According to legend, Archytas the Greek philosopher, a contemporary of Socrates, was the world's first kite flyer, but actually, kites have been in use among Asiatic peoples for centuries. The ancient Chinese, who flew kites more than two thousand years ago, used them as signaling devices, the Polynesians for fishing. Every high school dropout knows that Ben Franklin sent up a kite during a thunderstorm in 1752 to prove that lightning is electricity, and that Marconi used a kite with a long radio antenna attached to receive the first wireless message ever flashed across the Atlantic.
In China the ninth day of the ninth month is Kites' Day; in Japan villages compete against each other with kites that are often so large they require several men to launch them; and in India kite fighting is a favorite sport, which requires great maneuvering skill in order to cut the string of an opponent's kite.
A good selection of Oriental kites can be found at Takusan Imports, 21-B Mott Street, New York City. One of the most delightful designs is the dragonfly, made in Formosa of blue and green rice paper, which comes unassembled in five pieces. When airborne, the eyes twirl and reflect the sunlight. It costs $4. There is also a wide variety of Thai handmade and hand-painted rice-paper kites. A ferocious owl that flies very well because it is keel-guided costs $3. Other designs in this group make up a fantastic zoo: a bat, a snake and a fish. Takusan also carries authentic Indian fighter kites. They are square with a triangular attached tail and are handmade of three colors of specially produced tissue paper. These Indian kites require no running with the string, just a light steady breeze, like any other kite, but they are quite tricky to launch. The cutting string is made by coating 150-200 feet of string with glue mixed with powdered glass. A set of four assorted colors and sizes of fighter kites costs $3. Prices do not include postage.
The newest kite on the market is the American Blackhawk designed by an aeronautical engineer and covered by patents for its unique aerodynamic balance. Several Blackhawks, if spaced apart on the same line, can be flown at the same time. The Airplane Kite Co., Box 2182, Roswell, N. Mex., will fill mail orders at $3 each postpaid. The Alan-Whitney Co., Box 447, New Haven, Conn., sells the Space-Bird made of red, yellow and black tearproof acetate cloth. The Space-Bird comes with a 48-inch wingspan for $4 and a 66-inch wingspan for $7. Both are postpaid and come complete with cord.