Prior to the advent of the Internet, popular magazines were a major communications format. They were widely distributed through news stands and personal subscriptions. Popular magazines generally catered to current or seasonal interests of the general population. Some were targeted to specific interest or age groups and contained articles related to a theme.
These magazines usually used the cover display space to grab the potential reader's interest and prompt a purchase for reading on one's own time. The largest popular magazines targeted at the general population in the 1900's often featured "cover art" before photography took over and dominated the frontispiece. Some magazines made it a hallmark to use the work of noted artists who conveyed an essence of the times and captured reader interest. Noteworthy among this type of magazine was the famed Saturday Evening Post published by the Hearst Corporation.
Over the years my fascination with kite history has prompted me to collect both books and 'old paper' (magazines, journals, print advertising etc.) There are many examples of kite art on the covers of old magazines that are of interest to serious kite hobbyists.
The Saturday Evening Post published two covers devoted to kite art in the 1950's. Both are outstanding examples of the type of art that captures a time and a mood. Both evoked images of childhood and nostalgic feelings in buyers of the magazines.
The Post's two kite art covers were painted by famed American artist John Falter (1910-1982). In all Falter published 128 covers for the Saturday Evening Post. His first cover art, a rendition of Benjamin Franklin, was published in 1943. This led to a twenty-five year association with the Post until it ceased publication in 1969.
The first kite art by John Falter published on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post was the March 18, 1950 edition of the magazine. It was based on a painting entitled "Bucks County Spring". The cover captures the farmlands of Bucks County situated in the Delaware Valley, not far from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the foreground are a group of boys, likely in the twelve to fifteen year age range, who are either readying kites for flight or flying them. This is likely one of the most sought after magazine covers by kite ephemera collectors. My copy of this Post cover is a prized possession in my collection.
The simple beauty and emotions evoked by this painting capture the best of what every adult remembers about kite flying in their youth. For adult kite enthusiasts, the feelings tap into what we still feel every time we ready or launch a kite into the crisp Spring sky.
What is so unique about this photo is the array of kites of historical interest that are shown. Falter depicts one of the most famous kites of all time, the Garber Target Kite, being readied for flight by two boys in the lower foreground of the painting. The Garber kite is the traditional sky blue sail color with the outline of a Japanese Zero airplane on the kite sail.
The other kites depicted (bottom to top) are: -a skyscraper box kite; -a white sailed hexagonal three stick kite (flying above the barn roof); and -a red sailed version of a diamond kite (very top of photo by the Post logo). The red diamond kite is being flown with two lines and is thus a very maneuverable kite, much like the Garber Target Kite shown in the image.
To prepare for his painting, John Falter actually purchases some Garber Target Kites from a surplus store and built a large box kite with a friend as well. He spent time flying the kites and then put all his experience into the painting using young boys as his subjects for the experiences he had gained first hand. Likely this is why there is such realism in the painting.
On the inside of the Saturday Evening Post, a brief note about the cover painting provides these insights:
"This cover landed John Falter in his second childhood. A man can't paint kites unless he flies a few, can he? Falter bought some Navy target-gunnery jobs - double-string rudder-control affairs like the red and blue ones in the picture - and Mrs. Falter became a kite widow. Then Falter and friend Arthur Naul built an eight-foot box contraption. The leviathan flew too. Until eventually it crashed, and now it will never fly again. As time went on, people got to inquiring whether those old guys always out there playing with the kites were balmy or what. Finally, when the Post phoned Falter and asked him where under the sun his kite painting was, he sadly wrenched himself back into his vale of labor, and started painting, fast."
Using the date of the Post cover some historical analysis can be performed. We know that by 1950 the Garber Target Kites, mainly manufactured by the Spaulding Company for use as targets for naval gunnery crews, were widely available in Army surplus stores for a few dollars. Today, a well preserved specimen is valued well above $200.oo (US currency). So, it appears the boys have picked up a great kite treasure to enjoy the Spring afternoon.
The 'skyscraper' box kite was popular in the 1940's and '50's as well. Unlike a Hargrave's box kite which had elongated boxes at top and bottom, the skyscraper box kite utilized totally square box cells at top and bottom. These were usually spaced apart by an open section in the frame equal to one and one half times the size of the square box cell.
The three stick hexagonal kite was a favourite of all young kite makers. Dating back to the mid-1800's, the hexagonal kite's simplicity of framing, overlapping three sticks and attaching them to the six corners of the kite sail, made this kite one of the easiest to build. Since this kite is essentially a 'flat kite', it required a tail to control sideways yaw and prevent a spinning crash to the ground. Getting the length and weight of the tail just right for the wind conditions was often a frustrating process for impatient young fliers.
