Famous for being the fourth person to successfully navigate Niagara Falls and the first to accomplish this feat using a rubber ball.
Niagara Falls has long been a magnet for daredevils seeking to challenge its mighty cascades. Among the brave souls who attempted this death-defying feat, Joseph Albert “Jean” Lussier holds a prominent place in history. On July 4, 1928, Lussier made headlines around the world by riding a rubber ball over the Horseshoe Falls, becoming the first person to accomplish this daring stunt. In this article, we delve into the remarkable life and adventures of Jean Lussier, shedding light on his motivations, preparations, and the legacy he left behind.
Table of Contents
Jean Lussier Early Life and Inspiration
Born in 1891, Joseph Albert Lussier, known as Jean, hailed from Concord, New Hampshire, or possibly Quebec, Canada. Not much is known about his early years, but he eventually settled in Springfield, Massachusetts, which would become his adopted hometown. It was during a visit to Niagara Falls that Lussier’s fascination with the daredevilry surrounding the falls was ignited. He learned of the tragic fate of Charles Stephens, who had attempted a barrel ride over the falls, and this sparked Lussier’s determination to conquer the mighty Niagara himself.
Designing the Rubber Ball
To execute his audacious plan, Lussier sought the expertise of a rubber company located in Akron, Ohio. He envisioned a unique vessel that would protect him during the treacherous descent. The result was a rubber ball measuring 182 centimeters (approximately 6 feet) in diameter, reinforced with inner and outer steel bands to maintain its shape. Inside the ball, Lussier incorporated thirty-two inner tubes for shock absorption, leaving only enough space in the middle for his body and an air cushion. The ball was equipped with a system of valves to provide him with enough oxygen to survive for up to forty hours, in case he became trapped at the base of the waterfall. Additionally, 150 pounds of hard rubber stabilizers were strategically placed to prevent the ball from spinning uncontrollably.
The Journey to the Falls
On that fateful Independence Day in 1928, Lussier managed to elude the authorities and rowed his rubber ball to a spot about 3.2 kilometers (approximately 2 miles) upstream from the Horseshoe Falls. With the ball tethered to a rowboat, he embarked on his perilous journey. The stabilizer was torn away before reaching the brink of the falls, but despite this setback, Lussier bravely plunged over the edge at 3:35 p.m. The descent was not without its challenges, as three inner tubes burst, causing significant damage to the ball’s frame. However, at 4:23 p.m., the Maid of the Mist boat rescued Lussier, who miraculously emerged with only minor bruising.
Fame, Controversy, and Entrepreneurship
Following his remarkable survival, Lussier found himself thrust into the limelight. He capitalized on his newfound fame by selling debris from his rubber ball to tourists, initially genuine pieces and later substituting them with rubber scraps. Lussier’s entrepreneurial spirit and ability to entertain visitors with his captivating story ensured a steady stream of income.
Ambitious Plans and Retirement
The taste of success only fueled Lussier’s ambitions. In 1952, at the age of 61, he unveiled his grand vision of being the first person to go over both the American Falls and the Horseshoe Falls. To accomplish this feat, Lussier designed a rubber ball twice the size of his previous vessel, measuring 365 centimeters (approximately 12 feet) in diameter and weighing 550 pounds with him inside. The ball would feature multiple layers of cork, aluminum, and rubber, reinforced with braces. It would also be equipped with a forty-eight-hour air supply and a radio system. However, these plans never came to fruition, and Lussier retired in 1958 at the age of 67, leaving behind his dreams of further conquering Niagara Falls.
Legacy and Final Years
Jean Lussier’s daring exploits and indomitable spirit cemented his place in the annals of daredevil history. He spent his final years in Niagara Falls, New York, regaling tourists with tales of his adventures and selling souvenirs. Despite his fame, Lussier lived a modest life, residing in boarding houses and senior citizen high-rises. He passed away in 1971 at the age of 80, leaving behind a legacy of courage and determination.