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Diamonds in the Sky

The Contributions of William Abner Eddy to Kiting

by Bob White

Editor's Note: When Bob contacted us with the proposal for this article, we certainly didn't expect such a scholarly piece, probably one of the definitive works on this kiting pioneer. We know that this page takes forever to load, but we think it is well worth the wait. Our thanks go to Bob for his many, many hours of work on this piece.

It was a crisp, clear winter day with a steady breeze from the south-west. A light dusting of snow lay on the freshly frozen ground at Bergen Point, N.J. as the carriage rolled to a stop dropping off the stately gentleman and a trunk.

Fresh from a morning of opening gifts with family and a grand Christmas dinner, William Abner Eddy was about to spend a couple of hours engaging in his favorite pastime. A series of four large kites and a reel of heavy line came out of the trunk. Following some quick, well practised assembly, the kites were launched one after the other in a train formation, lifting into the winter sky.

William A. Eddy was on holiday from his work at the New York Herald newspaper where he was a senior accountant and journalist.

He must have been an odd sight to any passers-by on that December 25, 1896. Tall, mustached, and dressed in a dark bowler hat, with a scarf, gloves and long dark coat, Eddy looked more like someone on his way to an important social engagement than a kite enthusiast and keen observer of the weather.

As the early winter sky turned to dusk, Eddy hauled in his kites and neatly re-packed them. He turned the carriage and headed for home. Entering the prosperous brick home at 32 East 3rd Street, he greeted his family and briefly excused himself to make some notes on the flight characteristics of the new train design he had been testing. A short while later joining the family around the fire, Eddy, a devoted family man, turned his attention to his wife and children and the events of the holiday.

William Abner Eddy - the Early Years

Born in New York on January 28, 1850 to H. J. Eddy and his wife Amanda (Doubleday), William Abner was raised in a well-to-do family. His father encouraged him to have an interest in science. H.J. also taught young Abner to actively keep notes of the phenomena he observed while taking part in various pastimes.

As with many boys of his age, Eddy built and flew kites partly as play and partly to learn about the environment. In 1865, at the age of 15, he tied a lantern to the tail of a hexagonal kite and sent it up a great distance creating some excitement in his neighborhood as the blue light of the lens created wonder on a warm summer evening.

Flat hexagonal and 'barn-door' type kites were the predominant type of kite flown in the 1860's and Eddy became skilled in building and flying them. All of these kites required tails of varying length to fly in a stable manner in a variety of wind conditions.

Eddy attended the University of Chicago where he was trained as an accountant. Following graduation, he returned to the metropolitan New York area to work in his new profession. Early on in his career he was employed by the New York Herald, a major and highly respected newspaper of the day.

On April 21, 1887 at the age of 37 he married Cynthia S. Huggins and settled in Bayonne, New Jersey. Bayonne was a quiet residential area, close to Eddy's work in New York. Here, William Abner and Cynthia immediately began to raise a family. He used the ferry to travel back and forth to the newspaper in the city from his home in the suburbs.

The Lure of the Kiteline

Early in his family and professional life, Eddy returned to his fascination with kites. This time he brought to his pastime the precision and determination of an adult. As well, he utilized his skills with note taking and problem solving to constantly improve his kite design.

All around the world during the era of the late 1800's, kites were being employed in new ways to push the understandings of wind, weather and principles of flight. It was a pursuit which afforded Eddy the opportunity to engage his mind in an area of personal interest. At work at the Herald, he was continually exposed to the news of many scientific advancements. Eddy was able to move in circles that permitted him to meet and dialogue with prominent individuals who were developing new understandings of how things worked and who were actively increasing the body of scientific knowledge.

Devoting as much spare time as he could outside of his work as well as his duties as a father and husband, Eddy delved deeply into the design, construction, and flight characteristics of kites. He made constant notes and improvements as he tried out modifications. At first, he used the kite form that he was most familiar with, the hexagonal kite with tail.

Eddy worked at increasing the heights achieved by his kites by training them together in series. This was the traditional train form (all linked directly off of a common flying line) that was common for the time and is still used by many recreational kitefliers today.

Like others using this method of training kites together, Eddy found that kites with tails could be troublesome when flown in this manner. He began to speculate on other methods of training kites which would be less cumbersome.

An Era of Kites as Tools for Science

In 1883, Douglas Archibald in England began a new era of scientific kite flying by fastening anemometers to his kite wire to register total wind movements on dial-type instruments. Archibald was able to obtain differential measures of wind velocity at heights up to 1200 feet.

By 1885 kites were being used in the United States to start measuring events in lower atmosphere. Alexander McAdie of the fledgling US Weather Bureau began the 'modern' work of scientific kite flying by repeating Franklin's experiments on Blue Hill near Boston, Mass. using an electrometer. The work of both men was detailed in newspapers shortly after the events. As well, in 1886, the journal Nature published detailed accounts of Archibald's work including the construction of the kites employed in the experiments.

