Brief History of Kites
The history of flight begins almost 3,000 years ago in China with the invention of the kite. It is said that a Chinese farmer tied a string to his hat to prevent it from blowing off in the wind and thus created the first kite. While this is a well worn legend, no one really knows how or even exactly when the first kite was flown.
The earliest written account of kite flying was around 200 B.C. during the Han dynasty. General Han Hsin flew a kite over the walls of a besieged city to measure how far his men would have to dig to tunnel into the city. The maneuver was a success and began a long history of military kite use.
Kites and kite flying spread from China to the rest of Asia by the 7th century. Japanese, Korean, and Indian kites all played important roles in the histories and culture of the countries.
Marco Polo brought stories of kites to Europe by the end of the 13th century, and traders began bringing back kites from Chine and Japan in the 16th century. Europeans were not quick to catch on, and the kite remained little more than a novelty. It wasn't until the first lighter-than-air balloon flight in 1783 that interest in kites and their use began to spread in Europe and North America.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, kites were used for scientific research. Benjamin Franklin used kites to learn about wind and weather, and, of course, his proof that lightening was electricity was acheived by flying a kite in a thunderstorm. The invention of the box kite in the 1890 led to the use of kites to loft meteorological instruments and cameras.
The Wright brothers used kites extensively to test designs and completely re-write what was know to that day about flight and aerodynamics, which led directly to the first manned powered flight in 1903.
Kite were used by the English, French, and Russian armies to lift observers and to relay signals along the front in WWI. During WWII, the United States flew kites for target practice and enemy aircraft identification, used barrage kites to protect targets from low flying planes and downed pilots flew box kites to signal rescuers.
The Chinese kites you see on this site are made virtually the same way as the earliest kites - bamboo, steamed and bent to form a frame, with silk stretched over this and hand painted. Each is a unique piece of folk art tied to a 3,000 year history passed almost unchanged from generation to generation.
More Kite History
Ben Franklin's Kite
Kites in the Classroom
The Box Kite (NASA)
The History of Flight (also from NASA, who might know a thing or two in this area)