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1. The Prehistory of Aviation 1 

By Berthold Laufer. 

2. Geophagy 97 

By Berthold Laufer. 

3. The Domestication of the Cormorant in China and Japan . . 199 

By Berthold Laufer. 

Field Museum of Natural History 

Founded by Marshall Field, 1893 

Publication 253 
Anthropological Series Volume XVIII, No. 1 



Berthold Laufer 

Curator of Anthropology 

12 Plates in Photogravure 

0-C 2 01928 




Copyright 1928 


Field Museum of Natural History 





List of Plates 5 

Introduction 7 

The Romance of Flying in Ancient China 14 

Kites as Precursors of Aeroplanes 31 

The Dawn of Airships in Ancient India 44 

From Babylon and Persia to the Greeks and the Arabs 58 

The Air Mail of Ancient Times 71 

Notes 88 

Bibliographical References 94 

Index 95 


I. Winged Deity Attended by Bird-men. Stone bas-relief of Han period, 
A.D. 147, Shan-tung, China. 

II. Aerial Contest of Dragon-chariot and Dragon-riders. Stone bas-relief of 
Han period, A.D. 147, Shan-tung, China. 

III. Aerial Contest of Dragon-chariot and Dragon-riders. Continuation of the 

panel shown in Plate II. 

IV. Ki-kung's Flying Chariot. Chinese Woodcut from T'u shu tsi ch'eng. 

V. Francesco Lana's Flying Boat. From Lana's Prodromo, 1670. 

VI. Flying Taoist Saint. Chinese landscape in ink from General Munthe Col- 
lection now in Los Angeles Museum. 

VII. The Goddess Si Wang Mu Flying Astride a Crane. Scene from an embroi- 
dered Chinese screen of the K'ang-hi period (1662-1722) in Blackstone 
Chinese Collection of Field Museum. 

VIII. Boys Flying a Kite. Scene from a Chinese painted roll by Su Han-ch'en of 
the twelfth century in collections of Field Museum. 

IX. Earliest English Illustration of a Kite. From John Bate's The Mysteries 
of Nature and Art, 1634. 

X. Two Apsarases or Heavenly Nymphs Flying downward and Surrounding 
the Buddha Amitabha. Marble sculpture with votive inscription 
yielding date A.D. 677. Blackstone Chinese Collection of Field 

XI. Kai Kawus' Flight to Heaven. From a Persian illustrated manuscript of 
the Shahnameh, dated 1587-88. Courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of 
Art, New York. 

XII. The Aerial Voyage of Domingo Gonsales. From F. Godwin's Man in the 
Moone, 1638. 



A French miniature of the fourteenth century depicts the Spirit 

or Angel of Youth, who is never fatigued and whose course nothing 

can arrest. He is arrayed with wings on his feet, soaring over the sea. 

The wings are tinted green, the color of hope. Youth has fair hair 

and a blue robe. He carries on his shoulders a pilgrim who is in the 

vigor of age, and while crossing the water, addresses to him these 

lines: — 

I am called Youth, the nimble, 

The tumbler and the runner, 

The grasshopper, the dasher, 

Who cares not a glove for danger. 

I see, I come, I bound, I fly, 

I sport and caracole. 

My feet they bear me whither I will, 

They've wings; your eyes may see them. 

Give here thine hand, with thee I'll fly 

And carry thee over the sea. 

On May 20-21, 1927, Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh accomplished 
his solitary transoceanic flight from New York to Paris and stirred 
the entire world. We experienced the same thrill as in our boyhood 
days when we were first reading about the campaigns of Alexander 
the Great or Columbus' voyages of discovery. 

Yet, the desire to fly is as old as mankind. "Oh that I had wings 
like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest," sings the 

8 The Prehistory of Aviation 

royal psalmist (Psalms 55, 6). In all ages man's imagination was 
fired by the sight of soaring birds and was seized by the ambition to 
migrate and to sail upon the wind like one of them. Many daring 
men tried nobly and less nobly to emulate the ways of the eagle in 
the air. It is a long record of ventures, experiments, and failures, 
but remains the most fascinating romance in the history of mankind. 

In his excellent "History of Aeronautics in Great Britain," J. E. 
Hodgson divides the history of the subject into four eras covering 
very unequal periods of time. His first he titles the legendary and 
prehistoric era with its tale of mythological and fabulous stories of 
flight, verging gradually into the historic, and extending to about 
the end of the fifteenth century. As examples of this prehistoric 
period he cites Daedalus and Icarus from Greek mythology and 
Bladud, the flying king of Britain in 800 B.C. However, China, 
India, and the rest of Asia remain out of consideration in this scheme. 
Moreover, the ideas registered by Hodgson under his three historical 
periods of Europe, like aspiration, speculation, endeavor, romance, 
limited achievement, are no less conspicuous in the Orient. His 
second or first historical period in Europe, which dates from the six- 
teenth to beyond the latter half of the eighteenth century, is charac- 
terized thus: "The practicability of flight was a matter of speculation 
and discussion, became the subject of imaginative romance, and was 
made the object of theoretical projects and not a few practical 

It will be demonstrated on the following pages that all these 
features were in evidence among Oriental nations in early times, 
many centuries before their dawn in Europe, and that the fundamen- 
tal ideas underlying the principles of our present aviation take their 
root in the Orient. My conception of the so-called mythological and 
legendary period in the history of aviation differs widely from that 
of my predecessors. It is a comfortable method and no more than a 
conventional form of thinking to stamp early traditions as mytho- 
logical or legendary. This is a scholastic phrase from which little is 
gained, no tangible significance accrues. An inquisitive mind is 
intent on unravelling the fabric of a myth, on seeking an interpreta- 
tion of its origin. If myth it is, how did the myth spring into exist- 
ence? As there is a logic of human reasoning, so there is a logic of 
human imagination. The imaginative faculty of the human mind 
cannot conceive things that have absolutely no reality in existence; 
the product of our imagination is always elicited by something that 
exists or that we have reason to believe to exist. 

Introduction 9 

H. G. Wells, who, being a novelist and artist, is possessed of the 
insight, vision, and intuition which most scholars lack, is on the right 
track when in his "Outline of History" he comments on the Daedalus 
story as follows: "Greek legend has it that it was in Crete that Daeda- 
lus attempted to make the first flying-machine. Daedalus ('cunning 
artificer') was a sort of personified summary of mechanical skill. It is 
curious to speculate what germ of fact lies behind him and those 
waxen wings that, according to the legend, melted and plunged his 
son Icarus in the sea." In his manner of reasoning Wells certainly 
is superior to the majority of schoolmasters who pitifully dismiss 
Daedalus as a myth. 

The prehistory of mechanical science is shrouded in mystery, 
because primitive man was unable to render an intelligent account 
of it. In the same manner as natural phenomena were regarded by 
him as wonders or miracles wrought by supernatural agencies, so any 
mechanical devices were interpreted as the outcome of witchcraft: 
the skilled artificer and every investigator and experimenter of pre- 
historic and early historic days has gone down in history or tradition 
as a sorcerer, enchanter, wizard, or magician, who made a pact with 
demoniacal powers. Many of these so-called magicians were simply 
clever mechanics whose work was beyond their contemporaries' com- 
prehension or whose achievements were so singular and awe-inspiring 
that supernatural forces were believed to have inspired their genius. 
This is the reason why those who made attempts at aerial flights are 
usually associated with magic and necromantic art or why in our 
middle ages solely devils and witches are endowed with the faculty 
of flying. John Wilkins, in 1648, wrote seriously, "Witches are com- 
monly related to passe unto their usual meetings in some remote 
place; and as they doe sell windes unto mariners, so likewise are they 
sometimes hired to carry men speedily through the open air. Acosta 
affirms that such kind of passages are usuall amongst divers sorcerers 
with Indians at this day. So Kepler in his Astronomicall dream doth 
fancy a witch to be conveyed to the moon by her Familian." 

The ancient traditions regarding mechanical wonders must there- 
fore be divested of their legendary garb and exposed in their historical 
nucleus. On the other hand, it is always the marvelous and romantic 
that lingers in the memory of man. The dry and bare bones of his- 
torical events are apt to be relegated to the wastebasket of oblivion. 
We do not retain in our minds the dates of wars and battles or the 
chronological tables of dynasties we had to memorize in school, but 
we remember many heroes by anecdotes and bons mots which the 

10 The Prehistory of Aviation 

stern historian will frown at as unauthentic. No historian's pen has 
preserved a record of the Trojan War, but Homer has sung it in the 
form of epic poetry which has been enjoyed by a hundred generations 
and which has been more often read than any accurate report of a 
war published by the competent staff of any war ministry. Alex- 
ander the Great is not remembered by Oriental nations as their con- 
queror, but as a deified hero of marvelous exploits, as he appears in 
the Greek Romance going under his name. Therefore it is just man's 
ingrained love for the fabulous and fanciful, for the wondrous and 
extraordinary to which we are indebted for the preservation of 
ancient records of flight. 

In the same manner as astrology was the precursor of astronomy 
and alchemy evolved into the science of chemistry, so there is an 
abundance of primitive lore which godfathers the history of aviation. 
To distinguish that primeval stage from aviation as an accomplished 
fact of the present time, we might coin for the former the new term 
"aviology" in imitation of astrology, but the public mind is suffi- 
ciently alarmed by an exuberance of ologies, and it is therefore pre- 
ferable to speak simply of the prehistory of aviation. It must not be 
imagined that the latter is set apart as a thing in itself, fundamentally 
distinct from the history of aviation. The two, in fact, are closely 
allied and interwoven, inseparable, merging into each other, and the 
recent historical development is unintelligible without a knowledge 
of its prehistoric setting and background. Thus, it will be seen, our 
aeroplanes are pedigreed from kites which have their origin in China. 
Our modern progress in aviation is not solely due to efforts of the 
present generation, stupendous and admirable as they may be, but 
presents the process of a gradual evolution of ideas which have grown 
out of the imagination, endeavors, experiments, triumphs, and 
failures of many past ages. Stress must be laid on the word "imagi- 
nation," for there is no field of human exertions in which imagination 
and romantic dreams have played a greater role and have proved 
more fertile than in the development of aviation. Intuition, romance, 
and adventure are its leading motives; for man, from the very mo- 
ment he had grown into a full-fledged human being, never lived on 
bread and love alone. We have conquered the air in this age of 
science and unprecedented progress of mechanics, but in the last 
instance this conquest goes back to the trend of man's mind toward 
the romantic and adventurous. Describing merely the gradual per- 
fection of mechanical devices does not make a complete history of 
aviation. It is the spirit and the idea behind the devices that count, 

Introduction 11 

the idea itself means everything. The will to fly is the will to conquer, 
and this will has pervaded the hearts of men in the earliest stages of 
the great civilizations of Asia. 

