Parachute, Back Pack, Van Meter


Display Status:

This object is not on display at the National Air and Space Museum. It is either on loan or in storage.

Collection Item Summary:

This is the prototype of the van Meter parachute, the first manually operated freefall parachute. The parachute and shroud lines are stored in an aluminum dome on the wearer's back. The parachute is released by pulling the hand held rip cord and removing a pin on the hinged dome.

Solomon van Meter Jr., the inventor and donor, applied for a patent for the device on March 27, 1911, and received patent no. 1,192,479 on July 25, 1916. During World War I, the United States government manufactured several thousand parachutes based on van Meter's design. He attempted to sue the government during the war but was unable to do so since he was an Army officer and considered a government employee.

Upon his completion of his military service at the end of the war, van Meter once again sued the United States for patent infringement. In 1928, the United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, found in favor of van Meter and determined from the evidence presented that "there was no prior use of the device embodying this invention." The court awarded van Meter compensation for parachutes manufactured after his military service. The court found that from January 1, 1919 to August 15, 1925, that 3,691 backpack parachutes were manufactured at a cost of $1,292,740 and awarded $46,137.50 to van Meter at the rate of $12.50 per unit as a "reasonable royalty."

Collection Item Long Description:

Inventory Number


Physical Description

Van Meter free fall parachute; aluminum domed container; 12 panel silk parachute with cotton shroud lines; plywood back; cotton canvas padding and straps.

Credit Line

Donated by Mr. Solomon L. van Meter Jr.

Country of Origin

United States of America


  • Non-Magnetic White Metal
  • Organic Fiber Fabrics
  • Ferrous Alloys
  • Paint
  • Wood


3-D (Overall): 54.6 × 38.7 × 38.1cm (1 ft. 9 1/2 in. × 1 ft. 3 1/4 in. × 1 ft. 3 in.)

Data Source

National Air and Space Museum

Restrictions & Rights

Do not reproduce without permission from the Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum



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