Kite History

From DT Online

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Kites originated in China - probably around the 5th-Century BC. The Chinese used kites for many military purposes including gauging the distance to besieged palaces, making eerie sounds to frighten enemies, and lifting men to act as look-outs.

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  • Kites have been in existence for about 25 centuries and probably originated in China. They were first mentioned in a story about Mo Ti, a contemporary of Confucius, around 500 B.C.
  • Kites developed as a source of amusement and ceremonial. They evolved from their simple rectangular shape to more elaborate and brightly painted constructions. Korean and Japanese fighting kites became the basis of a fast and exciting sport.
  • The Japanese were known to have used kites to lift building materials during tower construction and in Malaya fishing kites developed and are still in use in Asia today. These kites do not need a tail as the fishing line provides sufficient drag.
  • By the beginning of the 18th century, kite flying had become a popular pastime in Europe and in 1749 the first scientific application was recorded. Alexander Wilson in Scotland used a ‘train’ of kites to gain extra height for meteorological experiments. This was the first recorded of a ‘train’ of kites where several kites are flown one above the other on one line. Three years later in 1752, Benjamin Franklin performed his famous (and very dangerous!) electricity experiment with a kite. By 1898 kites were commonly used for meteorological purposes and were not superseded by balloons until the early 1930's.
  • The early kites were many shapes but were all plane-surface (i.e. flat) and required tails for stability. At the beginning of the 19th century, Sir George Cayley in North Yorkshire and some years later around 1750, W. A. Eddy in U.S.A., developed the 'dihedral'. The wings of the kite were bowed back to form a ‘keel’, which stabilises the kite in air just as a boat hull in water.
  • In 1847, a kite flown by Homan Walsh, age 10, aided in the construction of a suspension bridge across the Niagara River.
  • Alexander Graham Bell developed a Triangular Box Kite by removing one of the Box Kite's sides and joining the remaining two sides together. This decreased the weight and had a positive effect on stability. He later combined several together to create a Multi-Cell or Tetrahedral Kite which Bell patented in 1904.
  • 1900 Guglielmo Marconi used a kite to lift an antenna to make his historical radio link between America and Europe.
  • In 1901 S.F. Cody patented a man-lifting kite - a variation of Hargrave’s box kite and 1903, a kite train towed S.F. Cody across the English Channel. The British Army later adopted this for use by its artillery observers. The Wright Brothers' famous aircraft is basically a box kite with an engine added
  • Later developments in kite technology came from NASA where in 1948 Francis Rogallo patented his Flexible Kite that resulted in the Delta Wing kite and development of hang gliders, as we know them today.
  • Power kites or traction kites are large kites designed to be used for sports such as kite-surfing, kite-boarding on land, snowkiting, and kite buggying. There are two main types: foil kites and Leading Edge Inflatables.
  • Foils are soft, structure-less kites based on the design of the parafoil consisting of a number of cells open at the front allowing air to inflate the kite to form an aerofoil section. One of the first was the Flexifoil, developed in England by Ray Merry and Andrew Jones in the early 1970'
  • In the early 1990s, Peter Lynn of New Zealand built and used the first kite buggy - a lightweight vehicle powered by a traction kite (power kite). They can achieve speeds up to around 110 km/h (70 mph) and are classified as Class 8 Land Yachts
  • A leading edge inflatable kite, LEI or C-Kite is a single skin kite with inflatable bladders providing structure first developed in 1984. In 2003, these were improved by Bruno Legagnoix in France to create the Bow kite.

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