History of the Leo Stevens Award


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.

According 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.

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 manually operated 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 manually operated safety pack parachute.