Many visions and reveries of the Orient have been brought true 
by modern inventions, but the Orient merits credit for the genesis of 
the idea. The notion of Roentgen rays, for instance, was anticipated 
both in ancient China and India. The Chinese have several accounts 
concerning metal mirrors which would light up the interior organs of 
the human body. The emperor Ts'in Shi (259-210 B.C.) is credited 
with the possession of such a mirror which was styled "the precious 
mirror that would illuminate the bones of the body," or "the mirror 
illuminating the gall." This mirror was discovered in the palace of 
the Ts'in emperors at Hien-yang in Shen-si Province by the founder 
of the Han dynasty in 206 B.C., and is described as follows: "It was 
a rectangular mirror four feet wide, five feet and nine inches high, 
brilliant both on its outer and inner sides. When a man stood straight 
before it to see his reflection, his image appeared reversed. When 
some one placed his hands on his heart, he observed his five viscera 
placed side by side and not impeded by any obstacle. When a man 
had a hidden malady within his organs, he could recognize the seat 
of his complaint by looking into this mirror and laying his hands on 
his heart. Moreover, when a woman had perverse sentiments, her 
gall would swell and her heart palpitate. The emperor Ts'in Shi 
therefore constantly availed himself of this mirror to test the 
women of his seraglio: those whose gall would swell and whose 
heart would be agitated, he ordered to be killed." 

Jivaka, a celebrated physician of ancient India and contemporary 
of Gautama Buddha, called the king of doctors, at least had the idea 
that it was necessary to illuminate the organs of the body for the 
purpose of making a diagnosis and perform surgical operations. He 
practised trephining, and this appeared to his contemporaries so 
wondrous that it was interwoven with many legends. Jivaka is 
said to have discovered in a load of fagots a marvelous gem possessed 
of the virtue that "when placed before an invalid, it illuminated his 
body as a lamp lights up all objects in a house, and so revealed the 
nature of his malady." He laid this gem on the head of a sick man, 
and found that there was a centipede inside of his head (probably a 
brain tumor) ; he opened his skull with an instrument and pulled the 
centipede out with a pair of heated pincers, whereupon the patient 
recovered. According to another version, it was a piece of wood 
from a tree, called "the king of physicians," which enabled Jivaka 

12 The Prehistory of Aviation 

to see plainly the five viscera, the intestines, and the stomach; and 
he availed himself of a golden knife in opening the skull. 

True it is that the first actual bombardments from the air took 
place but recently during the World War, but the idea itself is not 
novel. It was forestalled in the seventeenth century by Francesco 
Lana (below, p. 22), and the first air-bombardier was the giant bird 
Rukh when he hurled huge bowlders at Sindbad's ship. 

The story of a flying Uganda warrior who engaged in efficient 
bombardments from the air was graphically recorded in 1871 by the 
famous explorer, Henry M. Stanley, in his work "Through the Dark 
Continent" : — 

"One of the heroes of Nakivingi [one of the ancient kings of 
Uganda, — the Charlemagne of Uganda, as Stanley calls him] was a 
warrior named Kibaga, who possessed the power of flying. When the 
king warred with the Wanyoro, he sent Kibaga into the air to ascer- 
tain the whereabouts of the foe, who, when discovered by this extra- 
ordinary being, were attacked on land in their hiding-places by 
Nakivingi, and from above by the active and faithful Kibaga, who 
showered great rocks on them and by these means slew a vast number. 
It happened that among the captives of Unyoro Kibaga saw a 
beautiful woman, who was solicited by the king in marriage. As 
Nakivingi was greatly indebted to Kibaga for his unique services, 
he gave her to Kibaga as wife, with a warning, however, not to 
impart the knowledge of his power to her, lest she should betray him. 
For a long time after the marriage his wife knew nothing of his power, 
but suspecting something strange in him from his repeated sudden 
absences and reappearances at his home, she set herself to watch him, 
and one morning as he left his hut, she was surprised to see him sud- 
denly mount into the air with a burden of rocks slung on his back. 
On seeing this she remembered that Wanyoro complaining that 
more of their people were killed by some means from above than by 
the spears of Nakivingi, and Delilah-like, loving her race and her 
people more than she loved her husband, she hastened to her people's 
camp, and communicated, to the surprise of the Wanyoro, what she 
had that day learned. To avenge themselves on Kibaga, the Wanyoro 
set archers in ambush on the summits of each lofty hill, with instruc- 
tions to confine themselves to watching the air and listening for the 
brushing of his wings, and to shoot their arrows in the direction of 
the sound, whether anything was seen or not. By this means on a 
certain day, as Nakivingi marched to the battle, Kibaga was wound- 
ed to the death by an arrow, and upon the road large drops of blood 

Introduction 13 

were seen falling, and on coming to a tall tree the king detected a 
dead body entangled in its branches. When the tree was cut down, 
Nakivingi saw to his infinite sorrow that it was the body of his 
faithful flying warrior Kibaga." 

If this tradition had been recorded in recent years, we should be 
inclined to trace it to the influence of World-War stories spreading 
to Africa, but it was recorded by Stanley in 1871 when there were 
no Zeppelins and aeroplanes in sight. 

In the seventeenth century Joseph Glanvill predicted that to 
future ages it might become "as ordinary to buy a pair of wings to 
fly into remotest regions, as it then was to buy a pair of boots." 

John Logan, a Scotch poet of the eighteenth century, has the 

lines: — 

Oh could I fly, I'd fly with thee! 

We'd make with joyful wing 
Our annual visit o'er the globe, 

Companions of the spring. 

Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), grandfather of Charles Darwin, 
in his The Botanic Garden (1789), utters the prophetic words: — 

Soon shall thy arm, unconquer'd steam! afar 
Drag the slow barge, or drive the rapid car; 
Or on wide-waving wings expanded bear 
The flying chariot through the field of air. 

In 1907 Dr. Alexander Graham Be\\ wrote, "It has long been 
recognized by a growing school of thinners that an aerial vehicle, in 
order to cope with the wind, should be specifically heavier than the 
air through which it moves. This position is supported by the fact 
that all of nature's flying models, from the smallest insect to the 
largest bird, are specifically heavier than air in which they fly, most 
of them many hundreds of times heavier, and that none of them adopts 
the balloon principle in flight ... It is certainly the case that the 
tendency of aerial research is to-day reverting more and more to the 
old lines of investigation that were pursued for hundreds of years 
before the invention of the balloon diverted attention from the sub- 
ject. The old devices have been re-invented; the old experiments 
have been tried once more. Again, the birds are recognized as the 
true models of flight, and again men have put on wings, but this 
time with more promise of success." 


Among the many singular coincidences of events that loom up in 
ancient books of the East and the West, none perhaps is more capti- 
vating than that an imperial flyer appears at the threshold of the 
earliest recorded history of China and that a royal flyer opens the 
chapter of the early history of Great Britain. 

Bladud, the legendary tenth king of Britain, father of King Lear 
and founder of Bath, is said to have made wings of feathers by means 
of which he attempted an aerial flight that unfortunately resulted in 
his death in 852 before our era. This story is recorded by Geoffrey of 
Monmouth (A.D. 1100-54) in his Historia Regum Britanniae, written 
in or about the year 1147 (first printed in 1508). Naturally, Bladud 
is made by tradition a necromancer and performer of magical tricks, 
in the same manner as attempts at flying were connected with magic 
in China and elsewhere. 

The Chinese emperor Shun, who lived in the third millennium 
before our era (traditional date 2258-2208 B.C.), is not only the first 
flyer recorded in history, but also the very first who made a 
successful descent in a parachute, — an experiment first made or re- 
peated in the midst of our civilization as late as A.D. 1783. 

Shun's early life teemed with thrilling adventures. His mother 
died when he was quite young. His father, Ku Sou, himself of im- 
perial descent, took a second wife by whom he had a son. He grew 
very fond of his offspring from this new union, but gradually con- 
ceived a dislike for Shun, which resulted in several conspiracies 
against the poor youngster's life. In each case, however, he was 
miraculously rescued, and in spite of severe persecution continued in 
exemplary and dutiful conduct toward his father and stepmother. 
By his filial piety he attracted the attention of the wise and worthy 
emperor Yao whose name is suggestive of China's golden age. Yao 
had two gifted daughters, Nu Ying and O Huang, who instructed 
Shun in the "art of flying like a bird." In the commentary to the 
Annals of the Bamboo Books (that is, records inscribed on tablets of 
bamboo), an authentic ancient historical book, Shun is indeed de- 
scribed as a flyer. There it is written, "Shun's parents detested him. 
They made him plaster a granary and set fire to it at its foundation. 
Shun donned the work-clothes of a bird, and flying made his escape." 
Then his parents caused him to descend a deep well and heaped stones 
on top of it. Shun donned the work-clothes of a dragon and crawled 


The Romance of Flying in Ancient China 15 

out of the well from the side. He was endowed with a dragon's 
countenance and thus shared the dragon's natural ability to fly and 
to crawl. Shun was not a notoriety seeker; he did not fly for the sake 
of glory or establishing a record; he flew because sheer necessity 
compelled him to fly to save his soul. For this purpose he availed 
himself of a flying apparatus based on the principle of bird-flight. 

But this is not all. Se-ma Ts'ien, the father of history, as he is 
justly called, has preserved the following tradition. Ku Sou bade his 
son Shun build a granary and ascend it, and thereupon set the struc- 
ture on fire. Shun, who stood on top of the tower, spread out two 
large reed hats which he used as a parachute in making his descent, 
and landed on the ground unscathed. Considering the fact that 
Chinese reed hats are umbrella-shaped, circular, and very large in 
diameter (some such hats in the Museum's collection from Korea 
measure two feet three inches to three feet in diameter), this feat 
would not seem impossible. In the use of the parachute the Chinese 
have forestalled us a considerable span of time; for Leonardo da 
Vinci (1452-1519), the great artist, scientist, and mechanician, was 
the first in our midst who conceived the idea of the parachute. 
Leonardo writes, "If a man have a tent roof of calked linen twelve 
yards broad and as many yards high, he will be able to let himself 
fall from any great height without danger to himself." In one of his 
manuscripts he has also given the figure of a man descending with 
this kind of parachute. About 1595 Fausto Veranzio, a Venetian, 
published a modified design, doubtless inspired by Leonardo's sketch, 
in which a sort of square sail extended by four rods of equal size is 
used. There is, however, one great difference between Leonardo and 
Shun: the former was merely a theorist who never used a parachute, 
while the latter really performed the trick. The first real descent in a 
parachute in Europe was not made till 1783 when Lenormand carried 
out a successful experiment from an observatory at Montpellier. 

To complete Shun's story, — he married the two sisters, his teach- 
ers in the art of flying; and Yao, his father-in-law, gave him a share 
in the government of the empire. On the latter's death he succeeded 
to the throne and ruled as the model of a good and wise sovereign. 

