Thermometers Aloft in Scotland: Using Kites to Research the Upper Air in 1749

Authors: 
Patrick Wilson
Article type: 
Journal

"“Among (Mr. Wilson’s) more advanced students...was Thomas Melville, so well known by his mathematical talents, and by those fine specimens of genius which are to be found in his posthumous papers....With this young person, Mr. Wilson lived with the greatest intimacy. Of several philosophical schemes which occurred to them in their social hours, Mr. Wilson proposed one, which was to explore the temperature of the atmosphere in the higher regions, by raising a number of paper kites, one above another, upon the same line with thermometers appended to those that were to be most elevated. Though they expected, in general, that kites thus connected might be raised to an unusual height, still they were somewhat uncertain how far the thing might succeed upon trial. But the thought being quite new to them, and the purpose to be gained of some importance, they began to prepare for the experiment in the spring of l749. “

"Mr. Wilson’s house at Camlachie was the scene of all the little bustle which now became necessary; and both Mr. Melville and he, alike dexterous in the use of their hands, found much amusement in going through the preliminary work, till, at last, they finished half-a-dozen large paper-kites, from four to seven feet in height, upon the strongest, and, at the same time, upon the slightest construction the material would admit of. They had also been careful, in giving orders, early, for a very considerable quantity of line, to be spun of such different sizes and strength, as they judged would best answer their purpose; so that one fine day, about the middle of July, when favoured by a gentle steady breeze, they brought out their whole apparatus into an adjoining field, amidst a numerous company, consisting of their friends and others, whom the rumor of this new and ingenious project had drawn from the town. “

"They began with raising the smallest kite, which, being exactly balanced, soon mounted steadily to its utmost limit, carrying up a line very slender, but of a strength sufficient to command it. In the mean time, the second kite was made ready. Two assistants supported it between them in a sloping direction, with its breast to the wind, and with its tail laid out evenly upon the ground behind, whilst a third person, holding part of its line tight in his hand, stood at a good distance directly in front. Things being so ordered, the extremity of the line belonging to the kite already in the air, was hooked to a loop at the back of the second, which being now let go, mounted very superbly, and in a little time also took up as much line as could be supported with advantage; thereby allowing its companion to soar to an elevation proportionally higher.

Page Number: 
30