During August of 1899 Lawrence Rotch, meteorologist and founder of the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory in Milton, a suburb of Boston, carried out some cutting edge experiments with wireless signalling. This experimentation was conducted during what were the very early stages of wireless signalling when there were still some developmental challenges being worked out in the process of wireless messaging.
The primary developers of wireless communication technology were Guglielmo Marconi and Karl Ferdinand Braun. Marconi, the famous Italian inventor, was working on his technology primarily out of Great Britain while Braun was focusing his work within his native Germany. The competing leaders in this new technology were stirring up public interest through newspaper accounts of their progress. Scientific practitioners in many fields were keenly aware of the developing technology and were seeking to understand and employ it as well.
Lawrence Rotch, a pioneer in meteorological science, had founded the Blue Hill Observatory in 1884. Blue Hill "... was the scene of many of the first scientific measurements of upper atmosphere weather conditions, using kites to carry weather instruments aloft. Knowledge of wind velocities, air temperature and relative humidity at various levels came into use as vital elements in weather prediction due to techniques developed at this site. By 1895 the observatory was the source of weather forecasts of remarkable accuracy. On October 8, 1896, a record of 8740 feet was achieved for a weather kite."1
The kites of William Abner Eddy had been flown here in 1895 and many firsts and records were set with Eddy's kites. Soon thereafter the Observatory began to settle on the kites of Lawrence Hargrave as the predominant lifting tool for experiments. Several modifications to the Hargrave design were carried our by W. H. Clayton of the Observatory staff and by late 1896 the Hargrave-Clayton hybrid kite was the one predominantly in use.
Rotch's experiment with wireless signalling involved sending up a kite with a copper wire antenna connected to the Blue Hill building and a Morse transmitter inside. From August 10-12, 1899 Rotch was successful in sending signals from the kite above Blue Hill to a receiving station on Mt. Chickatawbut, a distance of three miles away2.
Based on the success of the early tests, Rotch planned to increase the distance in future tests to attempt to reach a receiving station twelve miles away on the Harvard Memorial Tower in Cambridge.
Scientific interest in wireless signalling was very high in 1899. Newspapers in America, England and Europe were following the developments of Guglielmo Marconi and Ferdinand Braun (Germany) as they pushed forward the frontiers of the new technology.
Men of science and invention were watching carefully and anxiously wanted to learn more about wireless signals. Professor Samuel Langley of the Smithsonian Institution suggested to W.H. Clayton that perhaps Blue Hill with its natural elevation and infrastructure to support kite technology (power winches, heavy line, wire, and a vast array of kites of varying sizes and lifting capability) could be a place to test out some of the theories and work being done by Marconi in broadcasting wireless signals.
Clayton took the idea to Rotch and a series of experiments for August 1899 was explored. Rotch, assisted by his assistant, a Mr. Picard, worked with Professor Sabine of Harvard to devise the experiments and undertake the tests.
The staff reporter for the Boston Globe gave an excellent description of the wireless equipment that was used in the experiment. It provides insight into the early equipment and power supplies used in the infancy of wireless communcation technology. The description, when compared to notes about early equipment used by Marconi in his experiments in England, shows marked similarities to the Marconi devices, thus leading to the conclusion that published reports of Marconi's work were a guide to the Blue Hill experiments. It is unlikely that Rotch would have received information about the equipment directly from Marconi since patent applications and the necessity of keeping a leading edge in the development of the new technology would have prevented any disclosure to portential rivals.
Rotch and Picard encountered one of the common distractors of early wireless telegraphy in their experiments: that of static electricity. He noted to the Globe reporter that he was hopeful that Prof. Sabine of Harvard would be able to help solve the distraction of static to the messaging system that they were working on. Later in the development of wireless systems, Marconi and Braun would learn to tune their frequency transmission and reception in a manner that would filter out most of the static distraction from the wide band frequencies that were then in use.
On December 12, 1901 Guglielmo Marconi sent a wireless signal across the Atlantic Ocean from a transmitting station in Poldhu, Cornwall to an antenna suspended from a kite at Signal Hill, St. Johns, Newfoundland. Long distance wireless transmission capability was proven; the era of wireless communication was now proven and only needed refinement for widespread use.
