No one knows for sure who first attached a paper membrane to a stiff frame with string and watched it float off in the breeze. Traditionally, historians give credit for the invention of the kite to the Chinese. They admit, though, that China may get credit simply because its history has been well-preserved in written records.

One popular Chinese legend tells the story of a Chinese farmer who tied his hat to his head with a piece of string to keep it from blowing away. In a stubborn wind, the hat nevertheless managed to float off for a ways with the farmer trailing behind it holding the string. Thus, the legend says, the kite was born.

Modern historians have found evidence in the oral histories of Malaysia, Indonesia, Hawaii, Polynesia and New Zealand that indicates that kites may have been independently invented in these areas at about the same time they were first seen in China.

If we look solely at written history, though, Chinese philosopher Mo-tse was arguably the first person ever to build a kite. Mo-tse lived from approximately 468 B.C. to around 376 B.C.

Written records indicate that he created a kite in the shape of a bird over the course of three years and then flew it only one day. Based on these records, it’s safe to say the kite has been around for at least 2,300 years!

The Chinese created a holiday — the Festival of Ascending on High — based on their love of kite flying. On the ninth day of the ninth month each year, the Chinese celebrate by flying kites.

Kites eventually made their way from Asia to the rest of the world. Marco Polo is given credit for bringing the kite to Europe after his trips to China.

Today, millions of people around the world, both young and old, fly kites just for the pure joy of it. But kites have served many purposes beyond entertainment.

In ancient China, General Han Hsin flew a kite over an enemy compound and used the length of the kite string to estimate how far his soldiers would need to tunnel to get inside.

Hundreds of years later, scientists used kites as tools for experimentation. Alexander Wilson used kites to lift thermometers high into the atmosphere to measure temperatures.

Of course, the most famous scientific experiment involving a kite has to be Ben Franklin’s legendary use of a kite and a metal key to study lightning during a thunderstorm.

Kites still serve important purposes today. In addition to being a favorite toy of children around the world, kites are used by fishermen to lay bait. They are also used by photographers to take pictures with a bird’s-eye view.

 

20 Join the Discussion

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  1. Here I am again! I have a couple questions just for fun… :)
    1- How do you come up with these awesome questions?
    2- Is it hard coming up with these questions?
    3- What’s your favorite part about creating the articles?
    Thanks!
    Abby :)

  2. Hi!

    I wanted to know what inspires you to do these questions?
    Can you connect to them in any way?
    How long does it take to make an article?
    Bye,
    Torey R.

  3. Hi, Abby and Torey! Thanks for stopping by Wonderopolis and asking such GREAT questions!

    The inspiration for our Wonders of the Day comes from wanting to see the world around us in an exciting, inspiring, creative way and from our quest to learn new things together!

    Some of our Wonders come from Wonder Friends JUST LIKE YOU when they nominate their own Wonder of the Day! What do YOU wonder about? You can tell us by clicking on the “nominate a wonder” link at the top of this page.

    We have a lot of fun learning something new from each Wonder…we hope you do, too! :-)

    • Great question, tnfan615! Thanks for visiting us today to find out about how Wonderopolis works! :)

      We are lucky to have so many Wonder Friends all over the world… sometimes we receive more than 50 comments per day from friends like you! We love to Wonder and we encourage you to do the same! Keep up the curiosity! :)

  4. My question was answered about who invented it. But how high can a basic kite fly or does it fly higher than one of those fancy kites? :)

    • Hello Wonder Friends Sydney C, Sammy and Jaylynn! It’s so great that you’ve been WONDERing about flying kites today! :)

      Kites are very fun to fly, but you need wind to do it! Flying a kite takes some practice, but the wind is the trick! We hope you’ll continue to Wonder about kites and how they work! Keep up the great work! :)

  5. 1. I wonder when kites where made and invented.
    2. Did a woman or a man invent the kite?
    3. How did people back then know how to fly kites?
    4. How did people make designed kites?

    • Hey there, AN, Selecia, and Blake! We hope you’ll keep up the WONDERing about kites of all kinds– from how high they can go to how long they can fly! Benjamin Franklin used a kite in his famous electricity experiment with a key, a kite and a thunderstorm! You can read all about kites on the Internet, or even in books in the library. There is so much to discover! :)

  6. Hi I was wondering a few more questions:

    1. how were kites made?

    2. how long are fancy kites?

    3. if kites are made with wood how does it

    fly

    last one 4. can kites break from hard wind?

    That’s all thank you!

    • Hey Bri, Steven, Marie S., and AN! We’ve got lots of answers for your questions about kites in our Wonder! No one is certain about the very first kite, but kites have been flying for more than 2,300 years! PHEW! We hope you’ll keep WONDERing about kites of all sorts! We look forward to hearing about what you find! :)

  7. 1 I wonder how people use the string!
    2 I wonder how kites fly.
    3 I wonder how people fly the kites.
    4 I wonder how light is a kite.

    • Keep up the WONDERing, Kenseth! :) We Wonder if you have ever flown a kite on your own? You can check out our Wonder video and article to learn all about the history of kites… and we hope you’ll keep WONDERing about them with the help of books and the Internet! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Who invented the kite?
  • When was the kite invented?
  • How have kites been used throughout history?

Wonder Gallery

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Try It Out

Calling all future aerospace engineers! It’s time to try your hand at making a tiny straw kite.

Using a few simple materials, you can experiment with different kite designs. You can also have a blast decorating your homemade kites in interesting ways.

You can also gain an appreciation for the art form that is kite making by exploring kites from around the world!

 

Still Wondering

Learn how to Make Your Own Fish Kite with these easy-to-follow directions from Smithsonian’s History Explorer!

 

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