On March 10, 1956 the Saturday Evening Post once again decided to herald the arrival of Spring with another John Falter kite art piece. This one shows a group of three young boys in the foreground with their trusty Dalmatian dog, looking up at a tree which has captured the green diamond kite. This kite is clearly an Eddy diamond variant since it is much taller than it is wide. This shape made it essential to attach a tail for flight stability. The tail is nicely wrapped in the tree branches as well, making one speculate that the day's kite flying adventure is over and a new kite has to be made.
Kiters know this feeling very well. A favorite kite caught in a tree can pretty much put a damper on a nice afternoon of flying. I can remember well the times I lost a kite as a youngster. One wonders whether Falter's painting was based on a scene he came upon while out sketching, or if the source of his art was a childhood memory of a tangled kite and the abrupt end to an afternoon of fun.
During his career John Falter produced more than 5000 paintings, several of which are in prominent museums displaying "Americana" art. Falter did produce one additional painting that shows three boys with a kite in a farmer's field. This painting resides in the collection at the Atchinson Art Association in Atchison, Kansas and was not published as a magazine cover piece.
Some of John Falter's Post covers are of a style that many people ascribe to the more famous Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), who also painted very memorable covers for the Saturday Evening Post. Falter's work is generally more realistic and slightly less "character-esque" than the iconic art of Rockwell. Both are credited with giving the Post distinguishable "All American" cover images that were a hallmark of the publication. Rockwell contributed 322 covers to the Saturday Evening Post.
I am still conducting research on the complete set of Saturday Evening Post covers. There is one painting by Norman Rockwell, entitled "Old Man and Boy: Flying the Kite", which may have made it to the cover of the Post. As yet, I have not been able to confirm this.
The SkySails company of Germany will begin sea trials of it's large 160 square metre kite on an ocean going freighter early in 2007. Designed to provide a kite traction assist to the regular diesel engines of the MV Beluga, the large sail is expected to reduce fuel costs by 15 to 20% by using wind power.
Stephan Wrage, inventor and founder of SkySails, reported in Daily Tech, an Inernet news site about the applications of technology, that "I got the idea on a sail boat a few years ago. I love flying kites and found sailing rather slow. I thought the enormous power in kites could somehow be utilized."
Beluga Shipping, working with Wrage and SkySails, will have one ship outfitted and operational early in 2007. The SkySail will be attached to a mast at the front of the ship and will be utilized whenever wind conditions permit. Unlike a sail on a sailboat, traction kites cannot 'tack' with the wind in the same manner. Thus there may be some wind conditions that do not permit deployment of the sail for a traction boost.
As reported in Daily Tech,
"Beluga Shipping is a believer in the technology and is currently having its "MV Beluga SkySails" vessel outfitted with a sail and a computer-controlled central steerage unit. The ship will make its maiden voyage early next year. Beluga Shipping CEO Neils Stolberg estimates the SkySail will drop his company's $7,500 daily fuel bill to $6,000.
"You've got to look at new ideas to cope with developments in oil prices," said Stolberg. "When energy prices double in such a short time, you've got to innovate. We won't be able to switch the engines off. But we're confident we can reduce fuel usage -- and cut emissions."
Kite traction is not a new concept. Instances of using kites to pull water craft and land vehicles are well recorded in the time line of kite history.
Oral histories tell of people of the Pacific islands using kite-like traction sails long before written records of their use were available. In England, George Pocock used a series of steerable kites to pull his "Char Volant" along roads to record speeds over long distances in 1826.
Recent innovations by New Zealand kite designer Peter Lynn have helped to power sleds across ice in Greenland and pull people on small catamarans, known as "Kite-Cats" on a regular basis.
In July and August of 2006 Anne Quemere of France completed the first solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in a kite powered boat. It is a remarkable story and an amazing demonstration of the power and versatility of kite powered sailing craft.
Now, KiteShip a privately held California corporation based in Martinez, CA, with facilities in Palo Alto, CA and Adelanto, CA., is proposing to use massive kites in a commercial manner to support the movement of large ships and reduce the consumption of fossil fuels. The company's mission statement states:
"KiteShip develops and markets Very Large Free Flying Sails (VLFFS) and control systems, technology and techniques for launching, controlling and recovering same aboard boats, ships, industrial and aerospace applications. Such craft may include pleasure and racing yachts, small and large commercial vessel builds and refits, life and vessel saving devices, research and commercial vessels and aerospace / industrial applications both inshore and at sea."
In October of 2006, KiteShip was selected winner of the Transportation Category of the California Clean Tech Open with their very large traction kites, which reduce ship owners' crippling fuel costs by up to 25 percent, and vastly reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and pollutants. KiteShip was featured in an article in the May 2006 issue of Popular Science magazine.
