April 19, 2011

Sports and Leisure” Updates

What do the inventor of outboard motors, parachutes' rip cords, and Boston's marathon all have in common? They all share today as their birthday!

On this day in 1877, a Norwegian-American inventor named Ole Evinrude was born in Oppland, Norway. He came to America as a child of five, and during that emigration, he spent much of the voyage to his new life in the ship's engine room, fascinated by the machines he saw there. Evinrude left school early because it was too easy—and he spent his time working with farm tools and machinery, eventually as an apprentice and laborer. Besides for the hands-on education he was getting from his work, Evinrude subscribed to a mechanics magazine.

When he was 23, Evinrude owned his own shop and worked as a self-taught machinist and engineer. He fell in love with his office manager and, one 90-degree day when he was rowing his boat five miles to get his girlfriend some ice cream, he decided that a boat with a gas-powered engine would be a mighty fine thing. So he invented a practical outboard motor for boats! He started a company selling his motors, and over the years, he sold that company, made more improvements on boat motors, and started a new company, which is still around today.

On this day in 1897, the first Boston marathon was run. Eighteen men competed, and the starter had no gun to signal the beginning of the race; he just shouted “Go!”

This marathon race, inspired by the 1896 summer Olympics marathon, is the oldest annual marathon in the world. (Obviously, the Olympics marathon is only run once ever four years.) These days it is a bit larger: around 500,000 spectators watch between 20,000 to almost 40,000 men and women race. (The world record for largest number of marathoners is the Centennial Boston Marathon in 1996, which had 38,708 entrants.) Racers have to qualify by running a standard marathon course within a certain period of time, although there are spots for mobility-impaired, wheelchair-bound, and charity-affiliated racers.

On this day in 1919, Californian and stuntman Leslie Irvin made the first ever free-fall parachute descent using a rip cord.

In the past, parachutists were stored in a canister and used a tether line attached to the aircraft to pull open the parachute. Irvin thought that a free-fall jump would be safer, because a spinning plane would interfere with the proper opening of the parachute—although he did break his ankle when he landed!

Although the parachute Irvin used, which was deployed from a backpack he wore, was designed by a guy named Floyd Smith and manufactured by Major EC Hoffman, and used Polish inventor Theodore Moscicki's rip cord, it became known as the Irvin parachute, as he set up a company to manufacture and sell them to the public. His company also sold the now-traditional sheepskin flying jacket, which Irvin designed himself, and later car seat belts, slings for cargo handling, and canning machinery. Today Irvin Aeorospace, Inc., specializes in parachutes and inflatable life-saving equipment.

By the way, according to Irvin's company, less than a year after this first flight, a man's life was saved by an Irvin parachute. Two years after its founding, the company began to award gold pins to pilots who successfully bailed out of disabled aircraft. By 1930, forty air forces around the world used Irvin parachutes, and during World War II, over 10,000 lives were saved by Irvin parachutes.

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