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 famous 5th-century BC Chinese philosophers Mozi (also Mo Di) and Lu Ban (also Gongshu Ban). Earlier kites were used as leaf kites. By at least 549 AD paper kites were being flown, as it was recorded in that year a paper kite was used as a message for a rescue mission. Ancient and medieval Chinese sources list other uses of kites 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.
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.Boys flying a kite. Engraving published in Germany in 1828 by Johann Michael Voltz
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 iselectricity 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-foot (12 m) iron rod instead of a kite) and extracted electrical sparks from a cloud.
Kites were also instrumental in the research and development of the Wright brothers when building 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 the 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 (see Focke Achgelis Fa 330 for example). Since then they are used mainly for recreation.
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