Chinese writers fable about a country of Flying Folks (Yii min) K 
located in an island in the south-eastern ocean, living on high peaks 
near the sea-shore, and described as people with long jaws, bird's- 
beaks, red eyes, white heads, covered with hair and feathers, able to 
fly, but not over a long distance; they are said to resemble human 
beings, but to be born from eggs. The conception of bird-men is 

16 The Prehistory of Aviation 

quite familiar to ancient Chinese mythology. A deity with outspread 
wings, seated on a pedestal, is shown on the pediment of a grave- 
stone of the Han period (Plate I), from about the middle of the 
second century of our era. Winged attendants fly above him, and 
others approach him, holding gifts or offerings. On the left are two 
kneeling figures, holding tablets in the attitude of adoration, the 
first with a horse's-head, the second with a bird's-head, both winged, 
but for the rest human and clad in wide, long gowns. Behind this 
pair appears a walking bird with long tail-feathers, but with human 
head, holding the leaf of a plant. This picture represents the abode of 
the aerial spirits. In Assyrian-Babylonian monuments winged figures, 
man-headed or bird-headed, are frequent, but they are always repre- 
sented standing or walking, never flying, which makes for a net 
distinction from the Chinese flying bird-men. As in the sculptures of 
Mesopotamia winged bulls, lions, griffins, and horses appear, so we 
meet also in China statues and relief representations of winged mon- 
sters, tigers, lions, and horses. 

Lei Kung, god of thunder and lightning, has wings attached to his 
shoulders, usually wings of a bat, and by means of these appendages 
he directs his course through the air to wherever he desires to produce 
a thunder-storm. ■ 

Tung Yung, a legendary personage, who is supposed to have lived 
in the second century of our era, was rewarded for his filial piety by 
the Spinning Damsel, an astral deity, from whom he received two 
boys whom she had deposed under an elm-tree. One of these had 
under his arm-pits fleshy excrescences in the shape of wings, and his 
face displayed a bird's-beak. When grown up, he excelled in muscular 
strength and supported his father and younger brother with the fruit 
of his manual labor. His employer complained of his insatiable 
appetite, but was pleased, as he performed the work of two men. 
One day the bird-man announced that his mother had appeared to 
him the previous night, inviting them to rejoin her; then he unfolded 
his wings, shouldered his father, and sailed up skyward. 

"Ascending to heaven by means of flight" is expressed in Chinese 
"by means of feathers he was transformed and ascended as an im- 
mortal"; and "feather scholar" or "feather guest" is a term for a 
Taoist priest. 

Winged flight, however, appears but seldom as a real attempt. 
The emperor Shun is practically the sole example, and seems to have 
found few imitators, quite in distinction from Daedalus, whose feat 

The Romance of Flying in Ancient China 17 

has stimulated so many until recent times. Another instance of 
winged flight known to me is one that occurs in a dream. 

T'ao K'an, a celebrated Chinese statesman (A.D. 209-334), once 
had a dream which led to his advancement. He dreamt that he 
scaled the heights of heaven with the aid of eight wings, and passed 
through eight of the celestial doors, but was driven back from the 
ninth by the warder, who cast him down to earth. When he landed 
there, the wings on his left side were broken. Subsequently he en- 
tered public life, and was appointed governor of eight provinces, 
which was interpreted as a realization of his dream. 

The first description of an air-journey is found in the celebrated 
poem Li Sao ("Fallen into Sorrow") by K'ii Yuan (332-295 B.C.), a 
loyal statesman, who enjoyed the confidence of his sovereign until 
impeached through the intrigues of rivals. Despondent over his dis- 
grace and concious of his own integrity, he found solace in composing 
a poem, which is an allegorical picture of his search after a prince who 
would listen to good counsels in government. The poet kneels at the 
grave of the emporer Shun, and is then carried up into the air in a 
chariot built in the form of a phoenix to which are yoked four dragons 
smooth as jade. In this vehicle, through dust and wind, he suddenly 
ascends on high toward the K'un-lun range of mountains. Wang-shu, 
the charioteer of the moon, is his precursor, and Fei-lien, god of winds, 
follows him as attendant. 

I ordered the phoenix to fly aloft, 

And continue its flight day and night. , 

But a whirlwind brought together my opponents, — 

Clouds and rainbow were led to meet and oppose me. 

In multitudes they assembled, now dividing, now collecting. 

In confusion they separated, some going above, others beneath. 

In his search he surveys the earth to its four extreme points, travels 
all over the sky, and then descends to the earth. Again he undertakes 
a journey into the air above the Kun-lun Mountains, in a chariot 
adorned with jade and ivory drawn by a team of eight flying dragons. 

I turned my course to K'un-lun; 

Long was the way, and far and wide did I wander, 

Amidst the dark shade were displayed the rainbows in the clouds, 

While the jade bells about the chariot tinkled. 

I started in the morning from the Ford of the Sky, 

And in the evening I arrived at the extreme west. 

The idea of a flying chariot or airship, usually drawn by dragons, 
is not alien to ancient Chinese art. An aerial contest of winged beings 

18 The Prehistory of Aviation 

astride scaly and horned dragons (Plates II-III) is skilfully repre- 
sented on a grave-stone of the Han period (second century A.D.). 
This picture is animated by life and motion: an exalted winged god is 
enthroned in a flying chariot set in motion by fleet dragons and float- 
ing over clouds. The pilot of the airship is leaning forward, tapping 
a dragon's tail as though eager to spur him on. Two winged standard- 
bearers mounted on swiftly moving dragons follow the car as escorts. 
Four dragon-riders precede it, and the procession moves on toward 
a winged flag-bearer standing on a cloud, while another person kneels 
in front of him. The clouds are represented as birds on the wing, 
their bodies consisting of spirals which are symbolic of clouds. 

Huang Ti, one of the ancient legendary emperors, attained im- 
mortality by mounting a fantastic creature with the body of a horse 
and wings of a dragon (called tse-huang or ch'eng-huang). According 
to another version of the legend, he made his ascent on a long-bearded 
dragon strong enough to transport also his wives and ministers, — 
more than seventy persons. The officials of lower rank who were not 
able to find a seat on the dragon's back (not unlike the strap-hangers 
in our street-cars) clung to the hairs of the dragon's beard; these, 
however, gave way, the passengers plunged to the ground and also 
dropped the emperor's bow. The multitude of spectators reveren- 
tially watched the apotheosis from a distance, and when Huang Ti had 
reached his destination in heaven, they picked up his bow and the 
dragon's hairs. This story is a cheery example of the Chinese sense of 
humor: other myth-framers would have been prone to push their 
principles to extremes and, endowing the dragon's beard with divine 
strength, would have conveyed the strap-hangers straight heaven- 

Under the reign of the emperor Ts'in Shi (259-210 B.C.), Mao 
Mong, great grandfather of Mao Ying, styled "the true man of sub- 
lime origin," ascended Mount Hua, mounted the clouds and bestrode 
a dragon which was hidden in the clouds, rising into the azure spaces 
of heaven in broad daylight. 

In a hymn to the god of Heaven composed under the emperor Wu 
(140-87 B.C.) of the Han dynasty, the deity appears amid dark 
clouds in a chariot drawn by winged flying dragons and adorned with 
many feathered streamers; the rapidity with which the deity descends 
is compared with that of the horses of the wind. 

Pei Ti, god (literally, "emperor") of the north, much worshipped 
at Canton under the name Pak Tai, was after a long career of holiness 
elected to the office of chief minister of the gods. Angelic messengers 

The Romance of Flying in Ancient China 19 

descended from heaven, presenting him with silk robes, red shoes, 
flying swords, and a chariot of nine colors in which he ascended to the 
celestial abode at the time of the reign of Huang Ti. 

When the mind of a nation is filled with the romance of the air, 
when the air surrounding it is populated with winged genii and flying 
chariots, and when such subjects are glorified by art and adorn the 
stone walls of the grave chambers, it is the logical step that imagina- 
tion thus impregnated leads one or the other to attempt the construc- 
tion of some kind of an airship. 

The Ti wang shi ki ("History of the Ancient Emperors"), written 
by Huang-fu Mi (A.D. 215-282), contains this notice: — 

"Ki-kung-shi was able to make a flying chariot which driven by a 
fair wind travelled a great distance. At the time of the emperor 
Ch'eng T'ang (1766-54 B.C., founder of the Shang dynasty) the west 
wind blew Ki-kung's chariot as far as Yu-chou (Ho-nan). The em- 
peror ordered this chariot to be destroyed that it should not become 
known to the people. Ten years later when the east wind blew, the 
emperor caused another chariot of this kind to be built by Ki-kung 
and sent him back in it." 

The term "flying chariot" (fei ch'o) used in this passage is now 
current in China for the designation of an aeroplane. 

A similar account is contained in the Po wu chi, written by Chang 
Hua in the third century of our era, but with the difference that the 
invention of the flying chariot is ascribed to the Ki-kung nation. 
A tribe of this name is mentioned in the Shan hai king ("Book of 
Mountains and Seas"), an ancient collection of (partially absurd) 
geographical fables, where the Ki-kung are characterized as single- 
armed (the very name means "one upper arm"), three-eyed, herma- 
phrodites, and riding on striped horses. Shen Yo (A.D. 411-513), the 
commentator of the Bamboo Annals, speaks of the Ki-kung or their 
chief as having arrived in a chariot at the court of the emperor Ch'eng 
T'ang in 1766 B.C., but he says nothing of a flying chariot, nor does 
the Shan hai Jang, which attributes to them horses as means of con- 
veyance. At the outset it is hardly probable that single-armed herma- 
phrodites should have a special talent for aviation. It is therefore 
obvious that in the above notice of the Po wu chi two distinct tradi- 
tions are contaminated : there was, in my opinion, an individual who 
lived in times of antiquity, Ki-kung by name, who invented an airship 
or endeavored at least to construct one; and there was also a tradition 
current about a fabulous tribe accidentally bearing the same name, 
which had nothing to do with aviation; because, however, the Ki- 

20 The Prehistory of Aviation 

kung people arrived at the imperial court in chariots, it was easy to 
confound or identify these chariots with the flying chariot made by 
the mechanic, Ki-kung by name. On the other hand, it is suspicious 
that the latter also is supposed to have come to the court of Ch'eng 
T'ang, and this date is surely the outcome of an afterthought and 
devoid of historical value. Be this as it may, the interesting point to 
be retained is that the Chinese possess an apparently old tradition 
regarding an airship driven by the force of the winds. 

