The kite is a common aerial toy in the form of two crossed sticks covered with paper and balanced with a tail or string, on which are tied bits of cloth or paper. In eastern Asia kiteflying has been an extremely popular pastime from earliest times. Chinese and Japanese kites are particularly colorful, often being in the shape of birds, fish, or dragons. In size they vary, sometimes being as large as eight feet in height or breadth. In America and Europe, kiteflying is generally confined to children, although some adults, particularly in England, make a hobby of it.
Kites were first employed in aid of science in 1749 by Alexander Wilson (1714-1786), and Thomas Melvill (1726-1753) of Scotland, who by means of a thermometer attached to a kite were able to record temperatures above the earth's surface. Benjamin Franklin's experiments with electricity in 1752 by means of a kite and key are well known. Among the men who have developed kites are the Americans Octave Chanute (1832-1910), William A. Eddy (1858-1909), Samuel P. Langley (1834-1906), and Charles F. Marvin (1858-1943). Also noteworthy are Capt Baden F. S. Baden-Powell (1860-1937) of England, and Lawrence Hargrave (1850-1915) of Australia.
Among the first improvements was the tailless kite, invented by Eddy. The box kite was invented by Hargrave about 1893, and quickly became of importance to weather bureaus throughout the world in their efforts to record wind velocities and direction, pressure, humidity, and temperature. Kites, however, are limited in their performance by weather conditions such as storms, high winds, or lack of wind.
By 1920, airplanes and balloons, because of their greater efficiency, began to supplant kites for meteorological observations. With the development of sounding rockets and meteorological satellites, kites have become almost completely obsolete for this kind of scientific investigation.