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The Mighty Kite

S. Levi

Flying high through the sky in a rainbow of colors, kites are one of the world’s oldest and best beloved toys. What do kids (and adults!) find so fascinating about kites?

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


Photo: Shutterstock

Did you know that at least once a week a kite event takes place somewhere in the world? 

Or that the month of April is National Kite Month, devoted to the art of kite buying and flying? 

Did you know that kite museums worldwide attract countless visitors of all ages, and that the American Kitefliers Association (AKA) boasts thousands of members in 25 countries, all of them passionate about kites? 

What is it about kites that fascinates so many?

Humble Beginnings

Kites were first flown in China over 2,000 years ago. Legend has it that a Chinese farmer tied a string to his hat to keep it from blowing away and that’s how the first kite was born. 

The earliest written account of kites is of Chinese general Han Hsin (circa 231—196 BCE). Not long after that legendary Chinese farmer invented the kite, the general flew a kite above a city he wanted to attack as a way to figure out how long an underground tunnel would have to be for his army to get inside the city walls. It turned out to be a great idea because he won the war. 

We don’t know exactly what the general’s kite was made of, but we do know that back then, kites were made of silk, paper, or even leaves, reinforced with bamboo.

Photo: Shutterstock

Chinese traders spread the word and kites were soon flying in nearby Korea and then further afield in India. About 700 years ago, explorer Marco Polo brought the idea to Europe. Judging by illustrations of the time, dragon kites seemed to have been all the rage. In the 17th and 18th centuries, kites were put to good use for science and research.

Types of Kites

Mention the word kite and a diamond-shaped kite, sometimes with a smile painted on its face, and sometimes with bows on its string, come to mind. But there are so many other different types of kites flying out there. 

There are the basic single line kites. Then there are dual (two) line kites, and quad (four) line kites. And of these, you have kites of all different shapes, used for all different purposes. 

The most common kite shape is the delta, named for the triangular-shaped fourth letter of the Greek alphabet. The delta’s shape makes it easy to adjust to changes in the wind, making it the most popular beginner’s kite. 

Sports or stunt kites in the hands of skilled kite fliers, called pilots, can be made to perform a “kite dance” — flipping, gliding, spinning, twirling, and even coming to a complete stop midair. These kites always have dual or quad strings with a control bar which the pilot uses to manipulate the kite.

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