• George Finch
    George Finch

The humble down or 'puffer' jacket turns 100 this week and its invention is thanks to a scientist from Orange, NSW!

The 1922 summit of Mount Everest by an Australian team is the first acknowledged use of a down jacket.

George Finch, an Australian chemist, is acknowledged as the father of the modern feather down clothing industry and his use of the material was key in helping one of the first attempts on Mount Everest.

"Finch, who had a scientific brain, invented a wonderful green quilted eiderdown suit of aeroplane fabric. Not a particle of wind could get through," expedition photographer John Noel wrote in 1922.

What the photographer had witnessed was the birth of the puffer jacket.

A scientist and keen mountaineer, Finch’s early successes included his skill in bomb-making in World War I. For his services to cause he was awarded and MBE (Member of the British Empire).

Finch is not only known for his work on crafting clothes that would protect climbers from the deadly cold temperatures at the peak of Everest. He was also the first person to propose using bottled oxygen as a way of preventing oxygen starvation at extreme altitudes.

Originally called an ‘eiderdown coat’ by Finch, the puffer jacket he invented wouldn’t look out of place in the early 1980s. Bright green in colour and made from billowing balloon silk, the jacket was easily seen on the white slopes and peaks of the mountains.

Many explorers and climbers of that era, including George Mallory who died near the peak of Everest, mocked Finch’s creation. Up until 1922, and for a number of years afters, climbers wrapped themselves in layers of wool and tweed. Like Mallory, many of them never returned from their climbs, their lives ended by exhaustion and cold.

Finch’s role in the development of outdoor gear was pivotal. Sir Edmund Hilary, the first man to reach Everest’s summit without oxygen, worked with the Australian scientist to manufacture clothing for the expedition.

As a side note, Finch was first married to Alicia "Betty" Fisher, from London. By the time he returned from the Western Front in 1917, she had given birth to a son from a relationship with another man, Wentworth "Jock" Campbell, an Indian Army officer. That boy was the future Oscar-winning film actor Peter Finch! George separated the infant from his mother, and had his relatives raise him as his own son, even though he was not the biological father.

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