History of the kite

The history of kite flying from its beginnings in China some 3000 years ago to its current functions today.

The art of kite flying has a long and colorful history that dates back nearly 3000 years to ancient China. Although modern kites come in a vast array of different materials, shapes, and colors, the first kites flown in China were made of silk and bamboo and were rather basic in design. Throughout the many centuries that followed, kites were introduced in different parts of Asia and then finally to Europe and the Americas, where they have served a variety of different purposes and undergone many transformations.

Though most people in the West regard kite flying as mere child's play, kites have actually played a vital role in the economies of many countries throughout the world. During the past 2500 years, fishermen in the Polynesian islands have used leaf kites to catch fish. Even today, traditional fishermen still employ the kite for this purpose, securing a bounty of fish all with the aid of one simple leaf kite.

In addition to economic reasons, kites have also served many religious purposes as well. In the 7th century, Buddhist monks brought the kite from China into Japan where it was flown as a good luck charm to fend off evil spirits and bad luck and to ensure good health and prosperity. Although it is no longer widely used as a religious object, the kite is still extremely popular in Japan and is frequently given as a gift as well as used in various sporting events.

Though Roman soldiers used the kite as a military banner in the 2nd century, the greatest impact the kite had on the West was in the 15th century when the artist Leonardi da Vinci, inspired by different kite designs, experimented with the concept of flight. Later in the 18th and 19th centuries, other inventors also experimented with the concept of flight through the use of kites. Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the telephone, designed the tetrahedral kite that was able to lift a man off of the ground and into flight for a short period of time. Later the Wright Brothers made history when Orville and Wilbur Wright maintained the first controlled and sustained airplane flight in 1903. The brothers developed an interest in flying and airplanes as young children flying kites in their native North Carolina.

The kite was also used for other technological advances in the West. Benjamin Franklin conducted his famous experiments on electricity in 1752 while flying a kite with a brass key attached to it during a thunderstorm. And in the 19th and 20th centuries the kite was used for transporting meteorological equipment into the air to acquire weather information for scientists.

During the last two centuries the kite has been strategically employed by the military to gain an advantage over the enemy. In the 19th century, the kite was used by the military to lift soldiers into the air to report on the enemy. Then during World War II, the kite was used as a moving target for military personnel to practice their gunnery skills.

This past century has seen the kite used in a number of ways involving transport. In the early part of the century, Samuel Franklin Cody used a boat pulled by kites to cross the English Channel. Then towards the end of the century, kites have been increasingly used to pull loads over land, water, and ice. In the 1980's, a New Zealander created the first kite powered buggy. Then in 1999, kites were used in the North Pole to pull sleds.

The long and varied history of kites has resulted in quite a few innovations and technological breakthroughs throughout the past centuries, but perhaps the best explanation for the kite's longevity: kites are simply fun.

© High Speed Ventures 2011