You’ll admit it – you’re obsessed with bungee jumping. When you’re not selecting your next summit for jumping, you like to learn as much about this fun sport as possible. That has you curious about something. When was the first bungee jump?
The first bungee jump, at least the modern sport as we know it, occurred on April 1st, 1970 in Bristol, England. That day, Geoff Tabin, Simon Keeling, and David Kirke climbed the 250-foot Clifton Suspension Bridge and dove. The best part is there’s footage of the jump despite its age.
If you want to learn more about the history of bungee jumping and how early jumps gave way to how we enjoy this sport today, you’ve come to the right place. Make sure you keep reading, as you won’t want to miss the great info we have for you!
Early Tethered Jumping – The First, First Bungee Jumps
If looking at bungee jumping as a modern sport, then the aforementioned UK jump (which we’ll delve into a lot more in the next section, so don’t miss that!) is regarded as the first.
If you dig deeper into the history of bungee jumping, when the activity started as tethered jumping, technically, people did that before the 1970s.
Tethered jumping is a form of land diving popularized on Pentecost Island in Vanuatu. When land diving, men climb tall wooden towers that stand anywhere from 66 to 98 feet in the air.
They attach tree vines around their ankles, and then they jump.
The original tethered diving wasn’t something one did for sport or enjoyment. Instead, it was a ritualistic practice. Men were the only jumpers, and that’s because they had to jump to prove they were men.
Successfully jumping was considered the transition from boyhood to manhood.
A significant difference between bungee jumping as we know and love it today and land diving was proximity to the ground.
When land diving, men always hit the ground. Fortunately, the vines had enough impact absorbance that the men didn’t die when they jumped.
A. J. Hackett, one of the most important names in modern bungee jumping, took inspiration from tethered jumping, and as you’ll see, he’s not the only one.
Chicago World Fair Proposed Car Bungee Jump
Between 1892 and 1893, vendors at the Chicago World Fair had an interesting idea. Although this idea was even further removed from modern bungee jumping than tethered jumping, it’s still an important part of its history.
So what was the idea, you ask? The attraction would have a 4,000-foot tower with a car attached to rubber cables. The car would sit on a platform and fit up to 200 people. Then someone would push the car off the platform, and it would freefall until the cables stopped it.
This idea never came to fruition because the Chicago World Fair wasn’t interested in proceeding. That’s probably for the best considering this idea seemed like a potential safety hazard!
What Was the First Modern Bungee Jump?
Skipping ahead to more modern times, the first bungee jumpers were Geoff Tabin, Simon Keeling, and David Kirke.
Keeling and Kirk were part of the Dangerous Sports Club at Oxford University, so bungee jumping would be right up their alley.
Tabin was already a professional climber, so he could set up the bungee cords with expert precision.
On April 1st, 1979, the three men ascended 250 feet up to the top of Bristol, England’s Clifton Suspension Bridge. Then they took the great leap and lived to tell the tale!
The men admitted that they too were inspired by the early vine-jumping rituals. When they came back down to ground level, they were promptly arrested. After all, modern bungee jumping didn’t exist, much less was it legal!
That didn’t stop them, though. Next, Tabin, Keeling, and Kirke migrated to the United States, leaping from the Royal Gorge Bridge in Canon City, Colorado and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California.
The Royal Gorge Bridge jump was televised on a show called That’s Incredible, but it wasn’t the first time the bungee jumpers were on camera. They recorded their first jump too, including the part where police detain them.
However, it was the jumpers’ appearance on That’s Incredible that put bungee jumping on the map. People around the world became interested in bungee jumping.
Other Early Bungee Jumps of Note
While Tabin, Keeling, and Kirke made huge strides in bungee jumping, they were not the only ones. Let’s take a look at some other early pioneers of the sport!
Charlie Fowler and Mike Munger
Although the UK trio are the first known bungee jumpers, Charlie Fowler and Mike Munger could have them beat.
