automobile club in 1899, now the American Automobile Association. Post also founded the Aeronautic Society of American in 1906, and the Aero Club of America in 1908. Another major sponsor of the Fund was Mr. Max C. Fleischmann, owner of Fleischmann's Yeast, Fleischmann Laboratories and a principal stockholder in General Foods. As a young man, Fleischmann made several jumps with the Stevens safety pack parachute. http://www.parafame.org/history_of_leo_stevens_award.htm

The Leo Stevens Award -- It is noteworthy that his namesake, the prestigious A. Leo Stevens Parachute Medal, was awarded first to honor USPA founder Joe Crane and subsequently to U.S. parachuting paterfamilias, Jacques-André Istel.

Albert Leo Stevens (1873-1944) was an accomplished balloonist and aviation pioneer. Stevens began making ascensions when he was twelve, He parachuted off of a church spire in 1895 at eighteen, and began manufacturing balloons and dirigibles at the age of 20. Stevens was an exhibitor in parachute, balloon, dirigible, and human cannonball shows and also was a participant in races such as the Gordon Bennett Balloon Races. Stevens flew one of the very first successful dirigibles in the United States in 1906 and opened the first private airfield in the nation in 1909.

The National Air and Space Museum houses the Leo Stevens Glass Plate Photography Collection, 1900-1915.

Stevens also played a key role in the development of parachutes. Leo Stevens invented the ripcord concept as a secondary backup for his static line operated pack-on-back chute. In theory, Leo Stevens ripcord actuated parachute might be jumper activated. However his backup ripcord was never put to use.

H. Leo Stevens ripcord was intended solely as a secondary safety device for use just in case the static line failed to open the parachute. That never happened. There is no evidence of its use in the air. In fact, a ripcord-deployed system would not get used for over a decade until 1920. Then the U.S. Army Corps parachute development project under Maj. Hoffman's team developed the Type-A Emergency parachute and released it to L. R. Irvin with a Government Purchase Order for 300 units. Patrick Robertson, Robertson’s Book of firsts: Who did what for the first time, ßloomsbury, London

In 1908 Leo Stevens designed a parachute, Patent #661826, which likely could be opened by the jumper by pulling a rope. It was never tested in use. His canopies had 16 Italian hemp lines 15’ long and two 13’ center lines to increase the projected diameter. The April 1912 issue of Aeronautics described the Leo Stevens' manufactured pack-on-back parachute harness as two horizontally placed leather belts, one wrapped around him beneath the arms and the other around the waist. The two belts were connected by two short ropes, which were attached to the suspension line assembly. During descent, tension from the belts could be eased by hanging onto the lines-connector link, a "steering wheel like" spreader bar just above the risers. U.S. Patent #661826; Stevens, Leo, New York, NY, Controllable Balloon 1900-11-13. 2 pages.