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  Kites have been flown for thousands of years, often for pleasure or religious and ceremonial occasions and sometimes for scientific research. They have been used to entertain, to decorate and as a source of information in science and warfare. This page gives a brief summary of their history.


The First Kites

pic3No-one knows exactly where the first kites came from - some people say that the Polynesians designed the first kites with banana tree leaves and bamboo sticks - but from historical sources such as hieroglyphics, we can see that kites were flown in China more than 2,500 years ago. Many experts believe kite flying originated in China and spread westwards to Europe and America and eastwards to Korea, Japan and Polynesia.

The Chinese made their kites from paper silk, cloth, bamboo and, after its invention in 100 AD, paper. All the kites were beautifully crafted and many were very ornamental. They were used at official celebrations and religious festivals, for signalling in times of war and even in leisure activities such as fishing! Stories from the time describe some of these kites as being large enough to lift a man.

Kites first appeared in European paintings and literature about 600 years ago, following Marco Polo's visits to the east. However, archeologists have found that some kites were flown in Egypt around 500 BC and in Greece around 200 BC. One artefact shows a groups of Romans, in about 100 AD, using horsemen to get a type of Dragon kite into the air.


Science Steps In

pic5 From the 18th century, kites attracted the attention of scientists. Different kites were designed including Box kites, developed by Lawrence Hargreaves; a Hexagonal kite for military purposes by Captain Baden-Powell, brother of the Chief Scout; a Diamond kite for weather studies by William Eddy; a Kite for lifting a radio aerial by the Italian inventor of radio, Marconi; a Tetrahedron kite by Alexander Graham Bell, the American inventor of the telephone; and a kite that towed a small boat across the English Channel by Samuel Cody!

Many scientists wanted to discover why kites flew as part of their efforts to design a flying machine for men. After many experiments with box kites, Wilbur and Wright built and flew the first powered aeroplane in 1903.


Modern Kites

pic4Many of the traditional styles are still flown but there have been lots of improvements made to the materials used, the steering mechanisms and the designs, (See About Kites). New developments include the first non-rigid Para-wing kite by Francis Rogallo. This design was improved by Jalbert in the 1960's to become the Parafoil kite.

Since its early beginnings, kiting has provided a colourful and attractive spectacle that has added to many official and leisure occasions. As a leisure pastime it's popular with people of all ages - so why not give it a try?

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Last modified on: Tuesday, July 1, 1997.