The history of kites is actually a very long one & the start of it is lost in time. I haven’t attempted to include every development and story – that would be a web site on it’s own, rather just a feel for what (at least to me) seems to be the most important developments over time.
What was a surprise to me was just how much of the traction activities (such as buggying, kite surfing, jumping) we think are so extreme today were experimented with through history. As the Book of Eccleisates in the Bible says “there is nothing new under the sun”.
The Chinese are credited with the earliest kite flying more than 2000 years (some even say over 3000 years) ago
Although some people believe that kites actually developed in the South Pacific – small kites made out of leaves or grasses to appease the gods.
Kite come to Japan via Chinese Buddhist Monks – they were used to ensure good harvests and to ward off evil spirits.
In the 1280’s Marco Polo brings stories of kites back to Europe from his travels, including lifting men with kites.
The earliest paintings from India (from around 1500) show kite flying.
Each country then developed their own style of kites. They also had their own cultural reasons for kite flying – for example warding off spirits.
It’s said that the silk route would also have spread kites into Arabia & North Africa, and that Kengis Khan & the Mongolians when they invaded Central Europe and Asia.
During the Edo period (approx. 1600~1860) in Japan (Edo is the old name for Tokyo) people who weren’t Samurai’s were allowed to fly kites. The government at the time tried to stop this as the people spent too long flying kites rather than working.
Kites being to appear in Europe, brought back from the East by sailors.
In the 18th & 19th Century kites are used to conduct experiments on the wind and weather – for instance Benjamin Franklin’s famous lightning experiment in 1752 (don’t try this one at home folks!).
Benjamin Franklin apparently used a kite to pull him across a pond whilst he was a boy – kite surfing anybody?
In 1822 a man called George Peacock from Bristol,UK even used a couple of kites to pull a carriage along at speeds up to 20mph (fast for the time). Not only that the kites were in fact steerable – the first example of kite buggying?
In 1847 a 10 year old boy called Homan Walsh succeeded in flying a kite across the gorge at Niagra Falls. The aim was that if someone could get a first line across the gorge, then a bridge could be built. Homan was the first to succeed – and won himself $10! Interestingly Leonardo di Vince also had this idea in the 16th Century.
1900AD – Present
Samuel Franklin Cody developed a man lifting kite whilst he was putting on his shows in the US. Cody and his son flew larger and larger kites, and Cody himself developed different kite configuration. Finally in 1901 he patented a configuration of a kite, which is still known as the Cody. In 1903 he crossed the English channel in a small boat pulled by kites.
During World War I a lot of countires developed man lifting kites for observation (based on Cody’s work) – these were quickly replaced by the aeroplane. The first example of Kite Jumping?
During World War II the US Navy used kites for target practice (a steerable diamond kite), to prevent aeroplanes coming overhead, and even as a signal for pilots lost at sea.
In 1975 Peter Powell developed the dual line stunt kite for fun use (rather than for gunners target practice).
In 1976 the Flexifoil was invented (a single spar holding an inflatable sail & no bridle) almost by accident.
In the 1980’s Peter Lynn developed the three wheeled buggy that has become common.
Three brothers Joe, Jim & Dave Hadzicki design the Revolution quad line kite in 1988.
The three wheeled kite buggy is the most popular and fastest growing form of kite sailing. Its origins date back to nineteenth century when a school teacher in England, George Pocock, made a kite powered buggy as a part of series of experiments he carried out with kite powered vehicles. Reports of his experiments vary, but most likely he used a four lined rounded nose diamond kite to power his cart to speeds of up to 25 miles per hour. Despite Pocock’s success it was not until 1990 when New Zealander Peter Lynn introduced the first commercially available kite buggy, that it gained popularity.
The basic principles used when buggying are the same as those which apply to all forms of kite sailing, outlined in the previous section. When tacking upwind in a buggy it is possible to turn through the wind, but this can be quite a difficult maneuver. It is always easier to jibe: turn through the wind looping around with out ever facing directly into the wind. Expert buggy pilots can perform tricks on their buggies. Some of these are 180 and 360 degree turns. These involve the pilot spinning the buggying in a very tight turn, sliding the wheels, and continuing to travel in the same direction with minimal loss in speed. Other tricks include riding on two wheels, riding backwards, and doing fish tail turns to swing out the back end. The amount of tricks that can be performed are limited only by the imagination of buggiers.
Chronological Table of Kite History
Two kite makers, Kungshu P’an who made kites shaped like birds which could fly for up to three days, and Mo Zi(who is said to have spent three years building a special kite and successfully made a hawk out of wood) were famous in Chinese traditional stories from as early as the fifth century BC.
