Where Were Kites First Flown?
Kites have been used in Asia since time immemorial. Some evidence dates their invention at around 1,000 B.C. Kite flying has been a national pastime for many centuries among the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and Malayans. Kites held great religious significance in Asia, as they were believed to keep evil spirits away when flown at night.
But there is also a tradition that they were invented nearly four centuries before Christ by Archytas of Tarentum, in southern Italy. He was a Greek philosopher and scientist, and a friend of Plato, the great philosopher.
Kite flying strictly for pleasure has many supporters in China, where the ninth day of the ninth month is designated Kite Day. Kites have often been used in simple bridge building by attaching a cable to the kite and flying it across the river or gap. In meteorology kites have been used to carry weather recording instruments aloft.
Kites were invented in China, where materials ideal for kite building were readily available: silk fabric for sail material; fine, high-tensile-strength silk for flying line; and resilient bamboo for a strong, lightweight framework.
The kite has been claimed as the invention of the 5th-century BC Chinese philosophers Mozi (also Mo Di) and Lu Ban (also Gongshu Ban). By 549 AD paper kites were certainly being flown, as it was recorded that in that year a paper kite was used as a message for a rescue mission. Ancient and medieval Chinese sources describe kites being used for measuring distances, testing the wind, lifting men, signaling, and communication for military operations.
The earliest known Chinese kites were flat (not bowed) and often rectangular. Later, tailless kites incorporated a stabilizing bowline. Kites were decorated with mythological motifs and legendary figures; some were fitted with strings and whistles to make musical sounds while flying. From China, kites were introduced to Cambodia, Thailand, India, Japan, Korea and the western world.
After its introduction into India, the kite further evolved into the fighter kite, known as the patang in India, where thousands are flown every year on festivals such as Makar Sankranti.
Kites were known throughout Polynesia, as far as New Zealand, with the assumption being that the knowledge diffused from China along with the people. Anthropomorphic kites made from cloth and wood were used in religious ceremonies to send prayers to the gods. Polynesian kite traditions are used by anthropologists get an idea of early “primitive” Asian traditions that are believed to have at one time existed in Asia.
Kites were late to arrive in Europe, although windsock-like banners were known and used by the Romans. Stories of kites were first brought to Europe by Marco Polo towards the end of the 13th century, and kites were brought back by sailors from Japan and Malaysia in the 16th and 17th centuries. Although they were initially regarded as mere curiosities, by the 18th and 19th centuries kites were being used as vehicles for scientific research.
In 1750 Benjamin Franklin published a proposal for an experiment to prove that lightning was caused by electricity by flying a kite in a storm that appeared capable of becoming a lightning storm. It is not known whether Franklin ever performed his experiment, but on May 10, 1752, Thomas-François Dalibard of France conducted a similar experiment using a 40 feet (12 m) iron rod instead of a kite and extracted electrical sparks from a cloud.
Kites were also instrumental, in the research of the Wright brothers when developing the first airplane in the late 1800s. Over the next 70 years, many new kite designs were developed, and often patented. These included Eddy’s tail-less diamond kite, the tetrahedral kite, the flexible kite, the sled kite, and the parafoil kite, which helped to develop modern hang-gliders. In fact, the period from 1860 to about 1910 became the “golden age of kiting”. Kites started to be used for scientific purposes, especially in meteorology, aeronautics, wireless communications and photography; many different designs of man-lifting kite were developed as well as power kites.
The development of mechanically powered airplane diminished interest in kites. World War II saw a limited use of kites for military purposes since then they are used mainly for recreation.
The current kite flying record of four and a half miles was achieved with a string of 10 kites. The total surface of the 10 kites was 683 square feet. The line used for this record-breaking flight was more than nine miles long. The world record for kite flying height is 13,509 feet, held by 1995 by Canadian Richard Synergy.