A wood engraving of what in the estimation of Chinese draughts- 
men this airship looked like is on record and reproduced in Plate IV. 
Here we see two men standing in a square, box-like affair, with flags 
flying, comfortably sailing in the clouds; the car is set in motion by 
two curious wheels. It will be noted that the two men are just human, 
having two eyes and two arms; and it should be borne in mind that 
this illustration is not contemporaneous with the story, nor is it 
handed down from ancient times, but that it is of comparatively 
recent origin and merely reconstructed upon the slender fabric of the 
ancient tradition. It has as much value for the reconstruction of the 
airship in question as, for instance, Dora's illustrations of the Bible 
have for the reconstruction of ancient Hebrew life and archaeology. 
Professor Giles, who first called attention to this drawing in his 
article "Traces of Aviation in Ancient China," has also published an 
earlier woodcut of the same subject, taken from a rare book in the 
Cambridge University Library, that was published in China in the 
latter part of the fourteenth century; the Ki-kung car illustrated in 
this book, aside from minor details, is practically identical with the 
later production aforementioned. Professor Giles adds this inter- 
esting comment: "It is noticeable at once that the occupants of the 
car, especially in the later illustration, are not one-armed. Also, that 
the wheels fore and aft are at right angles to the direction in which 
the car is flying through rolling clouds; and further, what is most 
curious of all, that the wheels appear to be constructed on the screw 
system, like the propeller of a steamer. Now, in the published de- 
scription of Latham's flying-machine, we read, 'For the cross-Channel 
flight a fifty horsepower Antoinette motor has been mounted. This 
drives a screw which, placed in front of the machine, cleaves a way 
through the air, pulling the machine after it. It is called a tractor 
screw.' " 

In the attempt to reconstruct the flying chariot, the Chinese 
draughtsman stressed the second part of the compound and produced 
the picture of a two- wheeled cart. In this point he is decidedly wrong, 

The Romance of Flying in Ancient China 21 

for a vehicle of this type could never rise into the air. We have to fall 
back on the words of the account itself, in order to form some idea of 
what this airship might have been. The sole indication of a motive 
power given in the text is the wind: the vehicle in question depended 
upon favorable winds, and was propelled by the east wind if it wanted 
to go east, and by the west wind when it was to return west. For 
this reason it cannot be presumed that a car or chariot, in the strict 
sense of the word, is involved. The word ch'o, which means a "car," 
refers also to machines, engines, or contrivances which do not move; 
thus, for instance, hua ch'o ("smooth car") signifies a "pulley"; shan 
ch'o ("fan car"), a "winnowing mill." Now, as far as ancient China 
is concerned, there were only two devices known as capable of setting 
a vehicle in motion, — a sail and a kite. As to sails, the Chinese very 
efficiently applied them (and presumably still apply them) to wheel- 
barrows, as I repeatedly noticed myself on my travels in Shan-tung 
Province; but a sail alone cannot lift any vehicle from the ground. 
This, however, may be accomplished by several powerful kites. The 
Chinese were the inventors of the flying-kite, as will be set forth in 
the following chapter, and were in possession of kites at an early date, 
assuredly in the third century of our era, the date of the Ti wang ski 
hi. I imagine, therefore, that Ki-kung's "flying chariot" was built on 
the aerostatic principle, being driven by a combination of sails and 
kites, and was very much like the kite-chariot constructed by George 
Pocock in 1826 and discussed in detail below (p. 41). The "chariot" 
part of Ki-kung's machine may have been a very simple affair: all he 
needed was a seat for himself, which may have been made of light 
wood, bamboo, or basketry. 

The famous boat-shaped aerial car, theoretically conceived by the 
Jesuit Francesco Lana (1631-87), is reproduced in Plate V, not for its 
own sake, but because it exhibits some affinity with Ki-kung's 
machine and, mutatis mutandis, may help us visualize it to better 
advantage. It was Lana's idea of lifting his ship into the air by means 
of four large, hollow globes of very thin sheets of copper, from which 
the air had been wholly extracted, thereby causing them to weigh less 
than the surrounding atmosphere, and enabling them to rise and sup- 
port the weight of the ship in the air; propulsion and direction were 
to be obtained by sails and oars. The question of the practicability 
of this proposal does not concern us here; what I wish to point out is 
merely this, that if in Lana's sketch the four copper globes are re- 
placed by four powerful paper kites, we may realize what the Chinese 
aerostat might have been. 

22 The Prehistory of Aviation 

The Chinese emperor, in the above story, caused the airship to be 
destroyed, as he did not wish his own people to see it. He evidently 
was anxious to remain intrenched on his throne and to steer clear of 
innovations that might menace the safety of his realm. Francesco 
Lana, in his Prodromo (1670, p. 61), gives us the best explanation of 
the reasons which may have prompted that autocrat to his action. 
Having developed his plan of an airship with sail and oars, as pointed 
out above, the Jesuit author winds up thus: "I do not see any other 
difficulty that could prevail against this invention, save one, which 
seems to me weightier than all others, and this is that God will never 
permit such a machine to be constructed, in order to preclude the 
numerous consequences which might disturb the civil and political 
government among men. For who sees not that no city would be 
secure from surprise attacks, as the airship might appear at any hour 
directly over its market-square and would land there its crew? The 
same would happen to the courtyards of private houses and to ships 
crossing the sea, for the airship would only have to descend out of the 
air down to the sails of the sea-going vessels and lop their cables. 
Even without descending, it could hurl iron pieces which would cap- 
size the vessels and kill men, and the sh^ps might be burnt with artifi- 
cial fire, balls, and bombs. This might be done not only to ships, but 
also to houses, castles, and cities, with perfect safety for those who 
throw such missiles down from an enormous height." 

The first author in Europe who discussed the possibility of a 
flying chariot was John Wilkins (1614-72), bishop of Chester from 
1668 and subsequently Master at Trinity College, Cambridge, one of 
the founders of the Royal Society, to which he acted as first secretary. 
His writings, particularly his "Mathematicall Magick" (1648), con- 
tributed much toward arousing public interest in the problem of 
flight. He distinguishes (p. 199) "four several ways whereby this 
flying in the air hath been or may be attempted. Two of them by the 
strength of other things, and two of them by our own strength: 1. By 
spirits or angels. 2. By the help of fowls. 3. By wings fastened im- 
mediately to the body. 4. By a flying chariot." This fourth and last 
way seems to him altogether probable and much more useful than 
any of the rest. "And that is by a flying chariot, which may be so 
contrived as to carry a man within it; and though the strength of a 
spring might perhaps be serviceable for the motion of this engine, yet 
it were better to have it assisted by the labour of some intelligent 
mover as the heavenly orbs are supposed to be turned. And therefore 
if it were made big enough to carry sundry persons together, then each 

The Romance of Flying in Ancient China 23 

of them in their severall turns might successively labour in the caus- 
ing of this motion; which thereby would be much more constant and 
lasting, then it could otherwise be, if it did wholly depend on the 
strength of the same person. This contrivance being as much to be 
preferred before any of the other, as swimming in a ship before swim- 
ming in water." 

Kung-shu Tse, also called Lu Pan, "the mechanician of Lu," 
because he was a native of the state of Lu in Shan-tung Province, was 
a contemporary of Confucius and a clever mechanician. In the work 
going under the name of the philosopher Mo Ti (chap. 49) who lived 
in the fifth century before our era, he is said to have carved a magpie 
from bamboo and wood; when completed, he caused this artificial 
bird to fly, and only after three days it came down to earth. Accord- 
ing to another tradition, Kung-shu himself made an ascent riding on 
a wooden kite in order to spy on a city which he desired to capture. 
Other Chinese writers ascribe the manufacture of a wooden kite to 
Mo Ti, or to the collaboration of both Kung-shu Tse and Mo Ti, 
saying that it could fly for three days without resting. Han Fei, a 
philosopher of the third century before our era, relates that Mo Ti 
worked for three years at a wooden kite, but that after flying for a 
single day it was smashed. It is obvious that in these various ac- 
counts there is a confusion of "three days" and "three years," while 
no clear idea is conveyed of the construction and mechanism of the 
artifact. Some Chinese authors regard this wooden kite as the be- 
ginning and forerunner of the later toy, the paper kite; but this view 
seems erroneous, as the bird is described as being carved from wood, 
and as paper was unknown during the period in question. It appears 
to have been rather an automatic, mechanical contrivance that was 
capable of rising to some extent into the air, — a sort of affinity to 
the dove of Archytas (p. 64). Certain it is that it was not Mo Ti, 
as asserted by Han Fei and Lie-tse, who made the flying kite: in the 
first place, Mo Ti was a philosopher of ethical and social tendencies 
who did not engage in manual labor; second, Mo Ti himself saw it fit 
to condemn the invention of the flying kite as an idle and useless 

Kung-shu Tse is credited with several other inventions, — two 
kinds of a grinding mill and a scaling-ladder used in besieging cities, 
known as "cloud-ladder" (yun t'i). He is also said to have made 
wooden horses which moved by means of springs and could draw 
carriages; or, according to another version, he made for his mother 

24 The Prehistory of Aviation 

a wooden coachman who drove an automobile. At present Kung-shu 
Tse is worshipped as the patron-saint of carpenters. 

There is a curious incident on record in the Book of Rites {Li ki), 
which illustrates the fact that even in his youth his thoughts were 
concentrated on problems of engineering and that his contemporaries 
were averse to his innovations. A certain individual's mother had 
died, and Kung-shu asked leave to lower the coffin into the grave by 
means of a new mechanical contrivance invented by him. Its appli- 
cation was objected to by one present at the funeral on the ground 
that the ancient practices of the principality of Lu ought to be up- 
held, and it was ironically suggested to the inventor that he should 
test his ingenuity rather on his own mother than on that of another 

It is small wonder that later legends have grossly exaggerated Lu 
Pan's mechanical skill. Thus a story is current that he made a 
wooden kite which was mounted by his father, and the old man flew 
as far as Wu-hui, a town in the prefecture of Su-chou, Kiang-su 
Province, the ancient kingdom of Wu. The people there took the 
landing flyer for a devil and slew him. Lu Pan, infuriated at this 
detestable crime, carved a wooden effigy of some evil spirit, whose 
hand pointed in the direction of Wu and caused a drought there for 
a period of three years. On consulting the oracle, the inhabitants of 
Wu recognized that this calamity was brought about by Lu Pan, 
and appeased his wrath with supplications and presents, whereupon 
he chopped off the hand of the statue, and rain fell abundantly in 
the kingdom. According to another legend of comparatively recent 
date, Lu Pan made a wooden kite; all it was necessary to do was to 
rap at the door-post three times, and the kite flew off, carrying away 
the person who was mounted on it. There is reason to believe that 
Kung-shu Tse and Lu Pan are two distinct individuals and that the 
two were merged into one by subsequent traditions, but this question 
does not concern us here; we are interested in the mechanical contri- 
vance itself, and for this purpose the texts of the early philosophers 
only merit consideration. 

