12 November 1859: Jules Leotard's flying trapeze

On this day in 1859, Jules Leotard performed the world’s first ever flying trapeze act, wowing audiences in the Cirque Napoleon in Paris.

Jules Leotard was born in Toulouse, where his father was a gymnastics teacher who also ran a swimming pool. The young Leotard practised in his father's gym, and became expert on the parallel bars. Soon, he began to experiment with a trapeze hung over the pool.

At the age of 18, despite studying to become a lawyer, he decided to join Victor Franconi's Cirque Napoleon in Paris. And it was here in 1859 that he introduced the world to his flying trapeze act. In the course of his 12-minute routine, he became the first person to perform a mid-air somersault, and the first to leap from one trapeze to another.

He brought his act to London in 1861, and he was a smash hit in music halls and pleasure gardens. He was reputed to be paid £180 a week – the equivalent of £5,000 in today's money.

Now, however, he is perhaps more remembered for the item of clothing he invented than for his mid-air feats of derring-do. His maillot – now of course, known as the leotard – not only allowed him free movement, with no chance of getting entangled in the trapeze, but it showed his... physique... to good effect.

This made him something of a hit with the ladies. And his charms were commemorated in the 1867 song The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze (written by George Leybourne and Gaston Lyle), which tells of how a young maiden eloped with a trapeze artist, devastating her paramour.

But Leotard's sparkling career was cut short early. He died in 1870, in Spain, aged 28. Not, perhaps surprisingly, from crashing to the ground, but of smallpox, (or perhaps cholera, nobody is quite sure).

Recommended

27 February 1900: The launch of the Labour Party
This day in history

27 February 1900: The launch of the Labour Party

Responding to the need for a single political party to represent the trade unions, the Labour Party was formed on this day in 1900.
27 Feb 2021
24 February 1981: Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer announce their engagement
This day in history

24 February 1981: Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer announce their engagement

On this day in 1981, Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer made their engagement official in front of the world's press at Buckingham Palace.
24 Feb 2021
24 February 1809: Drury Lane theatre burns down
This day in history

24 February 1809: Drury Lane theatre burns down

On this day in 1809, celebrated playwright Richard Sheridan was effectively ruined when the Drury Lane theatre went up in smoke.
24 Feb 2021
23 February 1963: The case of the electrified Land Rover
This day in history

23 February 1963: The case of the electrified Land Rover

On this day in 1963, an unsuspecting bobby gets a shock when he stumbles upon an electrified Land Rover.
23 Feb 2021

Most Popular

What is “yield curve control” and why is it coming to a central bank near you?
Government bonds

What is “yield curve control” and why is it coming to a central bank near you?

Central banks around the world are determined not to let interest rates go up too quickly or by too much – a practice known as “yield curve control”. …
1 Mar 2021
Expect more turbulence as the market calls central bankers’ bluff
Stockmarkets

Expect more turbulence as the market calls central bankers’ bluff

With bond yields climbing and stockmarkets sliding, markets are hoping central bankers will step in again to repress interest rates – but that won’t …
26 Feb 2021
Why you should still put money into a cash Isa
Cash ISAs

Why you should still put money into a cash Isa

Interest rates may be lousy, but tax-free saving into a cash Isa is still a good idea.
23 Feb 2021