A Brief History of Kites
March 1, 2003
history the kite has served as a mode of transportation, instrument
of war, escape mechanism, vital component of religious ceremonies,
tool in scientific experiments, and, as most of us know it, a toy.
But few of us know that the kite has been with us for over 2,000
It is commonly agreed that kites first appeared in China around
500 B.C. One popular Chinese legend concerns the story of a farmer
who loses his hat to the blustery wind while working in his field.
Intrigued, he attached a string to his hat, thus creating the first
The ancient Chinese were technologically advanced for their time,
and lightweight bamboo and silk soon replaced the first hat-kite.
The Chinese discovered how to make delicate paper from the inner
bark of the mulberry tree by the first century A.D., and paper soon
replaced silk as the kite material of choice. Simple rectangular
shapes gave way to exotic kites in a myriad of shapes, including
dragons, birds, insects, people, and all sorts of beasts.
The popularity of kite flying in China is celebrated at the “Festival
of Ascending on High,” which takes place every year on the
ninth day of the ninth month. This festival was inspired by another
Chinese legend in which a father dreamed that catastrophe would
befall his family the following day. He took his family to the countryside,
where they flew kites in an effort to touch the gods’ heavenly
realm and appease them with their beautiful creations. The following
day the family returned to a destroyed home that would surely have
killed them all. Following the tale, the Chinese have spent the
same day flying kites to appease the gods and ask for blessings.
Into Europe and the New World
Buddhist monks later took kites with them throughout China, and
Marco Polo carried them to Europe. In the United States and Australia
they became important tools in scientific experiments, ranging from
measuring air temperature at varying high altitudes, to early attempts
at man-powered aviation. How many of us would know who Ben Franklin
was if not for his famous kite?