General Han Hsin is said to have flown a kite over a palace in order to judge the distance between his army and the palace walls, so that a tunnel of the correct length might be dug to allow his troops to enter. Refer to The Drachen Foundation site.
Kites were introduced to Korea and Japan.
The Romans were flying decorated windsocks as military banners.
Emperor Wudi in China flew a kite, hidden an edict to ask for reinforcement in it.
Emperor in China sentenced crinals to make a flight on a kite.
Emperor Xuan Zong in China watched kite flying in Yichun Garden.
The word word for “kite” (Ikanobori, old name of Tako ) appeared for the first time in the book of “Wamyouruijoshou” . This is said to be the oldest written record about kites in Japan. The kite was built with paper and bamboo.
960 to 1126
Flying kites became a popular activity in China. People celebrated the ninth day of the month, a day signifying the banishing of evil, by flying kites.
Kiyohara no Iehira is said to have communicated with his lord by kite in Japan.
The famous hero Minamoto no Tametomo exiled to the island of Oshima in the Izu Island constructs a huge kite to bear his son back to Honshu in Japan.
Jin, sieged by Mongolia, flew kites to send message to the enemy soldiers.
Kites were introduced to Europe by Marco Polo, an Italian explorer who returned from China.
The first time the word patang found mention in Indian literature. It was used by Manzan in Madhumati, where the flight of a kite is associated with the loved one by a poet. Marathi poets Eknath and Tukaram also described kites in their verses, where the word vavdi has been used.
Hamamatsu Fighting Kite Festival began at Shizuoka Pref., Japan.
Nagasaki Hata Fighting Kite Festival began at Nagasaki Pref., Japan.
Earliest picture of a kite in England appeared in the book ‘The Mysterys of Nature and Art’ written by John Bate issued 1635. This, like so many others at the time, was thought of as an aid to fireworks displays. Bate does not use the word ‘kite’, but he describes in detail how to make and use one.
Sanjo Rokkaku fighting kite festival began at Niigata Pref.,Japan
Kite Flying was inhibited in Japan. Kite stores in the town closed but the kite flying was continued still by children.
Kite Flying was inhibited again in Japan.
Shirone Kite Festival began at Niigata Pref., Japan.
Wan-Wan dako Festival began at Tokushima Pref., Japan.
Kakinoki Kinsuke (also known as Kakinomura Kinsuke) is supposed to have boarded a great kite in order to steal the golden scales from the fabulous dolphionlike fish on the rigdepole of NAGOYA CASTLE
Showamachi(Hoshubana) Giant Kite Festival began at Saitama Pref., Japan.
Scottish meteorologists named Dr.Alexander Wilson and Thomas Melville used kites to lift thermometers to a height of 3000 feet to measure temperature variations at altitude.
Benjamin Franklin flew his kite to collect the electricity from storm clouds in Philadelphia.
You can see another site about The Dracgen Foundation site.
Yakko dako appeared in Edo (old Tokyo).
Francisco de Goya painted his famous work which title was “KITE” and the painting is exhibited at Museo del Prado (Prado Art Museum).
Kite Flying was inhibited again in Japan.
Kite Flying by adult was inhibited again in Japan because kites became too luxurious kites such as a decolated Edo kite and other too expensive kite.
Geroge Vaykey developed the concept of heavier-than-air flight. His glider was a modified arch top kite.
George Pocockdeveloped one of the strangest uses of kite power. He used a pair of kites to pull a special light-weight carriage at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour. Some of his kite trip were recorded at over 100 miles. This is believed as the origin of the first buggy kiting. Refer to The Drachen Foundation site.
George Pocock had patented a four stringed kite used for pulling carriage.
During a demonstration for King George IV, Pocock’s Charvolant was able to journey from Bristol to Marlbrough easily overtaking the London mail coach following a similar foute. Later, he took a 113 mile trip across the British countryside to attempt to demonstrate the reliability of the vehicle as a means of travel.
Sagamihara Giant Kite Festival began at Kanagawa Pref., Japan.
A British meteorologist, E.D.Archibold started using kites to lift anemometers to measure wind speed at various altitudes.
Yokaichi Giant Kite Festival began at Shiga Pref., Japan.
Hojubana Kite Fwstival began at Showa twon in Saitama Pref., Japan.
Homan Walsh succeeded to the crossing of the first line over Niagara Falls by his kite. The string of his kite was fastened to a tree on the far side of the river, a light cord attached to it, and carefully pulled across. Next came a heavier cord, then rope and finally a wire cable composed of a number of strands of number ten wire, which was to be the beginning of the new brigde.
During the Russian War, Admiral Sir. Arthur made some trials with twelve-foot kites to see if they might be used to tow torpedoes to a target. The trials were very successuful, hte kites trevelling fast and accurately over distances of about two miles.