All of this came to Eddy's attention. He noted that Archibald was using another common form of kite, the diamond shaped kite. Archibald's diamonds, however, were 'true' diamond shape, much like those used by another scientific explorer Arthur Batat of France. In addition, they were flat and required a tail to keep them stable during flight.

The final impetus for Eddy's serious interest in kites came in 1887 when he learned of the work of Woodbridge Davis who was developing maneuverable kites for the purposes of life-saving. Eddy spoke numerous times with Davis and was inspired by the growing utility of kites for a number of purposes in both science and technology.

Eddy's Personal Pursuit of an Efficient Kite Design

Also around this time (just prior to 1890), Eddy heard of a kite built and flown by the natives of the large island of Java in Malaysia. The kite was described as "bouyant" in that it seemed to fly due to its own design and did not rely on the drag of a tail to keep it directed properly into the wind. Having no exact measurements to go on, but understanding the general nature of diamond kites, Eddy began working with modifications of the shape to produce a diamond kite that would successfully fly without the tails which created so many problems when kites were placed in train.

It is likely that during the period from 1890 to 1892 Eddy worked with both his developing version of the diamond kite that would ultimately bear his name and with the hexagonal kite which was so familiar to him. Indeed, his own writings in journal articles (particularly in the Scientific American and the Century Magazine) chronicled flights with both the hexagonal kites and diamond kites during this period.

Continuing to experiment with kite trains, Eddy tried out a new form of linking the kites together. Eddy wrote of this experience thus: "In the summer of 1890. while experimenting with hexagon tail kites at Bergen Point, I found that the best tandem system was not to fasten one kite to the back of another, but to give each kite its individual string and allow it to branch upward from a main line." [Eddy - Scientific American - Sept. 15, 1894]

Throughout 1890 and 1891, he became convinced of the efficiency of this method of flying in train by using a separate line for each kite, and then attaching them one by one to the main line. [Hart - 169]

Attempting to document his preference for the ‘independent train' method, he once again reviewed results with the diamond shaped kite that he was modifying as he gained more experience with them. Switching to diamond kites with tails in 1891, he tested them using the traditional train method (hooked back to back) at Bergen Point, N.J. and verified that this type of train created some stability and lift difficulties and did not work as well as the independent train method he was now committed to. [Eddy - SA - Sept. 15, 1894]

On May 9, 1891, by now convinced of the superiority of the expanded, independent train method, Eddy sought to achieve elevation to some serious heights with his kite train. Using a method of triangulation that is an accurate way to measure kite altitude, he successfully documented the raising of a train of five hexagonal kites with tails to an estimated 4000-6000 feet. [Hart -120]

Eliminating the Kite Tail and the Search for Stability in Kite Flight

Since the tails were troublesome in flight in any train configuration, Eddy began working to develop a tailless kite that would not tangle in train lines. He moved his attention again to the diamond shaped kite that he had been working with to modify and improve its flight characteristics.

He noted that a bow in the cross spar of the kite tended to make the breezes spill more uniformly off the sides of the longeron. He tinkered with the concept of how much to bow the cross spar to achieve the best stability. By 1892 all of his diamond shaped kites incorporated that bow as a standard design feature.

In 1892 Eddy read that some Chinese kite builders in Washington, DC cut small holes into the sails of their kites to steady the movement in flight. He then began to experiment with perforated sails in an attempt to improve the steadiness of his own kites. "He found that if a kite-shaped hole is made at the crossing of the sticks (Fig.62 - 122) the kite is not only thereby rendered much more stable in strong winds, but also has a tendency to continue to move in any direction in which it has once been made to travel by pulls on the line, etc." [Hart - 123]

Pursuing Scientific Data Using a Kite:

Inspired by the use of the kite as a scientific tool, Eddy began to couple his work with kite design with the use of simple scientific instruments.

On February 4, 1891 he attached a "...minimum thermometer to several of these tailless kites flown tandem and took mid-air temperature from kites....".[Rotch - 318]

Recording the data Eddy wrote a paper that reached the attention of the American Meteorological Society, in which he recommended the use of kites to gather temperature and other information "...and proposed to obtain in this way data for forecasting the weather." [Rotch - 318] He also experimented extensively with atmospheric electricity drawn from kite sustained wire making records of his observations with this phenomena as well. Eddy stated that in 1892 his "...first electric spark was drawn from a copper wire festooned to the kite-line and connected with a tinfoil-coated rectangular collector suspended aloft on the kite-cable." He went on to note that "...I find that the sparks cause an unpleasant sting." [Eddy - Century Magazine - 1897]

It was these scientific pursuits, and the improvements in his own kite design that would lead later to an invitation to work with the staff of the American Meteorological Society.

A Visit to the Chicago World's Fair - 1893

In 1893 Eddy's work with the New York Herald took him to Chicago to attend the immensely important World's Columbian Exposition. This World's Fair, held between May and October of 1893, had the theme of celebrating the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus.

