Noted Kite Historian Responds

Tal Streeter
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More than might be imagined, it is a commonplace for there to be conflicting claims regarding the primacy of invention in the field of kites, flight...and all inventions. These contests of authorship tend to follow a pattern and reflect attitudes reminiscent of the information recently presented by Istvan Bodoczky, who has raised a question concerning the origin of the Sled kite. The l904 Hungarian ethnographic journal he enters into evidence includes a description, accompanied by a drawing, of a “Buda Jewish kite” remarkably similar in its appearance to William A. Allison’s Flexible kite known worldwide as the Sled kite.

Like everyone else, I have trouble sorting these conflicting attributions out myself, but a review of the many similar instances, which parallel the newly raised Buda-Sled question may contribute perspective to a subject frequently confronting the kite community.

A mountain of conflicting claims also surrounded the Wright brothers’ invention. It was years before the brothers won general acknowledgement for achieving the first human-operated powered flight. Among countless claimants, the Smithsonian touted their man, Langley, who visited the Wrights in Kill Devil Hills, gleaning what he could from an inspection of the Wrights’ work before it was widely published. The first person killed as a passenger in a plane (a Wright Flyer piloted by Orville) was a member of Alexander Graham Bell’s airplane design team, sent for a first-hand look to gather information on the Wright plane. Before they joined forces, forming the Curtiss-Wright aeroplane manufacturing company, Curtiss “borrowed” crucial elements of the Wrights’ unparalleled work, raining on what might have expected would have been celebration parades. It’s a notably large and dark cloud cloaking this biggest star in the history of flight. And it hangs over the Wrights to this day. Professor Hiroi, as only one example, gives a long, entertaining lecture on a Japanese man who he claims, quite seriously, invented the airplane long before the Wrights did.

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