Kites

Kites

Since days of yore when men made gods of celestial bodies and idols of envied birds, the sky has held a particular fascination. The obsession with flight is ageless, captivating the old and enthralling the young. Without regard to race, religion, or gender, the heavens call to our imaginations. And from this fancy comes the delight of the kite.

The history of the kite not only reaches back but out, finding a meaningful place in countries all over the globe. In 200 B.C., the kite was used during war ravaged China as a vehicle for allowing a man to spy over enemy walls by General Han Ssin of the Han Dynasty. In Afghanistan, people often engage in kite fighting, a practice that involves coating a kite in abrasive materials designed to cripple an opponent’s kite. For those given to more pacifist persuasions, the Japanese peasantry warded off evil spirits and blessed their crops with kites. In India, kite flyers were of the more romantic ilk, sending messages over walls to one another.

The kite enjoys a special place in American folklore thanks to Benjamin Franklin’s frightful experiment to prove that lightning was, in fact, electricity (fortunately he was flying a kite and not a cable TV antennae). The kite continued to enjoy popularity among our most cherished inventors. Alexander Graham Bell, Lawrence Hargrave, and the Wright Brothers all experimented with various versions of man-carrying kites. In1882, a George Pocock drove a carriage up to twenty miles per hour with kites instead of horses. But it wasn’t until Peter Powell introduced his stunt kite in 1972 that the erstwhile hobby became a sensation.

The most popular kite was the Delta kite, named for the triangular Greek symbol that defined its shape. A simple crosspiece backed by some cloth, plastic, silk, or other material attached to a length of string was all one needed to make a play day out of a windy day. Soon, amateur kite fliers speckled the countryside, laying claim to the skies. Marketing agents saw the potential for advertising and soon toy stores like Toys ‘R’Us were selling Spiderman, Barbie, and Pokémon kites for as cheap as a dollar ninety-nine.

More elaborate kites soon followed: shimmering Chinese dragon kites, box kites, geometric kites, centipede kites, Scott sleds, and many more. Foil and parafoil kites rely on trapping air (much like a parachute) and are controlled by a multitude of strings. Stunt or sport kites gave fliers the ability to perform jaw-dropping stunts that rivaled the feats of yester-civilizations winged deities.

Today, kite flying is as popular worldwide as it ever has been. From backyards and back pastures across America to the Makar Sankranti festival in India where millions of kites fill the sky, kites give even the most modest mortal the power to enjoy the sky while keeping their feet on Terra Firma.

If your childhood included flying kites, we would love to hear all of your memories of this ancient pastime in our comments section below.

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