Kites have been around for generations
across various cultures. While we mostly fly them for leisure today, the
history of kites is a lot more fascinating than that. You probably know some
cultures include kites as part of their festivals. Besides this, kites have also
assisted the military in observing the enemy and signaling corps. They have
even been involved in scientific research conducted by the likes of Benjamin
Franklin and the Wright Brothers.
So it’s safe to say that the history of
kites is strewn with a lot of fascinating events. This post will attempt to
navigate through kite flying history and help you discover some of the most
Invented the Kite?
There is no exact answer to the question of
who invented the kite. Though there is a lot of speculation about the exact
origin of kites, all we know is that it was invented in Asia thousands of years
It’s possible that China was the country of
origin. That would make sense because the Chinese had all the material needed
to build a
kite. This includes bamboo for a resilient and lightweight frame, fine silk
strings for a flying line, and silk fabric for a sail.
The earliest Chinese kites were flat and
shaped like a rectangle until they eventually started incorporating bowlines for
more stability. They would decorate their kites with legendary figures and
mythological motifs, sometimes adding whistles and strings so that the kites
sing as they fly.
Some believe that the Chinese philosophers
Mozi and Lu Ban invented the kite back in the 5th Century BC. What
we know for sure is that paper kites had already existed around 200 BC. General
Han Xin, the Chinese general who played a vital role in the founding of the Han
dynasty, had already used kites in military applications back then.
During one of his military campaigns, the
general had a kite flown over a city he was attacking. This helped him measure
exactly how far his army would have to tunnel to get past the city’s defenses. This
strategy helped his troops take the enemy by surprise, emerging victorious in
Spread of Kite Flying to Other Countries
Kite flying gradually spread along trade
routes from China to countries like Japan, Korea, and India. When kites were
introduced to Japan by Buddhist monks, it was around the 7th Century
AD. They served as talismans to keep evil spirits at bay. Some people even used
them as invocations so they could get a good harvest.
History of Kites in Japan – Kite flying became more popular in Japan during the Edo Period, between 1603 and 1868. That’s when people below the Samurai class finally gained the permission to fly kites. However, the government felt that people became less focused on their work so it tried to discourage them from indulging in the pastime. As you can guess, this didn’t sit too well with the common folk.
One of the most popular Japanese legends related to kite-flying is that of a thief named Kakinoki Kinsuke. It is said that around 1712, he used a large kite to transport himself to the top of Nagoya Castle. All he managed to steal were the scales of the golden tiger-headed carps, but he got severely punished once he was captured.
History of Kites in Korea – The history of kites in Korea is shrouded in stories of military applications just as in China. Kites were introduced to Korea during the period of the Three Kingdoms (4-645 AD). One of the stories is from the Silla Dynasty, which lasted between 595 and 673 AD.
The story goes that General Gim Yu-Sin was
given an order to subdue a revolt. However, his troops had seen a large
shooting star fall from the sky and refused to fight because they considered it
a bad omen. The general came up with a plan to release a kite into the night
sky as it carried a bright fireball.
In the dark, this would look like the star
was being returned to the sky. Seeing this, his troops finally agreed to fight.
They rallied and overpowered the rebels in no time.
of Kites in India – The oldest known record of kite
flying in India was during the Mogul Period. Miniature paintings from the 1500s
depicted what looked to be people flying kites. The most popular theme involved
a young man using kites to send messages to his lover, who was being held in
seclusion from the rest of the world.
Flying Arrives in Europe and Fuels Research
Although kites arrived much later in
Europe, the Romans had been using windsock-like banners for a while. Before
their actual arrival into the region, Marco Polo had already brought back
stories of these fascinating contraptions around the late 13th
century. It was during the 16th and 17th centuries that
Europe finally saw kites for the first time after sailors brought them back
from Japan and Malaysia.
