Going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, being shot from a cannon, walking on a tightrope high above a city street -- no one can dispute that daredevils captivate the public. From biplane wing walkers to Evel Knievel to the thick-headed morons of "Jackass" -- daredevils do what it takes to get attention.
So what makes a daredevil, and why do we watch? Some might say that any bungee jumper or mountain climber is a daredevil. Others might argue for NASCAR drivers or Hollywood stuntmen. Aviators consider Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh daredevils for flying nonstop over the Atlantic Ocean.
The truth is, there's no set definition for the term, but one thing all daredevils have in common is that they put their life on the line -- often with a high degree of recklessness. Viewers tune in to daredevil television specials for the chance to see a spectacular crash as much as a riveting stunt. Or maybe we watch to see someone attempt something we'd never try. No one knows for sure why these people risk their lives to thrill others.
In this article, we'll look the history of these people who risk death for a brief moment in the limelight. We'll also look at some of the most famous daredevils and what they've done to earn this distinction.
It's not clear why the first daredevils did what they did. With little publicity and no such thing as television or radio, daredevil pioneers risked their lives for small live audiences. Some might argue that they were simply adrenalinejunkies, much like today's extreme sportsmen. Some of the early daredevils might be viewed as inventors and experimenters. Frenchman Jacques Garnerin experimented with the world's first parachute jump with a non-rigid frame in 1797. He graduated from jumping from trees and sending animals out as test jumpers to eventually jumping himself from a hot air balloon at 3,200 feet. His experimentation with the non-rigid frame led to skydiving as we know it today.