Nominally a celebration of Columbus' voyages to the New World 400 years prior, the Exposition was in fact a reflection and celebration of American culture and society--for fun, edification, and profit--and a blueprint for life in modern America. It was an event that was of crucial importance to journalists for it held a vast collection of international exhibitions of arts, industries, manufactures, and the products of the soil, mine, and seas from around the world.

The fair was so important an event for the times that paid tours of the construction of the massive expo were conducted from 1891 on to the opening of the fair itself. New concepts in construction and displays of culture and the arts had the world's attention focussed on Chicago long before the opening of the event by President Grover Cleveland on May 1, 1893.

Eddy travelled from New York to Chicago via train in a journey that took 26 hours. He, along with 27.5 million other visitors, spent considerable time exploring the array of sights and exhibits. Admission to the grounds was 50 cents.

Wonders abounded at the Chicago fair. The newly invented Ferris Wheel, Chicago's new transportation system - the elevated railway, and ...most of all, the Columbian Exposition was a spectacle for the emerging technology that would power and transform the coming new century--electricity." [Judith Adams] Eddy spent several days at the fair and took notes for a series of articles to be published in his paper.

As with most world's fairs, there were areas of amusement and diversion which entertained while showing glimpses into areas of life and culture not normally experienced. Once such area was the international bazaar which provided a wide array of native handiwork from distant nations. Many of these crafts were quite new and exotic to the visitors to the fair. The nations of the Pacific archipelago of Indonesia were represented in the bazaar and typical Malaysian items were available for sale.

Eddy spent some time in the Javanese village where he saw in the stalls of the vendors, kites of the Java variety he had heard about some time earlier. This provided him with an opportunity to have an actual specimen to analyze once he returned to New York.

Perfecting the Eddy Diamond Kite

Eddy found that his own kite was very similar in principle to the genuine Javanese kite from Malay. However, its size and the materials from which it was constructed differed considerably. Some of these differences were due to the available materials while others were due to the applications which Eddy intended for his kites.

The Javanese kite was small, light in weight and made of low quality silk with a split bamboo frame. The kite was bowed with a definite curved dihedral face and when flown was quite stable in its flight attitude. It's dimensions were the same on all sides making it a virtual ‘square' flown with one point at the top.

This Malay kite was not designed for the applications that Eddy was interested in: -high altitude flight and considerable lifting capability, however he was very interested in the bowed structure and proportional dimensions.

Studying the Javanese kite and its characteristics carefully, Eddy applied his knowledge of the diamond form and the dihedral bow which he had evolved and made some further modifications. He also received suggestions from a friend, Charles Flanders of New York, who had considerable experience in flying and adapting such kites which had been imported by an Indonesian merchant from Malay to Cape Town, South Africa, where Flanders had been stationed with his work.

Thus began the final evolution of his design to the diamond Malay shape and form that is now generally known as the Eddy Diamond Kite.

Eddy built many of the kites in varying sizes to determine their lifting and altitude capabilities. His work came to the attention of other explorers of the lower atmosphere and established him as one of the pioneers of the era.

Invitation to Demonstrate the Eddy Kite in Scientific Applications at the Blue Hill Observatory, Boston, Mass.

Early in the spring of 1894 Eddy was contacted by Lawrence Rotch, the Director of the private Blue Hill Observatory near Boston, Massachusets to bring his kites and expertise to the observatory during the summer of 1894.

Arriving in late July of 1894, Eddy met with the staff of the meteorological station and determined how best to assist them with their work in measuring the temperature, wind velocities and other characteristics of the lower atmosphere.

The Blue Hill Observatory was already using kites of the hexagonal variety, with tails, to take temperature readings of the air at different elevations. The staff, led by technician H. H. Clayton had considerable experience in building and flying the hexagonal kites and were keenly aware of the difficulties of achieving high altitudes for measurement of temperature with the hexagonal kites and their 'tumultuous tails'.

In addition, they were anxious to lift a new instrument developed by the MM Richard of an instrumentation company in Paris, France. Known as the Richard Thermograph, the instrument was designed to obtain simultaneous records at the level of the kite and at the ground station from which to study the differences of both temperature and humidity with altitude.

The instrument was of sufficient weight that it required a train of kites to lift it to considerable altitude. It was considered too expensive to be risked in flight on the observatory's hexagonal kites that often tangled their tails when flown in train.

The conferences among the scientists gathered at Blue Hill determined that the instrument should be lightened by replacing some brass framing components with much lighter aluminum and then to lift them with the Eddy diamond kites flown in train, without tails. Clayton arranged for the milling to be done to adjust the overall weight of the instrument and Eddy demonstrated his kites for the staff of the observatory. The final weight of the redesigned Thermograph was brought down to two and one quarter pounds.