Initially, people regarded kites as mere
curiosities, until they began to support scientific research around the 18th
and 19th centuries. It was in 1752 that Benjamin Franklin conducted
his famous kite experiment, which proved that electricity caused lightning. The
Wright brothers used kites as a crucial instrument in their research and they
eventually developed the first airplane during the 1800s.
Evolution of Kites
The period between 1860 and 1910 was
popularly called the “golden age of kiting.” During this period, several
man-lifting kite designs came into being. Following this, the 20th
century saw new developments of kite designs.
William Abner Eddy developed the tailless
diamond kite, which became a popular kids’ kite. Francis and Gertrude Rogallo came
up with the self-inflating Parawing, sometimes called the Rogallo wing.
It was during the same period that we saw
the development of the tetrahedral kite, the parafoil, the power kite, and the
sled kite. These kites also underwent adaptations to develop the modern flying contraptions
that you can find today. They adapted the Rogallo wing to create hang gliders
and stunt kites. They also adapted the parafoil to create paragliders and
Uses of Kites throughout History
As discussed before, kites have been used
in military applications even before Common Era. The Chinese popularized the
use of kites in warfare. In addition to using them for tactical observations,
they also used them to develop weapons.
For instance, the Fire Crow was popularly used during the Song dynasty (960-1279 AD).
They would load up a kite with incendiary powder and fit it with a fuse and a
burning incense stick so that it would eventually explode.
The use of kites in warfare did not stop even in the modern era. The British Army used man-carrying kites developed by Samuel Franklin Cody to lift up human lookouts into the air. This helped them effectively observe enemy movements.
During the Second World War, they used balloon kites in defense. Besides this, kites also helped soldiers in anti-aircraft target practice. Submarines would sometimes loft observers using rotary kites. Kites and kytoons even helped in lofting communications antenna.
The history of kites also saw several
applications in science and meteorology. In addition to Ben Franklin and the
Wright brothers, there were several other brilliant minds that conducted
experiments with the help of kites. Alexander Graham Bell, for instance, used
large man-lifting kites in his experiments.
Kites have also helped in lifting
scientific instruments used for measuring atmospheric conditions and weather
forecasting. As early as 1847, William Radcliffe Birt and Francis Ronalds had
experimented with a kite to suspend self-registering meteorological instruments
in the air.
and Their Cultural Significance
Kites have even assisted some cultures in finding
daily sustenance. The people of Micronesia have been using kites this way for
centuries. They mostly use them in fishing, where they would suspend bait on
the surface of the water using a leaf kite.
The Micronesians also have a kite flying
event, which stemmed from a mythological story of two brother gods named Tan
and Rango. According to the story, the two brothers challenged each other to a
kite duel and introduced kites to humans in the process. Tan’s kite got
entangled in a tree while Rango’s flew high in the air.
Kite duels aren’t just limited to
Micronesian culture either. You will see different versions of a kite duel or a
kite fight throughout different cultures. The Malay Annals and the Afghans each
have their own version of kite fighting. India even has actual festivals for
kite fighting, mostly popular in the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, Bihar,
and West Bengal.
A lot of these cultures have something in
common. They would pass their kite strings through ground glass powder to make
them abrasive. With these abrasive strings, they can easily cut their opponents’
kite strings and win the fight. In Pakistan, kite flying is an important ritual
in the festival celebrating the coming of spring, known as Jashn-e-Baharaan.
From what we’ve discussed, it’s clear to
see that the history of kites truly is fascinating. Their history of military
applications is violent, but their instrumental role in scientific research is
Kites have also been central to the
mythologies and legends of different cultures around the world. They still play
a vital role in cultural events and festivals even today. So they are more than
just recreational contraptions or kids’ toys. Anyone who is fascinated with
kite flying should definitely use this guide to learn more about its colorful
Jacqueline Zote is a professional content writer with a focus area on lifestyle, recreational games, and all things fun. In her free time, she likes to go on food adventures and explore new recreational activities in the city.