Wang Ch'ung (A. D. 27-97), philosopher, critic, and sceptic, who 
poked fun at the literati, discredits Lu Pan's invention in the follow- 
ing discourse: — 

"From wood he carved a kite capable of flying for three days 
without descending. It is possible that he made a wooden kite and 
was able to fly it; but the report that it did not alight for three days 
is exaggerated. Carving it from wood, he gave it the shape of a bird; 

The Romance of Flying in Ancient China 25 

how, then, could it fly without resting? If it could soar, why 
just for three days? In case it was equipped with a mechanism by 
which it was set in motion and continued to fly, it might not have 
descended. In this case it should be said that it flew continually, not 
for three days. There is a report that through his own skill Lu Pan 
lost his mother. Being a skilled mechanic, he had constructed for her 
a wooden carriage and horses with a wooden charioteer. When the 
apparatus was completed, he set his mother in the carriage which 
sped away and never returned. Thus he lost his mother. Provided the 
mechanism of the wooden kite was well arranged, it must have been 
like that of the wooden carriage and horses; in this case it would have 
continued to fly without stopping. On the other hand, a mechanism 
functions but a short while, and for this reason the kite could not 
have kept up its motion for more than three days. This also holds 
good for the wooden carriage, which should have come to a stop 
after three days on the road, instead of going on so that his mother 
was lost. Apparently the two stories are untrustworthy." 

It is obvious that as early as the first century of our era real 
knowledge of this contrivance was lost. 

Aside from the dove of Archytas to which reference has been 
made, Lu Pan's wooden magpie or kite meets with another curious 
parallel in the West. The astronomer Regiomontanus, who lived at 
Nuremberg in the fifteenth century, is said to have constructed an 
eagle which, on the emperor's (Charles V) approach to the city, he 
sent out high in the air a long way to meet him, and which accom- 
panied him to the city gates. I. B. Hart furnishes this comment, 
"Shorn of all the inevitable additions of credulous narrators, the pro- 
bability is that Regiomontanus, who was of a mechanical turn of 
mind, fashioned a clockwork contrivance which, more by luck possi- 
bly than by design , acted as a glider when released . ' ' Regiomontanus 
is also credited with having had an automaton in perpetual motion 
in his workshop and with having made a fly which, taking its flight 
from his hand, would fly around the room, and at last, as if weary, 
would return to his master's hand. Francesco Lana, in his "Prodromo" 
(1670, pp. 50-51), has given directions as to how to make birds 
which fly through the air. Considering the fact that such like con- 
trivances are reported from different parts of the world and at widely 
varying times, we cannot refrain from concluding that a grain of 
truth must underlie these accounts and that Lu Pan's wooden kite 
also, even granted that like other inventions it has been magnified, to 
some extent was an object of reality and had a foundation in fact. 

26 The Prehistory op Aviation 

Perhaps it was a primitive form of glider, perhaps it was connected 
with and raised by a flying kite. 

Starting from realistic means of flight, Chinese efforts did not 
continue in this direction. Strangely enough, from realism they 
developed into mysticism and magic. From the second century B.C. 
alchemical lore coming from the West began to infiltrate Chinese 
thought; quest of the elixir of life and the desire to transmute J)ase 
metals into gold allied themselves with ancient native conceptions of 
formulas for securing longevity and immortality in a better land. 
The notion of flight was a link of paramount importance in this 
chain of mystic dreams which held the minds of the people enthralled 
for many centuries. 

Liu An, commonly known as Huai-nan Tse (second century be- 
fore our era) was much given to alchemistic studies and to search for 
the elixir of life on which he published several treatises. Tradition 
credits him with the discovery of an elixir which he finally drank, 
with the effect that he rose to heaven in broad daylight. The vessel 
which contained the beverage of immortality he dropped into his 
courtyard, and when the dogs and poultry sipped the dregs, they 
immediately sailed up to heaven after him. 

Li Shao-kun, an adept of alchemy and the magic arts under the 
emperor Wu of the Han dynasty (140-87 B.C.), over whom he gained 
great influence, made an elixir of life and pretended to be able to 
transmute cinnabar into gold. He described his magic powers in this 
strain, "I know how to harden snow and change it into white silver. 
I know how cinnabar transforms its nature and passes into yellow 
gold. I can rein the flying dragon and visit the extremities of the 
earth. I can bestride the hoary crane and soar above the nine de- 
grees of heaven." 

Indeed, the riding conveyance favorite with Taoist saints for 
taking passage into the beyond is the crane, a bird famed in Chinese 
lore and endowed with many supernatural attributes. He is said to 
reach a fabulous age, and when six hundred years old, to dispense 
with solid food, but to continue to drink water. Of the four kinds of 
crane, — the black, the yellow, the white, and the blue ones, — the 
black one is the longest-lived. He is hence reputed as the patriarch of 
the feathered tribe, and manifests a particular interest in human 
affairs. Men have repeatedly been transformed into the shape of a 
crane, and he transports to the regions of eternal bliss those who have 

The Romance of Flying in Ancient China 27 

attained the degree of sainthood in this life, as he also serves as a 
vehicle to the goddes Si Wang Mu (Plate VI). This picture is a 
small section from a large embroidered screen in twelve panels in the 
Museum's collection, depicting the celebration of the goddess' birth- 
day when the Eight Immortals appear to offer congratulations and 
rich gifts. The goddess surrounded by attendants alights from her 
celestial quarters on the back of a flying crane. 

Wang Tse-k'iao, who was the eldest son of king Ling of the Chou 
dynasty and lived in the sixth century before our era, studied the 
black art for thirty years under a magician named Fou-k'iu Kung. 
One day he sent a message to his kin, saying that he would appear to 
them on the seventh day of the seventh moon on the summit of a 
mountain; and indeed, on the appointed day, he was seen riding 
through the air on a white crane, waving his farewell to the world 
and ascending to heaven to join the ranks of the immortals. 

Ting-ling Wei (second century of our era), a student of the black 
art, was transformed into a crane a thousand years after his death, that 
he might revisit earth and his old home, when he bewailed the 
changes that time had wrought upon men and their hearts. 

Wang K'iao, who lived in the first century of our era, used to 
report regularly at court; but as he had no chariot or horses, ,the 
emperor Ming of the Han dynasty was curious to learn how he man- 
aged to travel such a long distance, and instructed the Grand Astro- 
loger to find out. The imperial messenger was amazed to discover 
that Wang did the trick by riding upon a pair of wild ducks, which 
bore him swiftly through the air. Hence he lay in wait and threw a 
net over the birds; but when he went to seize them, he found only a 
pair of official shoes which had been presented to Wang by the 

Less frequently a tiger is made the aerial courser. This was the 
climax of the life of Madame Ts'ai Luan, who lived in the fourth and 
fifth centuries of our era and made a study of the black art. These 
efforts, however, did not have any riches in store for her; for she 
remained poor and eked out a meagre livelihood by making copies of 
a dictionary of rhymes, which she sold to scholars. Her reward came 
ten years later when she and her husband went up to heaven on a 
pair of white tigers. 

Some accomplished the ascent to' heaven even without the me- 
dium of a riding animal. Thus Ma Tse-jan, reputed for his wide 
knowledge of simples and in great demand as a physician, studied 

28 The Prehistory of Aviation 

the doctrines and practices of Taoism, and was ultimately taken up to 
heaven alive. 

Plate VII illustrates a Taoist saint comfortably flying in the air 
from cliff to cliff, simply driven by the wind, while two wanderers on 
the mountain path gaze at him in bewilderment. This picture is a 
landscape drawn in ink, probably of the Ming period. 

"Shoes which enable one to ascend the clouds" (teng yiin li) are 
ascribed by tradition to Sun Pin; they were made of fish-skin and 
enabled their wearer to walk on water and to tread one louds. "Fly- 
ing cloud shoes" (Jei yun li) are attributed to the famous poet Po Kii-i 
(A.D. 772-846): when he was engaged in preparing an elixir on 
Mount Lu in Kiang-si Province, one of the haunted grottoes of the 
Taoists, he made these shoes of fine black damask, cutting a cluster 
of clouds out of plain raw silk which he dyed with four choice aro- 
matics. When he moved around in these shoes, he looked like smoky 
mist, as though clouds were rising from beneath his feet and as 
though he would before long ascend to the celestial palace. These 
magic shoes are an echo of the thousand-league boots of our folk-lore 
of which more will be said in the chapter on India. 

In the long history of this struggle for the conquest of the air, two 
singular ideas finally come to the fore — levitation by means of star- 
vation and application of remedies taken internally. The slogan of 
this school was: Live on air to conquer the air! 

These Taoist ideas may partially be traceable to India. The 
Buddhist saints of the Tantra school also had the notion of obtaining 
supernatural powers which would enable them to transmute their 
bodies and to assume any shape at will, as well as to traverse space 
with the most rapid possible motion. 

Leading a natural life in the seclusion of mountains in close con- 
tact with nature was believed to be conducive to obtaining longevity 
and immortality. The highest ambition of many Taoist hermits, 
then, was to reduce their weight, to lighten their bodies, to release 
their souls, and thus to obtain the ability to fly toward heaven. Chang 
Tao-ling (A.D. 34-156), known as the first Taoist pope, retired to the 
mountains and devoted himself to the study of alchemy and to culti- 
vating the virtues of purity and mental abstraction. The white tiger 
presiding over the west and the green dragon ruling the quarter of 
the east appeared in the air above his habitation, and finally he 
reached his goal and found the elixir of immortality. He swallowed 
a dose of it, and the sixty year old man was suddenly transformed 
into a vigorous youth. Soon after when he made a pilgrimage to a 

The Romance of Flying in Ancient China 29 

sacred mountain in the proximity of the city of Ho-nan, he met on 
the road a man who disclosed to him the location of a cave; it con- 
cealed, he intimated, occult writings whose study would enable him 
to obtain the power of flying skyward. After fasting and purifying 
himself he found the books in question, and by studying these he 
attained the gift of ubiquity, and was capable of assuming simul- 
taneously various shapes. After years of meditation and efforts spent 
on exorcism of demons he was deemed worthy of appearing before 
Lao-tse, and ascended as an immortal to the heavens with his wife 
and two favorite disciples. 

An-k'i Sheng, a legendary magician who lived on the Isles of the 
Blest in the Eastern Ocean and possessed the power of rendering 
himself visible or invisible at will, visited the Lo-fou Mountains in 
Kwang-tung Province, where he subsisted only on the stalks of 
water-rushes; by virtue of this diet he finally became emancipated 
from the dross of earth, and ascending the summit of the White 
Cloud Mountain, rose to heaven before the eyes of his companion. 
The recipe "living on air" was tried, for instance, by Chang Liang, 
who died in 187 before our era. He began to eliminate food in the 
hope of gaining levitation of the body and finally immortality, but 
failed, because he once yielded to the solicitations of the empress 
and ate a bit of rice. 

