Tag Archives: 1800s

Scientific Kite-Flying: an 1896 article by Cleveland Moffett

By Larry Clark | February 19, 2014

Note: I came across this article and other popular scientific writing from McClure’s Magazine while researching fiction and late 1800s popular periodicals. Moffett and his colleagues were journalists recruited by editor S.S. McClure to write accessible and fascinating articles on scientific topics of the time, making those authors some of the earliest professional science writers. I’ve collected a bunch of the articles into a book, The Edge of the Future, which you can find here. ~ Larry Clark

Scientific Kite-Flying

By Cleveland Moffett

McClure’s Magazine, March 1896

HARGRAVE LIFTED SIXTEEN FEET FROM THE GROUND BY A TANDEM OF HIS BOX-KITES.

HARGRAVE LIFTED SIXTEEN FEET FROM THE GROUND BY A TANDEM OF HIS BOX-KITES.

ON the long peninsula that separates New York Bay from Newark Bay, there is, among other things, a red house by an open field, in which lives the king of kite-flyers. Every one in Bayonne, the town which covers this peninsula, knows the red house by the open field; for scarcely a day passes, winter or summer, that kites are not seen sailing above this spot—sometimes a solitary “hurricane flyer,” when the wind is sweeping in strong from the ocean; sometimes a tandem string of seven or eight six-footers, each one fastened to the main line by its separate cord. And wonderful are the feats in kite-illumination accomplished by Mr. Eddy (the king aforesaid) on holiday nights, especially on the Fourth of July, when he keeps the sky ablaze with gracefully waving meteors, to the profound awe or admiration of his fellow-townsmen.

If you enter the red house and show a proper interest in the subject, Mr. Eddy will take you up to his kite-room, where sky-flyers of all sorts, sizes, and materials range the walls—from the tiniest, made of tissue paper, to nine-footers, with lath frames and oil-cloth coverings. Hanging from the ceiling is one of the queer Hargrave kites, which looks like a double box, and seems as little likely to fly as a full-legged dining-table; yet fly it will, and beautifully too, though by a principle of aëroplanes only recently understood.

Then Mr. Eddy will show you the room where, with the help of his deft-fingered wife, also a kite enthusiast, he spends many hours developing and mounting photographs taken from high altitudes, with a camera especially constructed to be swung and operated from the kite cord.

Until one talks with a man like Mr. Eddy—though, indeed, there is no one just like him—one does not realize what a large and important subject this of scientific kite-flying is. Many men of distinction have devoted years of their best energies to experiments with kites. Mr. Eddy himself is a scientist first, last, and always; for the sake of a new observation he will send up a tandem of kites when the thermometer is below zero, or stand half a night at his reeling apparatus, getting records of the thermograph.

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