On August 4, 1894, using the favorable winds of the day, five Eddy bow diamond kites flying in train (with a total sail area of nine square metres) lifted the Thermograph to a height of 1,500 feet. Measurements were taken and recorded at this height and at the ground with the sophisticated device and the kites were safely returned with the instrument to Eddy and the technicians on the ground. [Rotch - 318 and Eddy-The Scientific American, Sept. 15, 1894.]

Eddy and the staff of the Observatory built a good number of very large kites (8 feet high) during his time there in the summer of 1894. The kite sails were made from a variety of materials including light manila paper (unvarnished or varnished to protect it from wet weather) and cotton poplin cloth from Boston suppliers for windy days. The frames were generally made of high quality spruce to ensure that they would stand the variations in wind velocity that occurred at different levels of flight and at different times during extended flights to measure air temperatures.

Flying to these heights required the development of large kite reel systems to manage the lengths of heavy line and the extreme pull of the kites while in flight.

It is not known exactly how long Eddy stayed at Blue Hill in the summer of 1894, but his work had tremendous immediate and positive impact upon the credibility of the center's data. A scientific milestone in meteorology in America was achieved on that day. The staff of the observatory were delighted with the performance of the kites and embraced them as a new tool to be employed in their quest for scientific data.

Return to Family and Work in Bayonne

Returning to home and work in late August, Eddy did not stop experimenting with his kites. During the Fall of 1894 he continued to test with large numbers of kites in train, flying as many as eighteen from one line. [Hart - 121]

As any experienced kite flyer can attest, not everything will always go well with kite flights! Eddy experienced some break away situations with his kite trains. Some were rather spectacular and caused Eddy to have to chase and attempt to retrieve the kites. In one of the break away flights, Eddy notes that the train drifted "... across the water from Bayonne, NJ over Staten Island to New York Bay trailing its line over buildings and houses to the amazement of hundreds of people." "After two kites had come down, the remaining six were caught on a telegraph line, from which Eddy rescued them after having given chase first on a ferry and then on a train." [Hart - 122]

All the while Eddy was gaining more flight experience with the kite design and continued to perfect both the construction of the kites and the train method he preferred.

In addition, Eddy took considerable notes on the effects of electrical impulses that were felt on the kite lines in certain high altitude flight conditions. He speculated in one of his later scientific articles that perhaps this energy could be harnessed for useful purposes if it could be sustained and managed.

First Aerial Photograph in the Western Hemisphere

The lifting capability of Eddy's designs inspired him to engage in an attempt to take photos from aloft with a camera suspended below one of the kites. On May 30, 1895, Eddy took the first mid-air kite photograph in Western Hemisphere.

He obtained the first aerial pictures in the Western World, lifting a 9x9 cm. format camera, using a train of his dihedral diamond kites.

During the month of August of 1896 he gained other good results using an early model of a KODAK camera lifted at a height of about 400 meters.

The " T " shaped Eddy' s camera suspension, was made by wooden sticks attached to the kite line. Using this device he was able to ensure a perfect parallelism of the camera to the ground and obtain excellent photographs.

Eddy continued to photograph from kites for a number of years. Using a train of three kites on May 9, 1897, Eddy took 24 images from various heights between 390 and 420 meters.

Eddy experimented with a number of shutter release techniques and contributed much to the knowledge of the emerging technique of kite aerial photography ranking up there with the original pioneer aerial kite photographer, M. Arthur Batat who seven years prior took the first aerial photograph from a kite-lifted camera in Labruguiere, France, on June 20, 1888.

He published his experiences and the potential for use of kite aerial photography in the journal The Century Magazine. [May-October, 1897] In an article written in this prestigious magazine of the era, Eddy envisioned the application of kite aerial photography to military intelligence. He carefully detailed how a camera mounted on a kite might permit the Navy to view beyond the horizon line and get advance information on ships of other navies operating in a region.

Back to the Blue Hill Observatory

Returning to Blue Hill in the Summer of 1895, again at the invitation of Lawrence Rotch, Director, Eddy continued to assist the staff in the raising of recording instruments with his kite trains. He also worked with H.H. Clayton to train staff in the construction of the kites since some were invariably destroyed by mishaps and strong winds during their flights.

While at the Observatory and in Boston, Eddy took a number of photographs to demonstrate to the staff the utility of kite aerial photography and for his own purposes.

One of these occasions lead to another adventure. While attempting to photograph the Boston Common, Eddy attracted a fair crowd who were interested in his equipment and what he was doing. As often is the case, someone in the crowd with best intentions jumped in to assist in the assembly of the kite train. This was a mistake.

As Eddy himself describes it, one "...kite came loose at a point where ...a careless knot, tied by a well-meaning spectator... ... had been made in an effort to assist." As a result, "...the camera and runaway kites were rescued with great difficulty in the presence of a large crowd, in Beacon Street." [Eddy - Century Magazine - May, 1897]

Eddy Kites and Meteorology

There is no disputing the impact that Eddy kites had in assisting the scientific measurements of the lower atmosphere. However, their impact and use was rather short lived due to other technological advancements in the development of kites with lifting power.

