Kites first appeared in Asia at least 2,000 years ago. The first ones were made of paper or silk with bamboo spars and silk string.
Legend tells of China's General Han Hsin, who - aided by a kite - overthrew a tyrannical emperor in 200 BC. One version of the legend says that Han flew a kite over the emperor's palace and marked the string so he'd know how long to dig a tunnel under the castle walls. In another version, a short-of-stature Han was flown over the castle in a huge kite at night. He so frightened the enemy soldiers with ghostly threats that they fled.
Kites also came in handy in 1066, when the Normans used them for signaling during their invasion of England (the Battle of Hastings).
By 1749, Scottish scientists had used kites to collect weather data, a practice that continued until the early 1930s.
In the United States, Ben Franklin became closely associated with kites. In 1752 he used one to prove that lightning was electricity. The current that coursed through the wet kite string and sparked around a key tied to it could have been fatal. Franklin was saved by the fact that he held a dry silk ribbon tied to the kite string.
In 1887 an English meteorologist took the first aerial photograph with the help of a kite.
Later, a kite helped wireless-telegraph inventor Guglielmo Marconi lift an antenna to receive the first transatlantic radio message on Dec. 12, 1901.
For centuries, though, kites have been children's playthings. Since World War II, more and more grown-ups have been playing with them, too.