www.best-breezes.squarespace.com - Kite History Time Line - Prehistory to 1799

Event NameStart DateEnd DateCategoryNotes

The precise origin of the kite is obscure, however scholars believe it was developed either in China, Malasia, Indonesia or the South Pacific islands.1500 BCSome scholars believe that the kite was first developed in China. Other evidence suggests that early cultures in the region of Malaysia, Indonesia and South Pacific islands may have developed the first kites as fishing instruments using natural materials such as leaves and reeds. Evidence generally accepted by academic scholars usually cedes to China the claim to origin. Other anthropological evidence suggests that kites may have been independently developing in other areas in similar eras.

Mo-tse of China built and flew a wooden 'bird kite'.0450 BCThis famous Chinese philospher spent three years carefully crafting a "sparrow hawk" (or eagle) to fly on a tethered line. This is regarded as the earliest documented reference to a kite and serves as one of China's claims on being the site of origin of the kite. The precise date is not known.

Archytas of Greece built and flew a 'wooden dove'.0400 BCFirst mention of a tethered flying device in European history. Again the dating of this is not precise and the fact that this device was a 'kite' is questioned by some scholars. There is no reference to a kite in the writings of any Greek or Roman author.

General Han-Hsin used a kite to estimate distance to dig a tunnel into a walled city.0206 BCUsing mathematics and basic geometry, Han-Hsin used the kite for aerial visual estimation of the distance to dig under a walled city.

Emperor Huan Teng of the Han Dynasty used kites to distract a beseiging enemy army.0202 BC

Accepted date for invention of paper. Paper was used in early Chinese and Japanese kites later in history.0105AD 105 is often cited as the year in which papermaking was invented. In that year, historical records show that the invention of paper was reported to the Chinese Emperor by Ts'ai Lun, an official of the Imperial Court. Recent archaeological investigations, however, place the actual invention of papermaking some 200 years earlier. Ancient paper pieces from the Xuanquanzhi ruins of Dunhuang in China's northwest Gansu province apparently were made during the period of Emperor Wu who reigned between 140 BC and 86 BC. Whether or not Ts'ai Lun was the actual inventor of paper, he deserves the place of honor he has been given in Chinese history for his role in developing a material that revolutionized his country.

Kites used in China to send red lanterns aloft for communication.0500This date is not precise, but accounts in Chinese legends and early writings indicate that kites were used to lift lanterns into the night sky to send messages.

Emperor Wu of China sent messages to his officers by kite.0509

In India, references to kites were made in the "Panchatantra" tales, translated into the Arabic in "Kalila wa Dimna"0625These references are usually connected to the possible introduction of kites to India by Chinese travellers, Fa Hien (visited between 399-414 AD) and Hiuen Tsang (visited in 643 AD). These missionary travellers visited the Kannauj region of India after travelling through present day Bangaladesh and the Kashmir valley.

Date of first recorded use of a kite in Korea.0637Korean General Gim Yu-Sin sent a kite with an attached "fireball" into the sky to drift off away from an upcoming battle site near the city of Kyongju. The drifting fireball was an omen to his troops that there would be no bloodshed on the battlefield where they were camped. Recorded in "The Three Kingdoms", written in A.D. 1145. During the Silla Dynasty of Korea around the year 600, General Gim Yu-sin was ordered to subdue a revolt. However, his troops refused to fight. They had seen a large shooting star fall from the sky and believed it to be a bad omen. To regain control, the General used a large kite to carry a fire ball into the sky. The soldiers, seeing the star return to heaven, rallied and defeated the rebels.

Kites came to Japan from China during the Nara period (649-794).0675It is possible that the kite was associated with the early Buddhist missionary work since kites were used later in Buddhist ceremonies. Other indications are that Nara era craftsmen journeying to Japan may have introduced the kite there.

Li Yey of China attached a bamboo flute to a kite producing musical tones0900

The first book in Japan to record the word "kite" was the dictionary Wamyo Ruiju Sho, compiled by Minamoto Shitago.0981Kites were the called "kami tobi", or paper hawks. This suggests that they were shaped like birds.

The Turkic and Mongolian influx into the Islamic world made kite-flying into a leisure activity from Cairo to Delhi by the 13th century.1250However, kite-flying was generally not a sport for the masses; it was for the indulgence of the wealthy.

Marco Polo witnesses the flight of manned kites1282During Marco Polo's China travels of 1282, he reported seeing manned kites. Chinese shipping merchants would tie someone (usually a miscreant) to a huge frame (kite) held by eight strings and having launched the kite with the man into the wind, they would determine whether the voyage would be a prosperous one or not. Polo also explained how the men would pull on the rope attached to the eight strings to lift the kite higher. If the kite flew straight up, it was a good omen for the voyage; if the kite failed to rise, merchants were reportedly wary about loading cargo onto that ship.