The Colorado natives and trained alpinists planned to visit Patagonia’s Monte Fitzroy in 1977.
To help them get ready, they practiced falling from 150 feet of nylon rope. They soon evolved this to falling from the Diving Board, an overhang in Eldorado Springs, Colorado with a tree nearby.
They attached one side of the rope to the tree. The men had crudely-made leg loops and flat-seat belt webbing wrapped around their waists. After tying the other end of the rope to their setup, they jumped.
Munger went first, then Fowler. The men fell 130 feet and used the rope for climbing to reach the tree after their jump.
A. J. Hackett
Al John Hackett, better known as A. J. Hackett, is an entrepreneur and bungee jumping enthusiast from New Zealand who officially logged his first bungee jump in 1986. He leaped from the Greenhithe Bridge in Auckland.
Hackett is noteworthy for doing more than jumping from great heights but improving the safety of bungee jumping.
To do so, he worked with Chris Sigglekow, another adventurer. Together, they crafted their own stretchy and pliable bungee cord according to the New Zealand Department of Scientific and Industrial Research’s mathematical formula.
Hackett’s jump from the Greenhithe Bridge used that bungee cord. From there, he leaped from the Auckland Harbour Bridge and any other North Island bridge he could find.
All the jumps he had done to that point relied on parachute harnesses, but Hackett devised a method for attaching the harness to his ankle and bungee jumping that way. He successfully tested the harness during his second official jump from the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
In 1986, Hackett found himself in Paris with the New Zealand Speed Skiing Team, which he was a member of. At the Tignes ski resort, he rode a cable car to the Pont de la Caille part of the Eiffel Tower and leaped 482 feet.
What he did at the time was illegal, so Hackett was jailed.
After returning from Paris, Hackett was more inspired than ever and soon began the AJ Hackett Bungy company. The commercial public bungy he created was the first of its kind.
More bungee sites would follow in Macau, Indonesia, Mexico, the US, Germany, Russia, France, and Australia. Hackett also spread adventure tourism throughout New Zealand.
Here are some other jumps Hackett did that either beat his personal records or earned him a spot in the Guinness World Records:
- Auckland Stock Exchange Tower in 1988, the first bungee jump from a building
- Jumping from a helicopter in 1990 (the first of its kind)
- Jumping from the Royal Gorge Bridge in 2000
- Jumping from Macau Tower in 2006, as the jump was 764 feet
- Jumping 2,300 feet from a helicopter in Malaysia in 2007
How Did Bungee Jumping Evolve from There?
Through the incredible advances that A. J. Hackett contributed to the sport and time and technology evolving, bungee jumping continued to change over the decades.
Since becoming a popular sport in the 1980s, millions of people have successfully gone bungee jumping, and we bet millions more will!
In 1990, Africa made bungee jumping history by allowing the Bloukrans River Bridge to become a bungee jumping point, the first of its kind in Africa. The bridge partnered with Face Adrenalin then and still works with them today.
Many first-time jumpers and beginners worry about the safety of the sport. Still, strict requirements on jumpers by weight and strict equipment protocols and checks ensure that many companies meet bungee safety standards.
Although it looks scary, we can assure you that it’s totally safe to go bungee jumping. To see the safety statistics of bungee jumping, click the link.
Related Reading: “What are the Highest Jumps in the US?”
Bungee jumping as a sport has humble origins. It dates back to the days of vine jumping, when the Vanuatu people would ascend tall homemade summits, tie vines around their ankles, and leap to prove their manhood.
That ritual inspired the first group of bungee jumpers in the UK–Geoff Tabin, Simon Keeling, and David Kirke–whose jump was filmed and is still viewable to this day.
Other noteworthy names in bungee jumping such as A. J. Hackett, Mike Munger, and Charlie Fowler grew bungee jumping by leaps and bounds, especially Hackett, who created his own bungee cord and bungee jumping company.
We hope this post has accelerated your love and appreciation of bungee jumping!