A good example of this sort of hunger-strike apostle is presented 
by Li Pi (A.D. 722-789), who as a youth was keenly devoted to the 
study of Taoism and would roam in the mountains, pondering upon 
the secret of immortality. He declined to marry, abstained from all 
substantial food except fruit and berries, and practised the art of 
breathing, which is believed by the Taoists to conduce to immortality. 
He finally became reduced to a skeleton, and received the nickname 
"the Collar-bone Immortal of Ye." Chang Cho also, a scholar of 
the ninth century, trained himself to get along without food. He was 
able to cut butterflies out of paper, which would flutter about and 
return to his hands. Lu Ts'ang-yung, son of an official, flunked in 
the civil service examinations and retired with his brother to the 
mountains, where they lived as hermits and studied the art of getting 
along without food (which in our own times many students of art 
and science have involuntarily imitated). 

The climax of this movement was reached in the preparation of a 
nostrum for promoting the art of flying. 

T'ao Hung-king (A.D. 452-536), a distinguished physician and a 
celebrated adept in the mysteries of Taoism, compounded what is 

30 The Prehistory of Aviation 

known as the "flying elixir" (fei tan): it did not contain any medi- 
cinal drugs, but was a mixture of gold, cinnabar, azurite, and sul- 
phur, — ingredients which had been contributed by the emperor. 
This compound is said to have had the color of hoarfrost and snow 
and to have been bitter of taste. When swallowed, it was believed 
to produce levitation of the body. The emperor tasted and tested it, 
found it beneficial, and conferred honors on the manufacturer. I think 
this is the only example in the history of the world in the way of teach- 
ing to fly by means of a medicine taken internally; but from the view- 
point of Chinese alchemical and religious lore it is quite intelligible 
how this notion could spring into existence. 

In speaking of the Yogins of India, Marco Polo writes, "They 
are extremely long-lived, every man of them living to a hundred and 
fifty or two hundred years. They eat very little, but what they do 
eat is good; rice and milk chiefly. And these people make use of a 
very strange beverage; for they make a potion of sulphur and quick- 
silver mixed together, and this they drink twice every month. This, 
they say, gives them long life; and it is a potion they are used to take 
from their childhood." The alchemists of both Asia and Europe re- 
garded sulphur and mercury, combined under different conditions 
and various proportions, as the origin of all metals. Mercury was 
called the mother of metals; sulphur, the father. 

The desire to obtain eternal youth focused on the elixir of immor- 
tality, the fountain of youth, or the rejuvenescent water of life, has 
haunted mankind through all ages. It was this theme, that oc- 
cupied Nathaniel Hawthorne's mind throughout his life and that 
culminated in his unfinished romance which rested upon his coffin. 


A flying-kite may be defined as an aeroplane which cannot be 
manned, and an aeroplane may be defined as a kite which can be 
manned. This definition implies the interrelation of the two mechani- 
cal devices. How this development was brought about will be 
demonstrated on the following pages. Kites were invented and first 
put to a practical test in ancient China; hence the Chinese must be 
credited with a substantial contribution to the advance of aero- 
nautics. In January, 1894, O. Chanute wrote in Chicago, "It would 
not at all be surprising to find, should a stable aeroplane be hereafter 
produced, that it has its prototype in a Chinese kite." And history 
proves him right. 

It must not be imagined that the Chinese kite is anything like the 
flimsy, cross-shaped structure of wood covered with paper of a 
diamond-shaped surface that we used to fly in our boyhood days. 
This toy is a poor degenerate orphan put to blush in comparison with 
the ingenious creations of the Chinese, which are wonders of both 
technique and art. The ordinary Chinese kites are made of a light, 
elastic framework of bamboo over which is spread a sheet of strong 
paper painted in brilliant hues with human or animal figures. They 
generously display that love of art and that whole gamut of decora- 
tive design which runs through the life of the Chinese nation. Favo- 
rite subjects are mythological figures and monsters, dragons, actors, 
and heroes of popular plays, beautiful women, animals of all de- 
scriptions, birds of prey, serpents, frogs and fishes, flies and butter- 
flies as well as centipedes, also flower-baskets and boats. In the bird- 
kites the thin paper attached to the wings is moved by the wind and 
simulates the flapping of the wings. It goes without saying that, as 
indicated by the common term "paper kite" (chi yilan) for the device, 
kites are a favorite pattern frequently in evidence. Not only the 
great variety of quaint shapes and designs is amazing, but also the 
correct calculation or premeditated evaluation of the distance effect; 
viewed in close proximity the kite pictures may seem dispropor- 
tionately large or exaggerated or even distorted, while naturally they 
are designed for a distant vista and in fact, when towering high in 
the air, appear most beautiful and so life-like that they may be taken 
for real birds. Again, the kite in the air is hardly ever stationary, but 
constantly on the move, hovering and soaring, and as it moves on, 
appears more and more as a legitimate denizen of the atmosphere. 


32 The Prehistory of Aviation 

And then the stupendous skill of the hands which manipulate the 
flying monsters! A long coil of tough cord is wound over a reel, and 
it is the reel, not the cord, which is held in the hand and is continually 
turned as the paper plane rises. 

The most complicated and ingenious of these flying-machines is 
the centipede kite. One which I obtained at Peking in 1901 for the 
American Museum of Natural History in New York (together with a 
collection of some seventy kites, all of different types) measures forty 
feet in length, and is made to fold up accordion-like. The fierce head 
of the creature with huge eyes and gaping jaws is surmounted by 
long, protuding horns. The body consists of a series of some twenty- 
five disks, about a foot in diameter, formed of a bamboo frame 
covered with paper. These are painted with concentric zones in 
black, yellow, and white. The disks are connected with one another 
by two cords which keep them equidistant, and are fastened to a 
transverse bamboo rod from which sticks run crosswise to the centre 
of the disks. The latter revolve when the kite is being flown. The 
rear disk is provided with streamers that form the tail. It requires 
great skill to raise this kite, and cords are attached to three or more 
points of the body to keep it under control. In a strong wind several 
men are required to hold the reel. Seen in the air with its gigantic 
proportions, its huge glaring eyes swiftly twirling in their sockets, 
its weird, wriggling, serpentine motions, it conveys the impression 
of some fossil monster of bygone ages having suddenly come back to 
life. A centipede kite of smaller dimensions is also made in Hawaii. 

0. Chanute justly calls attention to the fact that this device 
resembles in arrangement the multiple disk kites suggested and de- 
signed for life-saving in shipwrecks by E. J. Cordner, an Irish Catholic 
priest, in 1859. 

Mechanically kites are constructed on the principle underlying 
the behavior of a soaring bird which performs its movements with 
peculiarly curved and warped surfaces. 

The ninth day of the ninth month in the autumn is devoted to 
the festival called Ch'ung-yang which is celebrated by ascending 
hills. Friends and acquaintances join for a picnic on some eminence 
in the neighborhood of their town and set kites adrift, as the autum- 
nal breezes favor the sport. This also is the great day for holding kite 
contests. Any kite, no matter to whom it belongs, may be cut down 
by another. For this purpose the cord near the kite is stiffened with 
crushed glass or porcelain smeared on with fish-glue. The kite-flyer 
manoeuvres to get his kite to windward of that of his rival, allows 

Kites as Precursors of Aeroplanes 33 

his cord to drift against that of his opponent and by a sudden jerk 
to cut it through, so that the hostile kite is brought down. 

A musical kite was first invented by Li Ye of the tenth century of 
our era, an expert kite-maker, who was purveyor of kites for his 
imperial majesty. He made an ordinary paper kite with a string 
attached to it and fastened to the kite's head a bamboo flute. He 
flew this kite in such a manner that when the wind struck the holes 
of the flute and produced sounds like those of a harpsichord (cheng), 
which originally had twelve, at present, however, has thirteen, brass 
strings. Hence a new term for kites came into vogue — "wind harpsi- 
chord" (Jung cheng), which is now used indiscriminately for any 

Such flutes are still occasionally used in connection with kites. 
They consist of a short bamboo tube closed at the ends and provided 
with three apertures, — one in the centre and one at either extremity. 
When the kite is flying, the air, in rushing into the holes of the in- 
strument, produces a somewhat intense and plaintive sound, which 
can be heard at a great distance. Sometimes three or four of these 
bamboo tubes are placed one above another over the kite, and in this 
case a very pronounced deep sound is produced. Imagine that hun- 
dreds of such kites may be released at a time and are hovering in the 
air, and there is a veritable aerial orchestra at play. This music has a 
beneficial effect, for it is thought to scour evil spirits from the atmo- 
sphere. To strengthen this benevolent influence, a captive kite, 
during the prevalence of winds, is often affixed to the roof of a house 
when during the whole night it will emit plaintive murmurs. Still 
more frequently, at least in Peking in the age of the Manchu dynasty, 
there was attached to the top of a kite a musical bow of light willow- 
wood or bamboo strung with a silken cord. When struck by the wind, 
the instrument would produce humming sounds like an Aeolian harp. 
Thus the Chinese were the first who knew how to produce "music on 
the air." At night paper lanterns with a lighted candle inside were 
sometimes suspended from small kites in the shape of butterflies, and 
these were again attached to the main or pilot kite of much larger 
dimensions. Ear and eye are thus treated to a feast, but this is not 
all. To make the performance still more spectacular, messengers con- 
sisting of bamboo frames with fire-crackers attached are sent up the 
strings from which the kite is governed, and the crackers are timed to 
explode on reaching the top. 

Archdeacon J. H. Gray, in his excellent book "China" (1878), 
says, "In the centre of Chinese kites, four or five metallic strings are 

34 The Prehistory of Aviation 

fixed on the principle of the Aeolian harp. When they are flying, 
'slow-lisping notes as of the Aeolian lyre' are distinctly heard." 

He then' records from oral tradition the following story in ex- 
planation of this musical apparatus: "During the reign of the emperor 
Liu Pang, the founder of the Han dynasty, a general who was much 
attached to the dynasty which had been ooliged to give way before 
the more powerful house of Han, resolved to make a last vigorous 
effort to drive Liu Pang from the throne he had recently usurped. A 
battle, however, resulted in the army of the general being hemmed in 
and threatened with annihilation. At his wit's end to devise a method 
of escape, he at last conceived the ingenious idea of frightening the 
enemy by flying kites, fitted with Aeolian strings, over their camp in 
the dead of night. The wind was favorable, and when all was wrapt 
in darkness and silence, the forces of Liu Pang heard sounds in the air 
resembling Fu Han! Beware of Han! It was their guardian angels, 
they declared, who were warning them of impending danger, and 
they precipitately fled, hotly pursued by the general and his army." 

