Jules Léotard (French: [leɔtaʁ]; March 1, 1838 – August 17, 1870) was a French acrobatic performer and aerialist who developed the art of trapeze. He also popularized the one-piece gym wear that now bears his name and inspired the 1867 song “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze” sung by George Leybourne.
Léotard was born in Toulouse, France, the son of a gymnastics instructor who ran a swimming pool in Toulouse. Léotard would practice his routines over the pool. He went on to study law.
After he passed his law exams, he seemed destined to join the legal profession. But at 18 he began to experiment with trapeze bars, ropes and rings suspended over a swimming pool. Léotard later joined the Cirque Napoleon.
On 12 November 1859, the first flying trapeze routine was performed by Jules Léotard on three trapeze bars at the Cirque Napoleon.
The costume he invented was a one-piece knitted garment streamlined to suit the safety and agility concerns of trapeze performance. It also showed off his physique, impressed women and inspired the song sung by George Leybourne.
According to notes from the Victoria and Albert Museum, Jules Léotard died in 1870 from an infectious disease (possibly smallpox). They list his year of birth as 1838 despite there being good evidence he wasn’t born until much later.
George Leybourne (17 March 1842 – 15 September 1884) was a Lion comique of the British Victorian music hall who, for much of his career, was known by the title of one of his songs, “Champagne Charlie”.
Another of his songs, and one that can still be heard today, is “The Flying Trapeze”, or “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze”. His 1867 hit “Champagne Charlie” led to the first major success of the music hall concept in Britain and even today he is still thought of as one of the most well known music hall performers.