Currently, all KiteShip applications have been targeted at the ocean going sail boat market. Planning is now underway to assist commercial maritime transit with their Very Large Free Flying Sails. The focus of KiteShip will be on reducing the use of fossil fuels, reducing ship operating costs, and increasing ocean crossing time.
SkySails, a German company, is working toward the same goal of kite assisted transportation on the high seas. The SkySails web site claims that:
"By using the SkySails-System, a ship‘s fuel costs can be reduced by 10- 35% on annual average, depending on wind conditions. Under optimal wind conditions, fuel consumption can temporarily be reduced by up to 50%. Even on a small, 87 metre cargo ship, savings of up to 280,000 euros can be made annually.
In 2007 the first SkySails-Systems with towing-kite areas of up to 320m² for cargo vessels will be available. In 2007 series production of the SkySails systems for super yachts, in 2008 series production for cargo vessels will start."
Clearly, kite traction has come a long way from its humble beginnings pulling the small ocean canoes of Pacific Islanders.
Time, it has been said, marches resolutely on and leaves a record of what has gone before if we are careful to observe.
There are so many historical events over the course of time. The most recent events and happenings are well recorded and documented but can still be open to varying interpretation. The more distant events are harder to trace and often do not have many validating or corroborating sources of information. So it is with the history of the earth, of mankind, of cultures and nations, and of devices and inventions.
Several years ago, sixteen to be exact, I set out to puzzle out for myself a credible timeline of kite history. The purpose in my mind was simple: order the events and chronicle the people who had contributed to the development of the kite and used it in innovative and interesting ways. A simple task, I was sure.
Not so! Here I am sixteen years later publishing for the first time my efforts at recording a brief, and hopefully useful, chronology of the kite. I have postponed the publication of any of the timelines on this web site many times. I did this because I continued to find conflicting evidence about the order and timing of events. Revision, checking more sources, update and more revision became an ongoing state of affairs.
I believe that the timelines published here today are very accurate, but they are not infallible. As with any historical effort covering a broad scope there is room for error even with the most thorough checking of facts having been carried out.
I know that these timelines will need to be revised again and again as new information is brought forward and as conflicting evidence challenges details or dates.
I have published the timelines at this juncture because I believe in their accuracy. I know that the scrutiny of kiters and people with a deep interest in things historical will undoubtedly lead to challenges and the correction of possible errors. I welcome your input, your questions, your dialogue and your sharing of factual evidence. Only through such cooperative effort can a properly validated timeline of kite history be available for use by students in schools and for reference by kiters who would like to know more about the development of this amazing device, the kite.
To begin your journey through time and experience the chronicle of the kite, I invite you to visit the Best-Breezes Timeline of Kite History.
Please contact me if you wish more information, have questions or can suggest some sources or evidence to improve the timeline.
Bob White - Hifliercanada - October 30, 2006
Captain Jean-Luc Picard:
"Time is a companion that goes with us on a journey. It reminds us to cherish each moment, because it will never come again. What we leave behind is not as important as how we have lived."played by Patrick Stewart, from the film "Star Trek: Generations"
On August 14, 2006 Anne Quemere successfully completed the crossing of the Atlantic Ocean from New York to Brittany in a special boat powered only by a kite.
Anne's historic and epic crossing was noted as follows in her daily journal on her web site:
Launched in New-York (USA) on June 18th, 2006 the Oceankite, piloted solo by Anne Quéméré, crossed the “Ile de Ouessant” this day, after some 55 days of a 3450 (total) nautical mile Atlantic Ocean crossing.
At dawn, weather conditions became extremely difficult, (North-East wind with 30 knot squalls, accompanied by heavy seas and strong currents close to the “Ile de Ouessant”), increased the safety risks. The team that met Anne took the decision to tow the Oceankite because of the heavy sea-going cargo ships.
The crossing thus ended on August 13th, 2006 at 6. 45 PM at 5°50 W. latitude.
The Connétable 2006 Challenge was a true achievement in all fields: the navigator Anne Quéméré completed this solo crossing with a new sailing concept; on the physical plain: the piloting required excellent physical conditioning as well as requiring constant attention. From a technical aspect, the Connétable prototype, conceived and produced by architect Marc Ginisty showed its true capabilities. An extremely difficult weather pattern, accompanied by long periods of calm weather during these 55 days, slowed the crossing of the Connétable.
After crossing the Finish line Anne admitted that this challenge had been more difficult than the previous two, on the Southern Atlantic in 2003 and on the Northern Atlantic in 2004, where she had paddled the complete distance.
The dramatic story of Anne's complete voyage can be found on her web site. Her accomplishment is a major milestone for kite traction and a personal triumph of determination and careful planning by both Anne and her team. Congratulations Anne!
For previous entries on this story see: