Wedding-dress made from life-saving parachute

From the Smithsonian's collection of remarkable artifacts, a wedding dress made from a B-29 pilot's life-saving parachute:
In August 1944, Hensinger, a B-29 pilot, and his crew were returning from a bombing raid over Yowata, Japan, when their engine caught fire. The crew was forced to bail out. Suffering from only minor injuries, Hensinger used the parachute as a pillow and blanket as he waited to be rescued. He kept the parachute that had saved his life. He later proposed to his girlfriend Ruth in 1947, offering her the material for a gown.

Ruth wanted to create a dress similar to one in the movie Gone with the Wind. She hired a local seamstress, Hilda Buck, to make the bodice and veil. Ruth 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 married July 19, 1947. The dress was also worn by the their daughter and by their son's bride before being gifted to the Smithsonian.

Parachute Wedding Dress


    1. “Gifted” is proper museum-speak for a donation with no restrictions placed on it. It is a gift to the museum that they have to properly site on their insurance, taxes, collections database, etc etc

      1. ‘Gifted’ is also IRS-speak. If you gift someone cash or equivalent up to $13K, it’s tax free. If it wasn’t gifted, it would be taxed as income.

  1. Dang, that’s touching! Used for two generations…

    I’m surprised that this story wasn’t used as a detail in some WWII movie.

    1. There’s a scene in “Band of Brothers” where one of the officers reveals that he’s been lugging his D-Day parachute around, to give to his fiance as wedding dress material.

  2. There’s another one on display in the Iowa Historical Museum in Des Moines. It came from a cargo parachute though.

  3. More then one wedding dress was made from parachute silk during the occupation years in norway.

  4. Cheapskate? Try thrifty.

    The country is still recovering from the Great Depression, I have some really nice material (that means something to me). I’m going to be married soon. Let’s re-use this parachute!

    Seeing as Hensinger and Ruth probably both spent the better part of their lives NEEDING to re-use everything, this comes as no great surprise.

    As for thief…when parachuting behind enemy lines, the troops were told to bury their chutes to hide any evidence they were there…I don’t believe the government went back to dig them up later. They knew they were not going to be returned, so when a couple of chutes didn’t come back because some sentimental men brought them home, I’m pretty sure the government didn’t blink an eye. After what this guy went through, I don’t think anyone was lining up to have the chute returned.

  5. From what I understand, this was pretty common. My grandmother’s wedding dress was made from a parachute although it wasn’t one of the ones my grandfather used as a paratrooper.

  6. My grandmother’s dress was also parachute silk, since she was married in 1945 and silk was rationed. It has held up amazingly well for the past sixty years. My mom altered it and wore it for her wedding in 1979, and I altered it again and wore it for my wedding in 2008. And amazingly it survived a trip through my wash machine! (After sixty years it had acquired a bit of an…odor. Washed right out though!)

  7. The civilian motto of the time was “Use it up, make it do, or do without”. We certainly didn’t look at this as being cheap. Or at least cheap wasn’t frowned upon as it is now because everybody was being cheap. Being as wasteful as we are today would have been tantamount to treason back then.

    1. It’s:
      Use it up,
      Wear it out,
      Make it do
      Or do without.

      And I’m pretty sure that it was in use in the 19th century or before, at least in New England. My mother turned old tablecloths into aprons, and then into laundry bags as they got rattier, not to mention turning my collars and cuffs. Our furniture from when I was a small child was constructed by my father and upholstered by my mother. And of course, they built the outhouse, as well.

  8. Somebody here probably knows the answer to this: at what point did they switch from using silk to using nylon for parachutes? I was under the impression that silk couldn’t be industrially produced on the scale they needed, and that was the reason for the switch to nylon. I also remember hearing about women drawing stocking seams on the backs of their legs after nylon was rationed.

  9. Re; Susie MacMurray’s dress…

    Ha, idiot! I just saw the title – “Widow!”
    Homer moment!

  10. My parents, both Captains in the Army Air Corp during W.W.I, were married in Paris, France on March 8, 1945. They had both a civil service and a church service both attended by many military personnel including the general for whom my mother was personal assistant. Mother’s dress was made in France from my father’s parachute. Dad flew 25 missions over Germany in his B-17 named “Rum Boogie and His Cocktail Kids” and flew with the 447th Bombardment Group. Their wedding was featured in Bride Magazine’s March 1945 issue.
    Dad died of cancer August 21, 1999, and mother is 96 years old living in St. Francis Healthcare Center in Breckenridge, MN.

    1. Your father was doubly lucky then, given the attrition rate of B-17 bomber crews.

    2. What a wonderful story, Sandra. God bless them both, and I am grateful for their service.

  11. What an absolutely gorgeous wedding dress, and to think that it was worn also by the daughter and daughter-in-law! Simply beautiful.

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