Kites were originally used in China for military signalling and for 
such purposes only, but in the beginning they were not connected 
with any religious practices, as is erroneously stated by several 
authors. Thus Hodgson (History of Aeronautics, p. 368) writes, "It 
cannot be doubted that the kite, though of uncertain, is nevertheless 
of very ancient origin. .. Though in wide-spread use as a pastime 
among the Chinese, Japanese, Maoris, and other peoples, its origin is 
usually ascribed to religion." Originally it was not a toy either; this 
is a later development which set in from the time of the Sung dynasty. 

There is no Chinese document dealing with kites that contains a 
word about religious observances in connection with them. The idea 
that a kite functions as a scapegoat charming away the owner's sins 
and misfortunes is a recent development to be found locally and spora- 
dically, but it is not general; it is more developed in Korea than in 
China, but at any rate it bears no relation to the origin of kites. 

The beginning of kites in China cannot be clearly traced. It is a 
curious fact that just in those things which are characteristically Chi- 
nese their records fail us — partially perhaps because these things seem 
trivial, partially because Chinese scholars are of the bookish type 
and poor observers of real life. A paltry object like a kite was some- 
what below their dignity; nevertheless kites have been made the 
subject of a score of poetical compositions. In times of early anti- 
quity kites did not exist: they are not mentioned, for instance, as it 
might be expected, in the treatise on the Art of War which Sun Wu 

Kites as Precursors of Aeroplanes 35 

wrote in the sixth century before our era and of which we have an 
excellent English translation by Lionel Giles. 

It has been pointed out in the preceding chapter that Kung-shu's 
wooden bird was not a flying-kite. The earliest notion of this device 
looms up in the life of Han Sin, who died in 196 before our era. He is 
known as one of the Three Heroes who assisted Liu Pang in ascending 
the throne as first emperor of the Han dynasty. He was desirous of 
digging a tunnel into the Wei-yang Palace, and is said to have flown a 
paper kite for the purpose of measuring the distance to the palace. 
Some explain that he did so by measuring the length of the cord 
fastened to the kite; others with a bolder grip of imagination pretend 
that he himself ascended on the kite to gain a free outlook on the 
palace. It is more probable that Han Sin introduced kites into war- 
fare, using them in trigonometrical calculations of the distance from 
the hostile army. Be this as it may, the story is not well authenti- 
cated; it is not contained in contemporaneous records, but only in 
comparatively late sources. If for no other reason, it is suspicious 
that Han Sin's kite is said to have been made of paper, while paper 
was invented only three hundred years later. 

Chinese authors are wont to speak of "paper kites," but rag-paper 
was invented by Ts'ai Lun only in A.D. 105. Ever since paper has 
come into use, kites have been made of this material, and no other is 
employed for them. Nevertheless it is not reasonable to argue that 
prior to the invention of rag-paper kites could not have been made; 
the framework might have been covered with silk, hemp, or some 
other light fabric as well, — only Chinese records are reticent as to 
this point. The Polynesians enlist bark-cloth (tapa) for their kites, 
and as will be seen below, the first kite made in England was of 
linen, while Benjamin Franklin's famous kite was of silk. 

In A.D. 549 Hou King (502-552) besieged the city of T'ai in 
which Kien-wen, subsequently the emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty, 
was bottled up. Unable to communicate with the outside world, 
Kien-wen had a paper kite made with a message attached to it and 
gent it up into the air that his friends might be advised of his perilous 
plight. One of Hou King's officers, Wang Wei by name, saw the kite 
rise and ordered his best archers to take a shot at it (first example of 
anti-aircraft practice) . The kite dropped, but, as tradition has it, was 
transformed into a bird that escaped into the clouds, no one knowing 
where it went — which probably means that the kite, after all, had 
not been hit. This story is on record in the Tu i chi written by Li Yu 
of the T'ang dynasty. In A.D. 781 when Chang P'ei, a loyal general, 

36 The Prehistory of Aviation 

defended the city Lin-ming against T'ien Yiie who had revolted 
against the reigning house of T'ang, Chang released a kite to inform 
Ma Sui of the predicament of the garrison which was exposed to 
starvation. Again, in this case, the kite was espied by the hostile 
camp, and T'ien commanded his archers to. bring it down, but in 
this attempt they failed. The garrison held out until Ma Sui came 
to its relief when a crushing defeat was inflicted on the besiegers. 

Many European authors who are only too prone to accentuate 
the topsy-turvy-dom of the Chinese assert wrongly that kite-flying 
is exclusively pursued in China by adults, not by boys. It is certainly 
true that the men are passionate and expert kite-flyers, and it is 
equally true that many kites, owing to their enormous size and 
weight, can be manipulated by grown-ups only. But how should the 
man acquire his skill had he not gained his practice from early boy- 
hood days? Boys assuredly play with kites, and have done so from 
the days of the Sung dynasty (the end of the tenth century). From 
that period onward there are many records and pictures testifying 
to the kite-flying of youngsters, and they are even encouraged to 
indulge in this wholesome pastime for the reason that "it makes them 
throw their heads back and open their mouths, thus getting rid of 
internal heat." Plate VIII illustrates an outdoor scene: boys sporting 
with kites from a Sung painting depicting the games and entertain- 
ments of a hundred boys, by Su Han-ch'en, a renowned artist of the 
twelfth century. 

From China kites were diffused to all other nations of eastern 
Asia who experienced the influence of Chinese civilization — Korea, 
Japan, Annam, Camboja, Siam, Malaysia, inclusive of the Philip- 
pines and Borneo. As in China, kite-flying has developed into a 
national pastime in Korea and Japan which received their culture 
from the mother-country. 

In some parts of Indonesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia kites are 
turned to a practical purpose for catching fish. A fishing-line to the 
end of which is fastened a baited hook or noose is attached to a kite 
which is flown from the end of a canoe over the water; the bait is 
made to play over the surface of the sea by the movements of the 
kite in the wind. When the fish bites, the kite goes down. In Poly- 
nesia kite-flying is pursued for amusement only, chiefly in New 
Zealand, the Cook group, Tahiti, Hervey Islands, the Marquesas, 
Tuamotu, Easter Island, and Hawaii; kites are unknown in Samoa 
and Tonga. 

Kites as Precursors of Aeroplanes 37 

Kites were introduced into India from China either through the 
Malays or Chinese immigrants or both. Kite-flying is a popular 
amusement in India during the spring. Matches are often made for 
considerable stakes. As in China, the strings are coated with crushed 
glass smeared on with glue, and each player seeks to manoeuvre his 
kite so as to cut his rival's string. Respectable elderly gentlemen 
also take keen interest in the game. 

In Siam, kite-flying was a state ceremony as well as a public 
festivity. Large paper kites were sent up into the air with the object 
of promoting the seasonal wind by the fluttering noise made by them. 
The festival was obviously connected with agriculture and the ap- 
pearance of the north-east monsoon. 

The ancients were not acquainted with the flying-kite. Archytas' 
wooden dove, as pointed out on p. 64, is not a kite. There is no refer- 
ence to a kite in the writings of any Greek or Roman author. The 
fact remains that kites were introduced into Europe from the East 
not earlier than the end of the sixteenth century. The Chinese were 
the inventors of it, and all data at our disposal go to prove that the 
kite spread from the Far East westward to the Near East and finally 
to Europe, and that it makes its debut in Europe as a Chinese con- 
trivance, not as a heritage of classical antiquity. 

Musailima, the false prophet, a contemporary of Mohammed, is 
said to have employed at night paper kites with musical bows in 
order to convey the impression to his adherents that he was commu- 
nicating with angels. Al-Jahiz, who died in A. D. 869, in his Book 
of Animals (Kitab al-hayawan), speaks of "flags of the boys which 
were made of Chinese carton and paper; to these tails and wings 
were attached, little bells were tied to their fronts, and on breezy 
days they were released into the air from long and firm threads." 

Kite-flying is well known to the Turks as a sport both for children 
and adults. The kite is called in Osmanli kartal ("eagle"), in Jagatai 
and Cumanian sar ("sparrow-hawk"). 

In European literature kites are first described by the Italian 
Giovanni Batista in his book on natural magic (Magia naturalis, 
1589) and by J. J. Wecker (De secretis, 1592). The Jesuit Athanasius 
Kircher (Ars magna lucis, 1646) was well acquainted with kites. As 
is well known, he also wrote a book on China which is based on infor- 
mation received from the members of his order working in China. 

Francesco Lana (1670, p. 50) informs us that in his time kites 
were manipulated by the children of Italy. He calls them drago 
("dragon"), while the Italians now designate them aquilone ("north 

38 The Prehistory of Aviation 

wind"), cometa ("comet"), or cervo-volante ("flying-stag") in accord- 
ance with French cerf-volant. German drache is doubtless based on the 
Italian appellation, and the Russians speak of a serpent (zmdi or 
zmdika). The Spaniards style a kite pajaro ("bird, sparrow") or 
papagayo ("parrot"). Curiously enough, the correct Chinese term 
"kite" (yttari) is preserved in our English word, and this seems to 
hint at the fact that paper kites were directly imported from China 
into England with the correct label attached. 

J. Strutt, in his classical book "The Sports and Pastimes of the 
People of England," informs us that the kite probably received its 
name from having originally been made in the shape of the bird called 
a kite and that in a short French and English Dictionary published 
by Miege in 1690 the word cerf-volant is said to denote a paper 
kite, — the first registration of the word he found. "I have been told," 
he winds up, "that in China the flying of paper kites is a very ancient 
pastime, and practised much more generally by the children there 
than it is in England. From that country perhaps it was brought to 
us, but the time of its introduction is unknown to me; however, I do 
not find any reason to conclude that it existed here much more than 
a century back" (Strutt wrote in 1801). Certainly kites were used 
in England a considerable time prior to 1690. 

In the middle of the seventeenth century kites were commonly 
employed in England for the purpose of letting off fireworks. John 
Bate, in his "Mysteries of Nature and Art" (1634), describes the 
making of a kite to this end, though he avoids the word itself. "You 
must take a piece of linnen cloth of a yard or more in length," he 
writes, "it must be cut after the form of a pane of glass; fasten two 
light sticks cross the same, to make it stand at breadth; then smear it 
over with linseed oil and liquid varnish tempered together, or else wet 
it with oil of Peter; and unto the longest corner fasten a match pre- 
pared with saltpeter water upon which you may fasten divers 
crackers, or saucissons; betwixt every of which bind a knot of paper- 
shavings, which will make it flie the better; then tie a small rope of 
length sufficient to raise it unto what height you shall desire, and to 
guite it withall ; then fire the match, and raise it against the wind in an 
open field, and as the match burneth, it will fire the crackers and 
saucissons, which will give divers blows in the ayer." Bate's kite is 
reproduced in Plate IX. It has the shape of a lozenge, and is 
equipped with a tail to afford stability. This type of kite was com- 
monly used in England down to the latter half of the nineteenth 

Kites as Precursors of Aeroplanes 39 

S. Butler ( Hudibras, 1664) alludes to the kite in scoffing at the 
prophecies based on the appearance of comets: — 

It happen'd as a boy, one night, 

Did fly his tarcel of a kite; 

His train was six yards long, milk-white, 

At th' end of which, there hung a light, 

Inclosed in lanthorn made of paper. . . 