Marco Polo returned to Europe from his travels through Asia and China.1295The book of Polo's travels described to a European audience, kites and their man lifting capabilites.

de Melemete's book on medieval life shows sketch of kite flying over a town with a suspended 'fireball'1326

Drawings of Kite-like windsocks used by German armies.1405These windsocks, in the shape of dragons -or 'drachen' (German) gave rise to the word that is still used in the German language for "kite".

First mention of a kite in a German manuscript.1405

Vasco da Gama, Portugeuese explorer arrives in India1498Da Gama's arrival in the south Indian port of Calicut is often cited as a date when some kites arrived in India via the seaward version of the "Silk Road". Very little documentation can be found to substantiate this. However, reliable Indian sources generally suggest that the kite arrived from China much earlier than this. The emergence of the 'Hata" type kite, a Japanese kite design, in colours of the Portuguese flag in the area of Calicut, India is often cited as proof for the introduction of this type of kite to India from Japan by the traders.

Kites mentioned in book by Italian, Giovanni della Porta1589The book on natural magic was entitled "Magia naturalis". Today, della Porta's name lives on in the title given to a particular type of rectangular kite.

William Shakespeare 'reportedly' joined a group known as the "King's Kyters".1599The group that Will joined likely was a group dedicated to hunting with trained raptors (birds of prey that are named 'kite'). There is no substantion of traditional tethered kite flying in the record. It is an interesting historical footnote, however.

Children, flying a 'diamond' shaped kite are shown in an illustration of the town of Middelburg, Holland.1618

John Bate of England publishes "Mysteries of Nature and Art" and describes therin the making of a kite.1634Hart, Laufer, PelhamThe description is long and detailed and the book contains an image of a lozenge shaped (diamond) kite with a tail. This is the earliest image of a kite in an English language book and one of the earliest in any book published in Europe. "You must take a piece of linen cloth of a yard or more in length; it must be cut after the form of a pane of glass; fasten two light sticks cross the same, to make it stand at breadth; then smear it over with linseed oil, and liquid varnish tempered together…then tie a small rope of length sufficient to raise it unto what height you shall desire."

First use of word "kite" in book "Pyrotechnia" by John Babington.1635In 1635, Babington published his book, 'Pyrotechnia or, A discourse of artificial 'fire-works', which described many effects available at the time, some of which he had devised. 'Pyrotechnia' also dealt with geometry and the use of fireworks for military purposes. The use of a "kite" (tethered flying device) was described to lift fireworks for optimum viewing.

Jesuit priest Athanasisus Kircher published a book which described the use of kites in China.1646LauferThe book, "Ars magna lucis" was based on information received from members of the Jesuit order working in China. Kircher notes that kites large enough to carry men aloft were known in China. Kircher reports that kites were well known in Europe at this time.

Yui-no Sosetsu of Japan made a large kite on which he rode to spy on the Shogun's palace of Yodo.1650LauferThis is an approximate mid 17th century date based on an oral history in Japan. Other legends pertaining to large kites to lift up thieves to steal precious palace adornments are part of Japanese history. Other oral histories contain stories of kites used for reconaissance in military operations in Japan.

Fort of Chakan in India destroyed by torch dropped from a kite.1662

Francesco Lana writes that kites were used by children in Italy.1670Laufer 37

King Petraja of Thailand used kites to drop bombs on rebellious factions.1690When the principality of Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat) in Thailand rebelled, King Petraja tied kegs of gunpowder to kites, lifted them over a rebel stronghold to force the rebels to surrender.

In Japan kites were flown as invocations for a rich harvest. Buddhist priests also held that the kite's flight could predict the success or failure of a forthcoming crop.1700Kites were also flown in the autumn as thanksgiving offerings for a bountiful harvest.

Alexander Wilson & Thomas Melville (U-Glasgow) made 1st recorded weather experiments using kites.1749LauferWilson used four or five paper kites strung out one above the other to raise thermometers to an altitue of three thousand feet in order to record temperatures. Wilson also claimed to have attached wire to his kites to measure electrical charges in clouds, fully three years before the famous experiment of Benjamin Franklin.

Benjamin Franklin and son William conduct famous lightning experiment with a kite.1752Franklin wrote about this event in several publications including his autobiography.

De Romas (France) performs electrical experiments with kites.1753

Peter van Musschenbrock (Dutch physicist) publishes mathematical description of kite flight.1762Having completed several kite experiments, van Musschenbrock wrote a brief mathematical treatise on kite flight.

Joseph Montgolfier of France invents the hot air balloon.1782

Daniel Bernoulli, Swiss matehmatician, formulates the "Bernoulli Principle".1783Bernoulli’s Principle states that as the speed of a moving fluid increases, the pressure within the fluid decreases. One way of understanding how an airfoil develops lift relies upon the pressure differential above and below a wing. The pressure can be calculated by finding the velocities around the wing and using Bernoulli's equation.

Sir George Cayley begins his experiments with kites.1799Kite experiments last until 1809 when he is able to describe the problems that need to be solved in order to achieve manned flight. Work on his famous gliders culminates in a successful 40 second flight of an unmanned glider in 1853.

Copyright: Bob White www.best-breezes.squarespace.com Ver. 2.1 June 2008