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Issue 974

TIDBITS® INVESTIGATES

KITES

by Kathy Wolfe

Tidbits takes to the air during the windy month of March to learn all about kites!

• It’s believed that kites originated in Asia, where they were constructed from large leaves for the sail, bamboo skin for the frame, and twisted fiber from the pineapple tree for the rope. Early Chinese kites used silk for the sail and flying line. Kites weren’t just for fun – evidence from 549 AD depicts a paper kite being used in a rescue mission. The ancient Chinese also used them for measuring distance, testing the wind, and signaling. They were frequently decorated with mythological figures and some kite-flyers added strings and whistles to add musical sounds. In fact, the Chinese name for a kite, Fen Zheng, translates “wind harp.”

• The early Japanese utilized large kites in the building of their temples to lift tiles and building materials to rooftop workers. By 1760 in Japan, kite flying had been banned because too much of the population preferred it to work!

• Explorer Marco Polo brought stories of kites to Europe in the late 1200s, and Japanese sailors brought kites to Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries.

• Chinese legend says that looking at high-flying kites will preserve good eyesight. They also maintain that tilting the head back to gaze at a kite, while opening the mouth slightly gives the body a healthy yin-yang balance.

• Kites are even used in religious ceremonies. Some cultures made kites resembling humans to send prayers to the gods, while others used kites to send thanksgiving offerings to the gods for good harvest, fertility, and prosperity.

• In June, 1752, Benjamin Franklin and his son William stepped out into a Philadelphia thunderstorm to conduct an experiment. He carried a kite made from a large silk handkerchief, a hemp string, a silk string, a house key, a length of wire to serve as a lightning rod, and a Leyden jar, which was a device that could store an electrical charge. While some folks believe that Franklin “discovered electricity” during his experiment, that was not the case at all, since scientists had already been working at great length with static electricity for years. Franklin sought to prove that lightning was an electrical discharge. The hemp string was wet from the rain and conducted an electrical charge, while the dry silk string held by Franklin under cover did not. When the lightning struck, Franklin felt a definite electric spark, but was not struck by lightning, as some believe. Using the Leyden jar, he collected the electricity for discharge at another time. His further work with electricity led to the perfection of a lightning rod invention.

 

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