History of Kites
You might not believe this, but the earliest known kites date back more than 2000 years. Though the exact origin is debated, it’s believed the home of the first kite was Shandong, the eastern most province of China. One legend suggests a Chinese farmer tied a string to his hat to keep it from blowing away in strong winds, and from this concept the first kite was born. The first kites were constructed from common yet durable materials, such as bamboo for the framing covered by silk and paper. There is even evidence that emperors built wooden prototypes of kites that would hold the weight of soldiers, called “wooden black-eared kites”. This would mark one of many applications that kites have had in war and surveillance throughout the years.
“General Han Hsin of the Han Dynasty flew a kite over the walls of a city he was attacking to measure how far his army would have to tunnel to reach past the defenses. Knowing this distance, his troops reached the inside of the city, surprised their enemy, and were victorious. Kite flying was eventually spread by traders from China to Korea and across Asia to India. Each area developed a distinctive style of kite and cultural purpose for flying them.”
As with any new invention, kites were used for good and bad. Seventh-century Buddhist monks used kites to enrich harvests and to avert evil spirits in the sky, whereas one man went as far as using a large kite to carry himself to the top of a castle where he then could steal a golden statue on the roof. Nevertheless, kites were gaining popularity very quickly and the word was gradually spreading to the Western World.
In 1295, European explorer Marco Polo was among the first people to document the construction of kites and how to fly them. By the 16th century, the popularity of kites grew exponentially because books and other literature publicized kites as children’s toys. As the 18th century approached and the initial novelty of kites was wearing off, kites were made useful in a new arena: the field of science.
In 1749, a Scottish meteorologist named Alexander Wilson used a kite with a thermometer attached to measure air temperatures at 3000 feet. This marked the beginning of kites aiding in the study and recording of the Earth and weather forecasting by the U.S. Weather Service. Three years later in 1752, Ben Franklin and his son William conducted their famous experiment designed to prove that lightning was indeed electricity. Kites were also instrumental in the research and development of the Wright brothers when building the first airplane in the late 1800’s.
Over the next 70 years, patents and new kite designs continued popping up everywhere. Including the tail-less diamond kite, the tetrahedral kite, the flexible kite, the sled kite, and the parafoil kite, which helped to develop the modern hang-gliders.
By the 1950’s, NASA had begun to use kites to help in spaceship recovery missions. With the development of ultralight space-age materials and innovative designs, the future of the kiting industry seemed as bright as ever. In 1964, The American Kitefliers Association was formed and now has over 4000 members in at least 35 nations. Their annual convention is the largest gathering of serious kite fliers in the World.
Since then, the kite industry has taken leaps and bounds with the creation of stunt and power kites designed to go faster and perform more intricate tricks than ever before. Just when you would think the kiting industry is at a stand still, it always seems to find a way to innovate and keep millions of people entertained, looking eagerly for what’s next.
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