1. Wikipedia contributors, "Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Blue_Hill_Meteorological_Observatory&oldid=577737496 (accessed January 31, 2014).
2. "Blue Hill's Wireless Messages." The Boston Globe, Boston MA. Aug. 13, 1899. Page 17.
Using large Hargrave kites,
As the world's focus turned to Brazil in June and July of 2014 for the World Cup, attention was also brought to everyday life in Brazil.
The New York Times published regular feature stories on aspects of life in Brazil. Often these stories showed the wide discrepancy of living conditions in the diverse economic conditions of the nation's largest cities.
In a July 15, 2014 article entitled Kite Fight, correspondent Guillerme Tensol wrote about the passion that young Brazilians have for making, flying and fighting kites over the rooftops of their homes.
"After futebol, kite fighting is one of Brazil’s most popular sports. In the crowded urban favelas, flying a kite (or pipa) is more than a leisurely escape from harsh living conditions; it’s also a form of battle, with the sky an arena."
The Brazillian Pipa (kite) resembles a typical Indian fighter kite, or patang, in both shape and general dimensions. The frame is also similar to that of an Indian fighter kite.
Besides making the kites themselves, the young kite builders pound glass shards into a fine powder, wax their line and add the powdered glass to coat it. The complete kite fighting system is totally manufactured by the young builders using either paper or plastic shopping bags for the kite sails. For kite line reels a tin can is used to carefully wind the fighting line when the kite is not in flight. All materials are easily gathered from repurposed items that are readily or cheaply available.
In addition to the brief article in The Times, a wonderful video documentary was produced about the Pipa, the kite fighting culture, and the skilled young artisans who craft their own kites.
The video (linked here for viewing) is a compelling overview of life in Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro’s largest economically depressed community.
The simple beauty of kite construction and the skill of the kite fighters is beautifully captured in the video collaboration between the sports magazine Victory and the Brazilian production company Mosquito Project.
Note: See references to this article for attribution to source materials used. Copyright is held by The New York Times. The use of the materials in this post is intended to bring the information to a wider audience and educate readers about the use of kites in Brazil.
The Ahmedabad International Festival is considered by many kiters to be the world's largest annual kite flying event.
Located in the state of Gujarat, Ahmedabad has a hot semi-arid climate with marginally less rain than required for a tropical savanna climate. There are three main seasons: summer, monsoon and winter. Aside from the monsoon season, the climate is extremely dry with mean monthly temperatures ranging from 20 degrees to 33 degrees Celsius throughout the year. January is the coolest month and the cultural festival of Uttarayana held on January 14-15 celebrates the movement of the sun to the north.
The Uttarayan festival traditionally features mass kite flying across the city. Young and old take their colourful patangs (kites) made from tissue paper and split bamboo and battle for supremacy above the streets of the city.
A thin cotton or hemp line is coated with a mixture of finely crushed glass and rice glue. In recent years, synthetic line has been coated with a variety of abrasives and stronger glue. Some instances of metallic lines have been reported in recent years.
The coated lines permit skilful fliers to cut one another's kites out of the sky. However, the fallen lines from cut kites can cause much harm to people who encounter them as they ride bicycles or motorcycles through the city streets.
The 2014 Ahmedabad Kite Festival has been beautifully captured in a video that shows the transition of the kite flying from daytime through to night. Traditional kite battles are replaced when darkens arrives by thousands of Chinese lantern balloons rising into the sky. This is one of the world's most sensational kiting events!
As a young boy I can remember my Dad saying: "The older you get, the faster time goes by." At the time, I thought that was a ridiculous statement; surely time was a constant and moved at it's own regular pace. Usually my Dad was a wise old guy, but this statement always seemed to be incongruous when compared with his usual practical wisdom.
Now, after the passage of many years, I too recognize the phenomenon of time seeming to speed up; to go by more quickly. There are occasions when something occurs and one is suddenly reminded that time has passed by so swiftly.
Recently I was reflecting on the emergence of the Internet and web-based information on the modern kiting scene. In 1990 when commercial Internet services were becoming common place, a series of modest news groups began to link kiters from diverse regions in conversations about kites and kiting.
