Old, Weird Tech: Life-Saving Parachute-Turned-Wedding Dress

In case you've been ensconced in a cone of silence for the past several weeks, the royal wedding of Kate Middleton to Prince William of Wales at Westminster Abbey took place today. Fashion's been quite the focus (Middleton wore Alexander McQueen) as an aesthetic flourish to the fairy-tale ceremony, but don't let the incessant fawning fool you: no wedding dress says romance more than one made from a life-saving parachute:

parachutedressoldweridtech.jpg

This dress, worn by Ruth Hensinger and now property of the Smithsonian's National Museum for American History, was made from a nylon parachute that saved her husband Claude's life during World War II. Claude Hensinger, a B-29 pilot and air force major, was returning with his crew from a bombing raid over Yowata, Japan, in August 1944 when their engine caught fire. The crew was forced to bail out:

It was night and Major Hensinger landed on some rocks and suffered some minor injuries. During the night he used the parachute both as a pillow and a blanket. In the morning the crew was able to reassemble and were taken in by some friendly Chinese. He kept the parachute and used it as a way to propose to Ruth in 1947. He presented it to her and suggested she make a gown out of it for their wedding.

She wondered how she was going to make "this voluminuous item" into a dress. Seeing a dress in a store window that was based on one that appeared in the movie Gone with the Wind, she patterned her dress after that. She hired a local seamstress, Hilda Buck, to make the bodice and veil. She made the skirt herself; she pulled up the strings on the parachute so that the dress would be shorter in the front and have a train in the back. The couple were married in the Neffs Lutheran Church in Neffs, Pennslyvania, July 19, 1947. Their daughter and their son's bride also wore the dress for their weddings.

Explore the entire Old, Weird Tech archive.

Presented by

Jared Keller is a former associate editor for The Atlantic and The Atlantic Wire and has also written for Lapham's Quarterly's Deja Vu blog, National Journal's The Hotline, Boston's Weekly Dig, and Preservation magazine. 

What LBJ Really Said About Selma

"It's outrageous what's on TV. It looks like that man is in charge of the country."

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

What LBJ Really Said About Selma

"It's going to go from bad to worse."

Video

Does This Child Need Marijuana?

Inside a family's fight to use marijuana oils to treat epilepsy

Video

A Miniature 1950s Utopia

A reclusive artist built this idealized suburb to grapple with his painful childhood memories.

Video

Why Principals Matter

Nadia Lopez didn't think anybody cared about her school. Then the Internet heard her story.

More in Technology

Just In