The Benjamin Franklin Kite

What Was The Original Kite Like?

Most school kids have come across references to the Benjamin Franklin kite used in that electricity experiment. But is anything known about the kite itself?

Fortunately for historians, and I use the term very loosely in my case ;-) Mr. Franklin once wrote a letter to a friend, on this topic. Quotes from this letter may be found in many different places, although the text is edited just a little for ease of reading.

Here is a typical quote from the letter, which was written by Ben Franklin to Peter Collinson on October 19, 1752...

White silk handkerchief

"Make a small cross of two light strips of cedar, the arms so long as to reach to the four corners of a large thin silk handkerchief when extended; tie the corners of the handkerchief to the extremities of the cross, so you have the body of a kite; which being properly accommodated with a tail, loop, and string, will rise in the air, like those made of paper; but this being of silk is fitter to bear the wet and wind of a thunder gust without tearing. To the top of the upright stick of the cross is to be fixed a very sharp pointed wire, rising a foot or more above the wood."

Neatly folded up there in the photo is a modern large silk handkerchief, plain white as was popular in Franklin's day.

The book Benjamin Franklin: An American Life on Amazon appears to be a very good reference work on the man, judging by the many reviews.




Now, one day I will get my hands on an actual silk handkerchief, not unlike the one near the quote up there.

An illustration from Franklin's time

Together with some cedar wood, I intend to re-create a Benjamin Franklin kite and post a photo or 2 of it here, plus some video of the kite flying.

At first reading, I thought the 'loop' Franklin mentions must be a string around the perimeter of the kite, to which the edges of the handkerchief are to be attached. But since he has already specified to "tie the corners" to the cedar wood tips, it seems more likely that Franklin was referring to a bridle loop tied to the vertical spar.

Almost the last step before being able to go out and fly the kite.

Flying in those conditions simply isn't safe, and it's not even clear whether Franklin himself actually performed the experiment he proposed. That is, hand-flying a kite with a wet string in a thunder storm, complete with key suspended from the hemp line to observe sparks or feed them to a charge storage device.

Out In The Field

Diamond kite stories of my real-life flying experiences are worth checking out!

Illustrated with photos and videos, of course.

Take a good look at that old art work up there. Franklin recommended flying the kite from under shelter, such as a verandah or door-way. The artist seems to have noted this. Also, handkerchiefs are generally square in shape, unlike a traditional Diamond kite sail. The artist seems to have got this detail correct too, depicting the Benjamin Franklin kite as a Diamond with a square sail.

However, the artist has erred in depicting a bridle loop going to each end of the horizontal spar... On a perfectly square design like the Benjamin Franklin kite, it just won't fly like that! Instead, the loop should be attached to the vertical spar, with the flying line attached a lot closer to the nose than the tail of the kite.

Images, or rather images of images or sculptures of Franklin abound. Here's quite a special one, admired by many photographers...




E-book special of the month...


I've been making and flying traditional-style
Box Kites on-and-off ever since this site was started...

Get the e-book for making a range of bamboo or dowel designs. Down to $7 from the usual $9.95, for this month.

With a large range of wind speeds covered, not to mention a large choice of kite size to attempt, the ideal box kite for you has to be in there somewhere!

My personal favorite would have to be the giant 2.4m (8ft) long Multi-Dowel Box which flies steep and steady. It's on the e-book cover over there...

The e-book is a PDF file - which means printable instructions to refer to while you make the kite. It also means convenient off-line access if that suits you better.



What's New!

  1. The Eddy Kite

    Sep 28, 16 07:00 AM

    A previously published page covering the historical Eddy design - a large tail-less Diamond. Illustrated with our own Dowel Diamond, also tail-less, which is based on the Eddy concept...

    Read More





Comments

Plenty of fun kite info, photos and videos - there's definitely too much here for only one visit! Feel free to leave your impressions of this site or just this page, below...



Return to Paper Kites from The Benjamin Franklin Kite

All the way back to Home Page


 


E-books


Kite-making e-book: Simplest Dowel Kites

This one's FREE
Download it now!



More E-books...





Testimonials
(unedited)

"Love the easy to understand step by step instructions, made from next to nothing materials and above all so much fun to fly... cheers Tim for sharing your well thought out pdf kite designs with the whole world.

Very satisfying making your own and watching them get air-born for the first time."

_________________

"I've just bought your super e-book and spent most of last night pouring through all the great stuff in it!

Very detailed and USEFUL information - thanks for such a great book."

_________________

"30+ years ago, I tried making a kite using the 'instructions' in a free kite-safety booklet. What a disappointment for a young boy.

 Your instructions and methods are wonderful. You help the builder to focus on accuracy, without making it hard. Also, you use materials that are durable, yet cheap!"

_________________

"omg i made a kite from this site and i fly it ....... booom i didnt expect this bc in the other sites instuction are trash

thank you"




Kite-making e-book: Simplest Dowel Kites

This one's FREE
Download it now!



More E-books...





Wind Speeds


Light air
1-5 km/h
1-3 mph
1-3 knots
Beaufort 1

Light breeze
6–11 km/h
4–7 mph
4–6 knots
Beaufort 2    

Gentle breeze
12–19 km/h
8–12 mph
7–10 knots
Beaufort 3    

Moderate breeze
20–28 km/h
13–18 mph
11–16 knots
Beaufort 4    

Fresh breeze
29–38 km/h
19–24 mph
17–21 knots
Beaufort 5    

Strong breeze
39–49 km/h
25–31 mph
22–27 knots
Beaufort 6

High Wind
50-61 km/h
32-38 mph
28-33 knots
Beaufort 7