In Australia, the work of noted kite pioneer Lawrence Hargrave with the rectangular box kite would eventually eclipse Eddy's kite as the ultimate lifting platform for lower atmosphere measuring instruments.

By August of 1895, while the Eddy kites were still being regularly employed at Blue Hill, "...there was first used the cellular or box kite invented by Lawrence Hargrave, of Sydney, New South Wales, which was built from a description published shortly before." [Rotch - 319]

Due to its heavy lifting capability and rugged design, the Hargrave's box kite quickly went on to become the kite of choice for the fledgling U. S. Weather Bureau. The use of Eddy kites was significantly diminished at this point.

By 1898 the success of both the Blue Hill Observatory and the use of kites to gather new weather data led to the establishment of 17 weather stations across the United States which took meteorological readings using kite-borne instruments to gather data.

However, Eddy kites were still occasionally used when conditions were favorable. On May 5, 1910 at Mount Weather, Va. (one of the Bureau's stations), a train of ten Eddy bows reached an altitude of 23,385 ft. This altitude record stood for a number of years. [Hart - 98]

The network of Weather Bureau stations using kites continued to grow into the 1930s when finally airplanes came into common use to gather data at altitude and kites were generally phased out for this purpose.

Eddy, the Frequent Flyer, Continues His Kite Work

Although there is no record of Eddy returning to Blue Hill for work with the observatory or the Weather Bureau, it is clear that he continued to fly kites, explore aerial photography, write articles on his work, and keep in touch with other kite pioneers and innovators of the era.

In a pun on some modern terminology, there is strong evidence that Eddy was a ‘frequent flyer" of kites after his contributions to the Weather Bureau.

He writes of the following experiences with kites:

- September 1895 - flew kites in the waters between New Jersey and Manhattan Island with Woodbridge Davis, the well-known inventor of a kite-borne life-saving system that was designed to carry messengers and equipment over bodies of water from ship to ship or from land to ships. The kites were anchored by buoys with keels that kept enough tension on the line to ensure that the kite remained aloft and could be guided to a ship in distress. Davis was interested in testing the capability of Eddy's kites for his application.
- Oct. 24, 1896 - flew kites from the roof of a building in Jersey City, NJ at night (...in darkness...) sending out colored clear-glass lanterns above the North River, during the great naval parade on that evening. [Eddy - Century Magazine - May, 1897]
- Oct. 31, 1896 - raised camera on a kite over Broadway, New York to take pictures of "... the great sound-money parade ..." (This parade was organized by the U.S. government and banks to promote the concept of the stability of U. S. currency after a depression had created wide-spread concerns about the stability of the U.S. currency system.) [Eddy - Century Magazine - May, 1897]
- Dec. 5, 1896 -working with Dr. William H. Mitchell and Henry L. Allen, Eddy used three of his kites to an altitude of one thousand feet to test the capability of using kites as a method of permitting telephone conversations to span distances where telephone wires were not currently strung. A thin electric wire was carried on a reel and attached to a "plummet lantern" which served as a weight to drop the line to the distant Dr. Mitchell who then carried on telephone conversations with Allen and Eddy back at the base of the tethered kite. Eddy wrote: "The voice of Dr. Mitchell came to me over the wire and was heard in the telephone with great clearness; and conversation was continued until nearly midnight, when the kites and wire were all drawn in." Eddy went on to detail that: "No battery was used in telephoning, the weak currents from magnets in each telephone operating the line with the probable assistance of earth and atmospheric currents, as shown by the clearness with which sounds were heard." Again, Eddy speculated on the military applications of such a communications system to aid a besieged fortress to communicate with the outside world. [Eddy - Century Magazine - May, 1897]

- Eddy also extensively wrote descriptions of flying in varying wind conditions and in varying seasons including winter, the mark of a person truly dedicated to kite flying as a passion. [Century Magazine]

Eddy continued to keep in touch with scientific developments, particularly those related to the use of kites as a tool in scientific endeavor. In December 1901, following newspaper accounts of Guglielmo Marconi's attempts to send a wireless signal across the Atlantic, Eddy sent detailed correspondence to Marconi's base camp in St. Johns, Newfoundland with advice on how to send up a train of Baden-Powell type kites to achieve enough height on the trailing aerial wire that Marconi was using to receive the signal. The correspondence was written on the date that Marconi achieved his success and likely was of no assistance to Marconi in any of his ventures. [Halifax Herald, Dec. 13, 1901]

Roots and Ownership of the Diamond Kite Design

Eddy openly acknowledged that the roots of his preferred diamond kite design were not entirely his own creation. In two separate letters, written in 1895 to James Means an industrialist from Boston, Eddy refers to the "Malay Kite" and notes both its similarity and differences to his diamond shaped kite.

