Kite tradition in the United States rests squarely upon the shoulders of Benjamin Franklin and his experiment to prove that lightning was “electrical matter.” Flying his kite during a thunderstorm, Franklin described the arc of electricity from kite-line-and-key to observers of the experiment. It has been questioned whether Franklin really carried out the experiment, but no matter, it has become a part of Franklin’s life story ,and America’s too.
The United States has no kite tradition that rivals the kite fighting traditions of India or the centuries-old festivals in Japan, but scratch the surface of American history and there are interesting moments when kites play a pivotal role. Weather research at the beginning of the 20th Century was aided by the use of kites at weather stations such as the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory near Boston (established in 1885 and still operating today) and at 19 other weather service stations across the country.
The Wright Brothers learned about stability and control though the use of a four- line kite, information upon which their patent for flight was based. In World War II kites were used as barrage protection on US Navy ships and for gunnery practice on those same ships. They were even included in survival kits as a rescue aid.
In the second half of the 20th Century kites remained a common toy and almost every family has some kite flying memory. No one reminded us more about kites and childhood than Charles Schultz, who at least annually told of the trials and tribulations of Charlie Brown and his kite.
Through many decades and today, especially on both coasts, there are kite festivals throughout the summer months. They bring together enthusiasts who fly large, air-inflated creations, maneuverable sport kites, and delicate artistic kites. Kite flying can be a family endeavor, perfect for a summer afternoon, or it can be an extreme sport, physically demanding and technically challenging. This fascination with kitemaking has brought forth many organizations dedicated to the popularity of the sport, like the American Kitefliers Association, and many state kite organizations which networks the flights of many thousands of kite fliers each year. Kites continue to be a popular subject in school curricula as hands-on projects that can teach a variety of lessons.