While browsing through the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog, the title of this photograph made me stop and take a closer look.
Upon closer scrutiny, I realized that attached to the rope beneath the kite was a person! With my curiosity piqued, I decided to find out more about this man-flying contraption.
An avid kite lover since childhood, Samuel F. Perkins began experimenting with creating a man-flying kite to be used for observation about 1910. A lead kite was used to test the wind followed by enough kites to raise a person from the ground. The cable, attached to a winch, could be reeled in or out by the ground crew. Photography was a powerful tool for documenting and communicating aerial feats, triumphs, and disasters to the public. Below is a photograph of Perkins himself testing his new invention in November 1910.
Perkins continued his experiments through the next decade with the biggest issue being instability. The slightest change of wind would cause the kites to lose control. It seems that even surviving a 150-200 foot fall in 1912 was not enough to curb Perkins’ enthusiasm for kite flying!
Many in Europe were also experimenting with man-flying observation kites during this period as a way to survey battlefields in World War I. More stable than the Perkins kite, the photographs below show a British army war kite taken during the same era.
Kite inventions in the early 1900s were not limited to those that could lift a person into the air. Can you determine the use of the kites in the following photographs?
- View more images of kites throughout history in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.
- Enjoy photographs of aeronautical experiments at Kitty Hawk from the Wright Brothers collection.
- Explore “From Fantasy to Flight”, a classroom presentation given to teachers on the Library’s Teacher Resource page, which includes a section on kites and gliders.
- Read more posts from the Picture This: Double Take series!