However, the detailed work, dimensions and size of Eddy's kites were unique to him. He had reached the measurements and proportions by much experimentation, detailed observation and dedicated innovation until he achieved a stable flying kite.

Eddy acknowledged that a properly made kite of his design had an astounding stable flight wind range of from 4 to 50 mph. Variations in materials for framing and sails allowed for different weights for different winds and different lifting expectations for the kites.

On August 1, 1898 Eddy filed an application to patent his "Eddy Kite". On March 27, 1900, Patent no. 646375 outlining and certifying the characteristics of the kite design and the intellectual, manufacturing and distribution property rights to William Abner Eddy was approved by the U.S. Patent Office.

In 1909 at the age of 59, William Abner Eddy died in his home town of Bayonne, New Jersey.

The Eddy Diamond Kite - Construction Details

Building an historic replica of an Eddy kite can be a real challenge. It is not easy to find plans for a true Eddy kite. Often the proportions shown in plans qualify it to be called a ‘diamond' kite, but many of the plans will not lead to a true Eddy kite.

- True Eddy kites have four essential features:
- The cross spar is one solid piece which is bowed to provide a dihedral effect on the front of the kite. They do not have a dihedral fitting on the cross spar.
- Eddy kites have a very loose sail. The sail is so loose towards the rear of the kite that it folds back on each side of the longeron. This forms a loose billowing scoop on each trailing edge of the sail which helps stabilize the kite.
- The proportions of the kite are precise and are laid out as follows: - the longeron is equal in length to the cross spar and the bowed cross spar meets the longeron no more than 1/5 of the way back from the front of the kite (the minimum intersection point is 1/6 the length of X).
- There is no tail on the kite.

The essentials proportions for the kite shape are critical if your kite is to be a "true Eddy" and fly without tails. Substitute your own dimensions for the letters on the simplified diagram at the right and the proportions will always be correct.

An excellent plan can be found in Maxwell Eden's The Magnificent Book of Kites: Explorations in Design, Construction, Enjoyment and Flight (Pages 98-109). One of the plans is for a true Eddy kite complete with spruce frame and bowed cross spar. Other variations, which are not true Eddy's, are also interesting to build and fly very well without a tail. Eden also deals thoroughly with the matter of dimensions for a true Eddy kite which will assist the purist to build one.

A slight variation on the Eddy design, called a ‘Conover Eddy', that will provide a very practical version to build, is found in a design that is clearly laid out in Margaret Greger's wonderful book More Kites for Everyone. On pages 18-19 she details a simple plan that will definitely fly if you carefully follow the instructions. It can be made with a paper, plastic or ripstop sail and ordinary wooden dowels which are readily available. Margaret has even devised an ingenious device to create the proper dihedral bow in the cross spar of the kite, eliminating the need for a plastic or metal dihedral fitting.

A very nice plan, generally true to Eddy's balanced proportions, is also available on the Internet through TMR's Kite Site of Life . The kite plan is by Peter DeJong. It does employ a dihedral fitting (not true to Eddy's design concept), but it flies very well. Details are provided on a simple way to make your own dihedral fitting using brass or aluminum tubing which is usually readily available in most home building centers.

Some Observations by the Author

The Eddy diamond kite appears to be one of the most recognizable kite form shapes in the modern western world. Whenever a commercial is shown on television or an advertisement in a popular magazine shows an image of a kite, it is invariably an Eddy diamond kite. When I conduct a workshop with children in elementary or secondary school, or with a group of adults who are not experienced kiters, I ask them to quickly sketch a picture of a kite. Virtually always the shape drawn is that of the Eddy diamond kite.

Eddy-type kites enjoyed widespread distribution as a children's toys from shortly after the time the patent was granted up until the late 1940's. Packaged kite kits were available in stores. Consisting of a sleeve of instructions with a printed paper sail and two spruce spars enclosed, they retailed for anywhere from ten to twenty-five cents in the United States and Canada. They disappeared from the scene in the late 1950's and were later replaced by plastic sail kites in new ‘delta' forms in the mid-1960's.

The fact that thousands of children were introduced to kite flying through this kit and some interaction with a parent or older brother or sister and the "apparent" ease of making such kites has made the diamond kite shape the most prominent kite icon in western culture.

The reality is that an Eddy diamond kite is demanding to build in its adherence to form and proportions if it is to fly well and not result in frustration for the flyer. Eddy developed and refined his diamond kite concept long before he applied for and received his patent.

Maxwell Eden speculates that Eddy did not apply for his patent sooner since he may have felt that the kite was only a derivative of a form that already existed, and because he had input from a number of people in its improvement and final form. This premise seems highly probable. He does not appear to have gained much financial benefit from his work.