To me, a person with a then rather obscure hobby of building and flying kites, this was like striking gold. Suddenly there was a location where one could ask questions, find answers and learn about others in the hobby. I learned of kite clubs and kite festivals and began to travel to see some of the kites I was hearing about on the Internet. Grand Haven, MI; Wildwood, NJ; Ocean City, MD; Cleveland, OH - all places with established festivals suddenly became destinations for a new kind of family travel.
By 1998 energetic and visionary kiters were talking about the need for an on-line kite magazine. The gold standard of print magazines, Kitelines, was struggling to put out editions in a regular and timely sequence. By 1996 there was discussion that perhaps there was an opportunity that this new found synergy of kiters conversing on-line could turn into an on-line magazine.
By 1998 Mike Gillard of Columbus, OH turned that talk into action. Founding Kitelife, the online journal of kiting in April, 1998, Mike created a respected gathering place for kite information and the ongoing record of the development of kites and kiting that continues to this day under the direction of his former kite flying team mate, John Barressi (well known founder of the performance kite team iQuad).1
While searching out a bit of kite information I turned to the KiteLife site on the Internet and suddenly it occurred to me again: -time has certainly marched on, and very swiftly.
I came across a series of entries in the early editions of KiteLife that I had authored or that featured photos that I was tagged in. Suddenly 1998 was back before me; could it really be that a decade and a half had slipped by in a blink? How was it that time had moved so quickly. In some ways the stories and images were just like they had happened, seconds ago; in other ways there were clear signs that time had relentlessly rolled on. Perhaps it is true: "The older you get, the faster time goes by."
I have, for the sake of nostalgia, pulled a couple of stories from the early era of KiteLife into this blog posting. Reminisence is good and it brings a flood of memories of times, places and people that mean so much to us and make us who we are. I just thought that I would share some of them with you.
- Moving Along! George Pocock and the Beginnings of Modern Traction Kiting.
- Kite History 101 - Guglielmo Marconi.
- Japan-Canada Fly (Niagara Falls, ON, 1998).
1 Mike Gillard passed away on Feb. 28, 2006. The direction of KiteLife was taken over by John Barresi after Mike's death. It continues today as the premier on-line kiting journal. Ref: http://www.kitelife.com/old-issues/issue-47-empty-spaces-mike-gillard/
Ted Shaw has been involved in kiting for over twenty years. Drawn to kites by viewing their simple beauty as they hung in the air at a kite festival known as "Paint the Sky" hosted by the Great Lakes Kitefliers Society (GLKS) of Western New York, Ted has now become President of the association.
I have had the pleasure of knowing Ted for all of those twenty years. I first ran into him when I was at a kiting event run by GLKS shortly after he had joined the group. He was just getting started then, but his inquisitive engineering mind led hem to ask all kinds of questions about kites, how they were made and how they flew. You could tell immediately that he was going to be serious about this activity.
Over the ensuing years Ted and I became good friends. We have travelled together to over two dozen kiting events, many far afield, and we have thoroughly enjoyed each other's company. He has a dry, wicked sense of humor and we have shared numerous laughs. As it turns out he spent many of his teenage years in Long Beach, Ontario at a summer cottage only a few miles from my home. As we reminisced we told tales of roller skating in the Long Beach Roller Rink and we wondered if we had actually been in the same crowd at the same time even though we did not know each other then.
Ted has become one of the great ambassadors of kiting. He builds most of his own kites, hosts workshops in his spacious barn studio on his property, is involved heavily in GLKS his local club, and travels to many events put on by the Niagara Windriders, the Kitchener-Waterloo Wind Climbers and the Toronto Kite Fliers.
Ted constantly promotes kite flying at these and other events. You will often see him walking along the perimeter of a kite festival field with a kite high on the end of the line. Stopping here and there he passes his kite line into the hands of a stranger and tells them all there is to know about kite flying. Entranced, these folks often break out with a big smile and carry on long conversations. I suspect that for many of them this little interlude is the high point of their day and it leaves a positive image of kiters and kite flying.
The Buffalo News, in its May 19, 2013 edition, did a well deserved feature article about Ted, a fine flyer I am proud to call my friend.