The History of Flying a Kite

Spring is arriving, with the promise of warmer days and the freedom of outdoor play. Drier gardens, parks and playgrounds encourage all kinds of running about, scooting, ball games, skipping and hopscotch; and the windy days of March have traditionally marked the start of the kite flying season.

This illustration of a windy day is from a 1950s school print. These images were produced as themed sets, intended to spark children’s observation and creative writing.

Kites are believed to have been invented in ancient China, where silk, paper and bamboo provided ideal lightweight materials. It is still a national pastime, with an annual kite festival taking place each April in Weifang, Shandong province, which is considered the birthplace of the first kites. 2,000 years ago General Han Hsin is said to have flown a kite over the walls of a city he was besieging to calculate (by trigonometry) the length of a tunnel he was secretly digging.

Although kites continued to be used for science and surveillance purposes into recent times, drones have now taken over most of that work. However kite flying for pleasure has a large modern following with festivals held in Japan, India and Europe. In Britain numerous adult kite clubs and associations exist alongside the child and family activity, with April known as the national Kite flying month.

Although kites are manufactured in all kinds of elaborate shapes, simple kites have also been made by children themselves, whether simple square flutterers, pulled along by small children, or more elaborate diamond and box shaped forms using sticks, covered in paper or lightweight cotton cloth, with long tails and half a mile of string.

Children’s books from the early 19th to the early 20th centuries regularly gave detailed instructions on how to make and fly them. This toy theatre scene shows a toyshop of the 1840s with several sizes of readymade kites for sale.

A coloured illustration of shelves inside a Victorian toy shop with toys including kites, toy soldiers, cricket bats, racquets, drums, a dolls house, a mask, toy ships and wooden wheeled horses
Toy theatre scene of a toy shop in 1847

‘Isn’t it a beauty’- The 4 Edwardian boys shown here have just finished making a kite almost as big as themselves. The illustration shows the tools, and glue used to construct their paper covered kite.

Edwardian boys making a kite

If you would like to become part of Pollocks living archive, we would love you to tell us about the kites you have made and flown.

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