Eddy clearly made an impact on a world that was excited by the growth of knowledge in science and technology at the close of the 19th Century. The noted historian Clive Hart states that Eddy's work to refine and apply the dihedral in kite design "...constituted the first genuine advance in western kite-design since the development of the diamond shape in Renaissance times." [Hart - 120]

Eddy has lasting appeal to kite flyers everywhere largely due to his dedication to the pursuit of a better type of kite, his use of the kite for aerial photography and scientific research, as well as his obvious and thorough love of kite flying.

The outline of Eddy's life and accomplishments in this article are still a work in progress. There are a number of areas in the life of William Abner Eddy that need more research and can only be outlined if more materials emerge. I have based this version on a complete analysis of source material, printed books, and resource information available to me at this time. All are thoroughly listed in the bibliography that follows. Every effort was made to verify dates, chronology and facts from multiple documents. Where conflicts arose and original source materials were available, the data provided by the source material was determined to be most valid. Any suggestions or further sources of information will be most gratefully received them and acknowledged.

William Abner Eddy, the man who placed "diamonds in the sky" - the impact of his work can still be seen at every kite festival that occurs around the world to this day.

About the Author

Bob White is a kite enthusiast who builds and flies kites in Canada.

He may be reached via e-mail or via regular postal mail at: 10406 Lakeshore Road West, Port Colborne, ON, Canada L3K 5V4

Appreciation and Special Thanks:

American Meteorological Society, 45 Beacon Street, Boston MA 02108
Very special appreciation is extended to Ellen Doon, Research Assistant, for her kindness and patience in extracting the articles pertaining to Eddy's work from the vast set of documents in the collection housed at the AMS. Ellen's cooperation and efforts helped greatly in providing missing documentary evidence and leads for further research on the work of W. A. Eddy.
Thanks to Melissa Weston, Executive Officer, for her aid in securing high quality photographic copies of original photographs of the Blue Hill Observatory, Eddy kites and kite reels, at the time of Mr. Eddy's work with the AMS staff at Blue Hill.

Bayonne, N. J. Public Library
Adele Puccio, Senior Librarian, and her staff of the for copies of the City Directories of Bayonne, N. J. which helped to place a geographical context on Eddy's area of residence in the city and the places where he flew kites in the Bayonne area.

Drachen Foundation: Kite Archives, Science & Culture, 1905 Queen Anne Avenue North, Seattle, WA 98109-2549 Scott Skinner, Ali Fujino and Elizabeth Snodgrass for the provision of copies of correspondence documents available at the Foundation's Archives which related to Eddy's kites and work. A special thank you to Scott Skinner for his early encouragement of the task of researching Eddy's work. His words provided motivation over the long period of research on this kite pioneer.

Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library, 155 Yonge Street, Toronto, ON, Canada.
The staff in the rare documents archives for their assistance in the retrieval of rare books and papers on Eddy's work, which are now both out of print and out of general circulation.


William Abner Eddy

Reference Works:

Barnhart, Clarence L. The New Century Cyclopedia of Names. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc. 1955.

_________. Encyclopedia Americana - International Edition. Vol. 16, 466. Danbury, Connecticut: Americana Corporation. 1980. (ISBN 0-7172-0111-2)

_________. World Who's Who in Science: A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Scientists from Antiquity to the Present. 1st Edition, 1968 (Library of Congress: 68-56149)


Brumitt, Wyatt. Kites. New York: Golden Press. 1978.

Dolan, Edward F. Jr. The Complete Beginner's Guide to Making and Flying Kites. Garden City, New York. Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1977.

Downer, Marion. Kites: How to Make and Fly Them. New York: Lothrop, Lee and Shepard Co., Inc. 1959.

Eden, Maxwell. The Magnificent Book of Kites: Explorations in Design, Construction, Enjoyment and Flight. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc. 1998.

Greger, Margaret. Kites for Everyone. 1425 Marshall, Richland, Washington, 99352. 1984.

Greger, Margaret. More Kites for Everyone.

Hart, Clive. Kites - An Historical Survey. New York: Frederick A. Praeger. 1967.

Hosking, Wayne. Kites. New York, N.Y.: Friedman/Fairfax Publishers. 1994.

Hunt. L. L. 25 Kites That Fly. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 1971.

Lloyd, Ambrose; Mitchell, Charles and Thomas, Nicolette. Making and Flying Kites. London: Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd. 1977.

Lloyd, Ambrose and Thomas, Nicolette. Kites and Kite Flying. London: Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd. 1978.

Morgan, Paul and Helen. The Book of Kites: The Complete Guide to Choosing Making and Flying Kites. Toronto, ON, Canada: Stoddart Publishing Co. Ltd. 1992.

Mouvier, Jean-Paul. Kites! New York: Franklin Watts, Inc. 1974.

Pelham, David. The Penguin Book of Kites. New York: Viking Penguin, Inc. 1987.

Rowlands, Jim. One-Hour Kites. New York: St. Martin's Press. 1989.

Tyrrell, Susan. Kites - The Gentle Art of High Flying. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company Inc. 1978.

