Skydiving has an interesting history that can take up a whole volume, but this article will attempt to give a brief synopsis of that history. Most people consider skydiving a product of the twentieth century, but its history actually goes further back than that. The Chinese attempted parachuting in the 10th century, a thousand years before we did. Of course, there were no airplanes, so the Chinese did what we would today call base diving; that is, they jumped off outcroppings or other formations that would allow them to float from a height to the ground. And then, of course, we have the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci, who illustrated a pyramid shaped parachute on a wood frame.
As an active sport, however, parachuting is much more recent. The first person to attempt to parachute was Frenchman Jacques Garnerin, who jumped from his air balloon at the end of the 18th Century and did tricks on the way down and stupefy the crowds by landing safely on the ground. In the 19th century, an intrepid woman, Kathie Paulus became famous for skydiving in Germany at the end of the 19th Century and is now famous for these feats and her demonstrated skills.
Once the airplane was invented, skydiving took on a whole new form. The airplane made it possible to dive from greater heights at greater speeds, allowing for more range in the movements in the air. A woman named Tiny Broadwick became the first woman to jump from a plane (in 1913) and to dive free fall (in 1914).
Skydiving was not called skydiving until the middle of the 1950s, when Ronald Young coined the phrase. It had been called parachuting prior to this and was primarily used by the military to land troops in inland locations, or for pilots to bail out of their planes when necessary. This was first done successfully in 1922, and has now become a standard for small plane pilots. Once World War I was over, parachuting became a sport, which we now call skydiving.
After World War II, this form became more and more of a hobby and less and less of a military maneuver. Soldiers were now trained in parachuting and enjoyed the thrill so much they continued on for fun. From this, teams and competitions were formed. Skydiving schools started popping up in the late 1950s and now it is a recognized extreme sport enjoyed by many.