Text copyright © Katie Mohar. All rights reserved.
Kite flying is an international sport that originated in Asia. Unlike most sports, kite flying is entirely dependent on the whims of the wind. Today, people across the globe enjoy launching colorful kites into the skies.
Did you know that two kite flying brothers invented the first airplane? Or that an Irish immigrant boy’s passion for kites inspired the construction of the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge? Today, I’ll share these kite flying stories – and more – in hopes of inspiring your family to enjoy this outdoor pastime.
Kite Flying History Timeline
- China claims to have invented the kite, although the earliest record is an Indonesian cave painting that dates between 9500 – 9000 BC.
- Early kites were used for fishing and military purposes, such as gauging the wind, signaling and measuring an enemy’s wall. Kites of different colors and flying patterns were useful in sending silent messages through the sky.
- Over time, kites evolved for meteorological and scientific uses. Today, kites are mainly used for recreation and cultural celebrations.
- Parasailing, windsurfing and kite fighting are kiting sports. Kite surfing is an “extreme sport” where pilots perform complex acrobatics and requires a high level of skill whereas in parasailing a boat tows a harnessed rider attached to a parachute-like canopy wing. In kite fighting, popular in Asia, players try to bring down each other’s kites.
3 Famous Kite Flying Americans
“The flight lasted only twelve seconds, but it was nevertheless the first time in the history of the world in which a machine carrying a man had raised itself by its own power into the air in full flight…”– Orville Wright
- The Wright Brothers: Orville and Wilbur Wright never went to college. Instead, they employed their mechanical skills by running a bicycle sales and repair shop and used the slow winter months to experiment. Determined to build a machine that would allow humans to fly like birds, the Wrights built kites similar to gliders. Neighborhood children loved watching the Wrights practice their kite flying!
In 1899, the brothers began testing flight methods with an experimental kite – or model glider – with a five-foot wingspan. They improved their methods and designs until they developed an engine-powered flying machine. On December 17, 1903, Wilbur started the Flyer‘s engine and Orville flew like a bird!
- Benjamin Franklin: As a boy, Franklin took a paper kite to a pond and began swimming. By “accident,” he discovered that the kite could pull him across the water!
As an adult, he continued studying kites. According to legend, in 1752, Franklin attached a key to the string of his kite and braved a thunderstorm. Historians believe that Franklin did conduct a kite and key experiment, but neither discovered electricity nor sustained a lighting strike.
- Homan Walsh:
I recommend reading about Homan Walsh in The Kite that Bridged Two Nations by Alexis O’Neill, illustrated by Terry Widener. It’s based on the true story of a kite flying contest hosted by an engineer with The Niagara Falls International Bridge Company and its Canadian counterpart.
16-year-old Homan Walsh was an Irish immigrant whose family settled in Niagara Falls. He was an avid kiter and made his own kites. In 1848, Walsh won the contest by flying and anchoring his kite to span the 800-foot chasm between Canada and America.
Engineer Charles Ellet, Jr. attached a cable to Walsh’s kite string, making it the first line of a future suspension bridge connecting the two countries across the Niagara River.
Kite Flying And Children’s Literature
Kites help us levitate, if only vicariously. Kites motivate us to play, go outdoors and raise our eyes to higher things. Children’s books likewise help kids push their imaginations to the highest heights through vicarious adventures.
Curious George Flies a Kite by Margret Rey, illustrated by H. A. Rey begins with a mischievous monkey sneaking out to play Hide and Seek with a bunny. Soon, Curious George is flying a kite. Then, he’s getting flown by the kite and needs an emergency helicopter rescue by the Man with the Yellow Hat!
Dr. Seuss books like The Cat in The Hat feature playful characters like “Thing One” and “Thing Two” who make a game of flying kites indoors. Meanwhile, an onlooking goldfish nearly breaks his glass bowl in distress over the kiting chaos…
“They should not fly kitesGoldfish in The Cat in The Hat by Dr. Seuss
In a house! They should not.”
Want to know how to make a kite? This printable from the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose shows you how! (With help from Dr. Seuss!)
“Did you ever fly a kite in bed?– Dr. Seuss, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish
Kites are prominent in Disney’s adaptation of Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers. Brothers Richard M. Sherman and Richard B. Sherman composed the song “Let’s Go Fly A Kite” for a scene when Mr. Banks takes his children kite flying. (The Sherman brothers were inspired by their own father, Al Sherman, a kite-lover who crafted homemade kites for neighborhood children!)
In Disney’s Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (adapted from books by A. A. Milne), Eeyore turns Piglet into a kite to help Pooh fulfill his dream of flying. I encourage your family to read the original versions of these children’s books if you’ve only seen Disney’s film adaptations!
Resources and Further Reading
Kite flying is a perfect activity to get the family outdoors – running, laughing and playing – with the joy of living. And when the weather is rough, books are beckoning, rain or shine! Let’s go… fly a kite!
Below are my sources for this post, if not otherwise mentioned above:
- The Story of the Flight at Kitty Hawk, by R. Conrad Stein, illustrated by Len W. Meents
- Accidents May Happen by Charlotte Foltz Jones, illustrated by John O’Brien
- Online sources: Kite.org, History.com, Wikipedia.org, Wright-Brothers.org and NASA.gov.