Wiley, Jack. The Kite Building and Kite Flying Handbook. Blue Ridge Summit, Pa. Tab Books, Inc. 1984.

Yolen, Jane. World on a String: The Story of Kites. Cleveland and New York: The World Publishing Company. 1968.

Yolen, Will. The Complete Book of Kites and Kite Flying. New York: Simon & Schuster. 1976.

Journals, Periodicals and Published Papers:

Clayton, H.Helm. "The Aerial Thermograph." Scientific American, Sept. 15, 1894 (p 170).

Clayton H. Helm. "Scientific Kite-Flying at Blue Hill." Reprinted from The Boston Commonwealth, May 9, 1896.

Clayton H. Helm. "Meteorological Records Obtained in the Upper Air By Means of Kites." American Meteorological Journal, Vol. 11 (1895): 297-303.

Conover, John H. "The Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory", Boston: American Meteorological Society, 1990.

Eddy, William A.. (with Pictures by George Wright) "Photographing From Kites: Including Accounts of the First Photographing from Kites and of the First Telephoning and Telegraphing through a Line Held by Kites. " The Century Magazine. The Century Co., New York, May-October 1897.

Eddy, William A.. "The Eddy Malay Tailless Kite." Scientific American, Sept. 15, 1894 (p 169).

Eddy, William A. "Method of Construction of the [Eddy Tailless] Kite." Scientific American, Sept 15, 1894 (pp 169-170).

Fergusson, S. P. "Progress of Experiments with Kites During 1897-1898 at Blue Hill Observatory." (Reprinted from the Scientific American Supplement, No. 1209, 1899.)

Fergusson, S. P. "The Early Use of Wire in Kite Flying." Monthly Weather Review. Vol. 25 (April 1897).

Fergusson, S. P. "Appendix B: Exploration of the Air by Means of Kites: I. Kites and Instruments." Annals of the Astronomical Observatory of Harvard College, XLII, Part I (1897), pp41-67. Bound with "II - Tables of Kite Records", and "III - Discussion by H. H. Clayton".

Fergusson, S. P. "Kite Experiments at the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory." Monthly Weather Review, (September, 1896): 1-5.

Rotch, Abbot Lawrence. "The Exploration of Free Air by Means of Kites at Blue Hill Observatory." The Smithsonian Report for 1897. Washington, D.C. Smithsonian, 1898.

Rotch, Abbot Lawrence. "The Use of Kites to Obtain Meteorological Records in the Upper Air at Blue Hill Observatory, U.S.A. (Reprinted from the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, Vol. XXIII, NO. 103, July 1897).

Waldo, Frank. "The Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory." (Reprinted from Popular Science Monthly, July 1901).

________. "Kites of the Weather Bureau." Scientific American, Nov. 6, 1897 (p294).

________. "A Folding Malay Kite." Scientific American, January 23, 1897 (p. 59).

________. "New Jersey Man Gives Some Pointers on Kites and Wireless Telegraphy." Halifax, Nova Scotia: The Halifax Herald. Dec. 13, 1901 (p.10). (Report of correspondence from W.A. Eddy to Guglielmo Marconi written on Dec. 12, 1901 the very day of Marconi's successful kite-assisted reception in St. Johns, Newfoundland, of a wireless transmission from Cornwall, England. The correspondence related to the flying of kites in tandem train to achieve the heights necessary to lift a wireless aerial to receive a trans-Atlantic signal. It is highly unlikely that the correspondence reached Marconi in
time to be of assistance to him.)


From the archives of the Drachen Foundation:

  1. January 3, 1895: Correspondence from W. A. Eddy to James Means of Boston, MA. regarding an article written by Eddy in the New York Herald in 1894 and an article written by Means in the Aeronautical Annual of 1895.
  2. December 17, 1895: Correspondence from W. A. Eddy to James Means regarding the Eddy kite design favoured for winds above six miles per hour.
  3. December 20, 1895: W. A. Eddy to James Means regarding follow-up questions on the bridling of the kite detailed in the Dec. 17, 1895 correspondence and matters surrounding a ‘boxpleat' placed in the face of the sail of the kite.
  4. January 6, 1896: W. A. Eddy to James Means regarding clarification of aspects of the drawings of the kite design and directions to have the drawings made proportional for preparation as engraver's drawings.

Web Sites:

- Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory Home of The Oldest Continuously Monitored Meteorological Records in North America
- AMS/ American Meteorological Society Internet site of the American Meteorological Society
- Kite Aerial Photography Site with many resources on kite aerial photography including historical information on K.A.P. pioneers.

©Copyright - October 1999 - All rights reserved.

No further publication or reproduction by any means, electronic data or print, may be undertaken without the express written consent of the author.

Bob White is a kite enthusiast who lives in Port Colborne, ON, Canada. If you have additional information about this article or have other facts on the topic you are encouraged to e-mail them to the author. In subsequent issues, contrasting facts or points of view will be considered for publishing.

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