Jean Marie LeBris built a large kite shaped lake an albatrosss.The wings could be acted upon. He put this kite on a horse drawn cart on a cliff in Britanny, facing the ocean.
A British meteorologist, Douglas Archibold flew a kite with a wind speed meter up to 2500 feet above the ground.
Alexander McAdie flew a kite with an electrometer up to several handreds feet above the ground and measeured the voltage difference between the air and the ground in Blue Hill, Boston.
Zama Giant Kite Festival began at Kanagawa Pref., Japan.
A British meteorologist, E.D.Archibold took an first aerial photograph from a kite.
William Eddy flew a kite with a thermometer in Bayonne, NewJersey.
Chuhachi Ninomiya invented plane model. It was twelve years before the success of Wright brothers.
A photographer by the name of William Eddy, from Bayonne, New Jersey, created a bowed form of the diamond-shaped Malay kite by tensioning the lateral spar.
A keel for a kite was invented by Edward Boynton, Brooklyn, New York.
Lawrence Hargrave invented the box, or cellular kite.
Lawrence Hargrave was lifted from the ground by a train of four of his “cellular kites”. This was simple one stage in his quest for a stable lifting surface which could then be uaaased as a means of transportation.
Alexander Graham Bell designed “tetra” by combining lightweight stics. He flew the “Frost King” kite with 256 cells and improvised to have 1300 and later, 3396 cells. Around the same time Samuel Cody carried out experiments with a man carrying biplane bliders.
The Wright Brothers used kites to test their theories for the first flying machine(airplane).
Guglielmo Marconi succeeded to communicate between Cornwall, England and St.Johnes, NewFoundland with an aid of antenna which was fixed to the line of the kite because the antenna was bloken due to the storm. On a cold and windy December 12th, 1901, Marconi heard a distinct tapping: three dots – the letter “S” in Mores code – transmitted from Poldhu Cove in Cornwall, England, more than 1,800 miles away at the summit of Signal Hill, St.John’s harbour.
The largest kite ever built was established at Yokaichi in Shiga Pref., Japan. It’s weight was 1,050kg, and the size was 18m square. 215 people in total were needed to fly the kite successfully.
The kite-fishing was recoreded in England by an enthusiatic fisherman. He flew two box kites carrying fishing line.
The French Military (Conyne) Kite raised military observers.
Wright brothers succeeded in the first flight by their plane with the engine.
Tetrahedral kite was invented by Alexander Graham Bell, Washington, DC.
Kite carried a camera aloft to take aerial photographs of the damage caused by the San Fransisco earthquake.
Dr.Alexander Graham Bell flew a man carrying kite made up of over 3,000 tetrahedral cells.
During World War I, the British,French, Italian, na dRussian armies all used kites for enemy observation and signaking. The German Navy continued to use man-lifting box kites to increase the viewing range of surface-cruising submarines.
Two-line control of kite was invented by Edward Sprague,Jr., Oak Park, Illinois.
A German flew a kite train to an altitude of 31,955 feet.
Paul Garberhad written a kite flying manual for the Boy Scouts. Target kites were used for shooting excercise.
The Gibson Girl Box, Garber’s Target Kite and Saul’s Barrage Kite were all used in World War II.
Paul Garberused a kite as a target of gun crews.
W.Somerset Maugham published his novel “The Kite” included in “Creatures of Circumstance.
George D.Wanner, Dayton, Ohio was granted the patent of the flexivble kite which is considered the origin of modern kites.
Francis Rogallo developed a completely flexible kite, with no rigid supporting spars.
The American Kitefliers Association was founded by the late Robert M. Ingraham of New Mexico.
Domina Jalbert designed the parafoil. His concepts have been adapted for parachutes and kites.
Highest altitude record with nineteen kites train was established by high school group in U.S.A. The altitude record was 10,830 m above the ground.
The Japan Kite Association was founded by late Shingo Modegi and other fourteen members who lived in Tokyo.
Peter Powel introduced a toy dual line stunter and the public began to fly kites not only for fun, but also for sport.
The Australian Kite Association was founded on Hargrave’s principles of sharing interest and knowledge of kites freely with others of like mind around the world.
Kazuhiko Aasaba flew 4,128 kites on a single line.
Students of Inami Junior High School, Toyohashi-city Japan, established the new record of train kites of 15,585 kites over the sea from sea side. This record was authorized by Guiness World Records.
New Single Kite Altitude Record was achieved by Richard Synergy at 13,609 feet above the flying field on 12 August, 2000 . The kite was a high tech delta, having 270 square feet of nylon kite skin, measuring 30 feet from wing tip to wing tip, and 18 feet tall, sporting hollow fiberglass spars 1.5 inches in diameter, flying on 270 pound woven Kvlar line 3/32 inch in diameter.