A tarcel is a young hawk. The Oxford English Dictionary contains 
an interesting quotation from Marvell (1672) : He may make a great 
paper-kite of his own letter of 850 pages. 

In Europe, finally, kites were employed for scientific purposes, for 
the first time, it is said, by Alexander Wilson, professor of astronomy 
at Glasgow University, who claimed in 1778 that he used kites at- 
tached to wire for electrical experiments long before Franklin in 1749 
and that with four or five paper kites strung one above another he 
raised thermometers to an altitude of three thousand feet, in order to 
determine the temperature in the clouds. 

In 1752 Benjamin Franklin made his experiment of collecting 
atmospheric electricity through the medium of a kite covered with 
silk and fitted at the top with a metal point. This experiment de- 
monstrated the identity of lightning with electricity. Franklin's kite 
consisted of a framework in the shape of a cross made of two light 
strips of cedar. Over this frame was stretched a silk handkerchief 
tied to the four ends. From the top of the upright stick of the cross 
extended a sharp-pointed wire the length of a foot. A silk ribbon was 
tied to the end of the string which held the kite, the end next the 
hand, and a key suspended at the junction of the twine and silk. 
The kite was raised by Franklin during a thunderstorm in June, 1752, 
and almost immediately he experienced a spark on applying his 
knuckles to the key. When the cord was moistened by a passing 
shower, the electricity grew abundant. A Leyden jar was charged at 
the key, and by the spark thus obtained spirits were ignited, and 
other experiments performed. 

Franklin's memorable experiments established definitely the ser- 
vice of the kite for scientific purposes. It was adapted especially to 
meteorological work, self-registering thermometers being sent up with 
it. Thus it is an efficient means of obtaining observations in the free 
air at moderate elevations. For all greater heights a balloon is used; 
the kite, however, can be used in stormy weather when the balloon 
is not serviceable; but the special advantage of the kite lies in the 
fact that the self-recording apparatus is thoroughly ventilated by the 

40 The Prehistory of Aviation 

wind, and therefore gives the temperature and moisture of the free 
air with the least possible error introduced by solar heat or instru- 
mental radiation. 

Both in China and Japan there are stories current about men rid- 
ing on kites through the air. There is a tradition alive in Japan that 
Yui-no Shosetsu, who tried to overthrow the Tokugawa government 
in the seventeenth century, made a large kite on which he ascended 
in order to spy on the Shogun's palace of Yedo. The Shogun and his 
court were taken aback, and the construction of large kites was forth- 
with forbidden under penalty of death. Shosetsu was subsequently 
seized and compelled to commit harakiri. A famous brigand of the 
seventeenth century, Ishikawa Goyemon, is said to have attempted 
to steal the gold from the huge golden fish or dolphin on the tower of 
the Castle of Nagoya by mounting on a kite. He succeeded in ab- 
stracting three golden fins. Since that hime large kites have been 
prohibited in Owari. Tametomo, of the Minamoto family, a hero of 
the twelfth century, who lived in exile on Oshima Island, is said to 
have sent his young son from there to Kamakura by means of an 
enormous kite. There are other stories of valiant cavaliers who used 
kites as airplanes by flying on them over the enemy's camp for 
purposes of reconnaissance. 

On September 24, 1927, the Associated Press reported by cable 
from Constanza, Rumania, that while Robert M. Patterson, Ameri- 
can Charge" d'affaires in Rumania, was motoring along the beach 
on the Black Sea, he heard cries for help from a small naked boy 
flying a huge kite which threatened to fly away with him or to pull 
him into the sea. The frightened boy turned out to be five year old 
King Michael, who, the dispatch said, despite his elevation to the 
throne, cares more about kites than kingdoms. Mr. Patterson, who 
knew Michael from babyhood, stopped his motor and ran to his 
rescue. Taking the thick cord from the boy's blistered hands, he 
pulled in the kite which was twice the size of the young king. It 
required all his strength. "Don't tell my mother," whispered the 
anxious monarch, "she will kill me, she doesn't know I'm out." Mr. 
Patterson placed him in his car, and driving to Princess Helene's 
residence, deposited the little king safely in the hands of his English 

Now if this or a similar story were found in a Chinese record, all 
the gray-haired sinologues would shake their wise heads and de- 

Kites as Precursors of Aeroplanes 41 

nounce it as an anecdote without a foundation of reality; but such 
things will happen, and even more than that. 

Athanasius Kircher was well posted on the subject of kites, and 
in his work "Ars magna lucis" (Rome, 1646, p. 826) mentions the 
fact that in his time kites were made of such dimensions that they 
were capable of lifting a man. 

The fact that it is not impossible to lift a person into the air by 
means of two or several powerful kites combined may be inferred 
from experiments made in England and America during the nine- 
teenth century. About the year 1826 the principle of the kite was 
turned to a practical purpose by George Pocock, a schoolmaster of 
Bristol. Interested in kite-flying from the days of his boyhood, 
Pocock found through various experiments that by attaching several 
kites, one beneath another, they could be elevated above the clouds. 
Then he attached to the cord of the kite a board which was dragged 
along rapidly like a sledge, and next a car with a full load of passen- 
gers was drawn easily over the turf. The first person who soared aloft 
in the air by this invention was a lady, who, seated in an arm-chair, 
was raised by the kite to a height of a hundred yards. Several years 
later he developed this "aeropleustic art" (a term invented and used 
by him alone) by constructing a four-wheeled carriage which he term- 
ed "char-volant" (flying car). It was set in motion by two or more 
large kites made to fold up and controlled as to angle and obliquity 
by four lines. He demonstrated that two large kites with a surface 
of a hundred square feet sent up in a gentle breeze had a draught 
power of three hundredweight or nine hundredweight in a brisk gale. 
On January 8, 1827, Pocock claimed to have covered several miles be- 
tween Bristol and Marlborough at twenty miles an hour — a speed 
which he remarks need not be thought dangerous — and that on this 
occasion the London mail-coach was easily overtaken. Pocock pro- 
posed also to apply kites to marine purposes for towing boats or 
life-saving from shipwrecks on a lea shore, and suggested their mili- 
tary use for elevating a man in reconnaissances and signalling — 
which the Chinese had done centuries ago. Pocock's kite-chariot, of 
course, was not a practicable scheme, as it depended on the winds, 
but it has a decidedly Chinese flavor. In 1876 Joseph Simmons, it is 
said, was drawn into the air to a height of six hundred feet or more 
by means of two superposed kites, and then adjusting his weight by 
means of guy lines glided down to earth. He filed a patent for his 
invention (No. 2428, 1875) as "improved means and apparatus for 
conveying or carrying human beings or objects into mid-air." In 

42 The Prehistory of Aviation 

1868 Biot, a French engineer and a lifelong experimenter with kites, 
was lifted from the ground by a large apparatus of this kind. In 1894 
Captain B. F. S. Baden-Powell, of the Scots Guards, constructed a 
kite 36 feet high consisting of four or five superposed kites, with 
which he successfully lifted a man on different occasions to a height 
of a hundred feet. In 1897 Lieutenant H. D. Wise made experiments 
in the United States with large kites of the Hargrave type and suc- 
ceeded in lifting a man forty feet above the ground. 

It was Laurence Hargrave, an Australian, who then gave a fresh 
impetus to scientific kite-flying. He realized that the structure best 
adapted for a good kite would also be suitable as a basis for the struct- 
ure of a flying-machine. He introduced a new principle and invented 
what is known as the "cellular construction of kites." This is a kite 
composed of two rectangular cells separated by a considerable 
space — known as "the Hargrave box kite" (figured in National Geo- 
graphic Magazine, 1903, p. 221). This type of kite, which surpassed 
in stability all previous examples, formed the starting-point of Alex- 
ander Graham Bell's epoch-making researches and his constructions 
of triangular and tetrahedral kites. In 1903 Dr. Bell wrote, "I have 
had the feeling that a properly constructed flying-machine should be 
capable of being flown as a kite; and, conversely, that a properly 
constructed kite should be capable of use as a flying-machine when 
driven by its own propellers." 

In December, 1907 Dr. Bell experimented with a gigantic man- 
lifting kite, the Cygnet, more than forty feet long, which was sent up 
both with and without a man. Lieutenant Selfridge, of the United 
States Army, ascended with this kite to a height of 168 feet and re- 
mained in the air for over seven minutes. Illustrations of these highly 
interesting experiments may be viewed in the National Geographic 
Magazine for 1908. 

Dr. Bell's prophetic words uttered in 1903 have at present been 
fulfilled. The wings of the modern biplane are closely patterned after 
the Hargrave box-kite on which Dr. Bell inaugurated his experi- 
ments. The man-lifting kite has developed into an airplane. The 
speed plane of our times is but a first cousin to the kite. 

Another Chinese apparatus deserves mention here, as it served as 
a source of inspiration to Sir George Cayley (1774-1857), one of the 
great pioneers of modern aviation. His interest in aeronautics was 
aroused in boyhood by the invention of the balloon in 1783. He him- 

Kites as Precursors of Aeroplanes 43 

self tells us that his first experiment in such matters was made as 
early as 1796 with a Chinese or aerial top, which served at once to 
illustrate the principle of the helicopter and the air-screw. Though 
but a toy of a few inches in length, its capacity to demonstrate certain 
elementary, but important principles in aeronautics made a lasting 
impression on Cay ley's youthful mind, and only three years before 
his death he sent to Dupuis Delcourt a drawing of one which he had 
had made, the best he had ever seen, and capable of rising ninety feet 
in the air. This drawing is reproduced in Hodgson's book (Fig. 135). 
The original of one of these aerial tops is still in the possession of Mrs. 
Thompson, a grand-daughter of Cayley. 



Although the Aryan Indians of the Vedic period had numerous 
aerial deities, like the Gandharvas, elfs haunting the "fathomless 
spaces of air," no allusion is made in the Rigveda to their manner of 
locomotion, and none is described as possessed of wings. Among the 
divine steeds there is one named Dadhikra, praised for his swiftness, 
speeding like the wind, and equipped with bird's wings; he is likened to 
a swooping eagle and even directly called an eagle. The Vedic gods 
did not fly, but preferred driving in luminous cars usually drawn by 
fleet horses, in some cases by cows, goats, and spotted deer. Indra, 
the favorite national god of the Vedic Indians, primarily a storm and 
thunder-god, conqueror of the demons of drought and darkness, and 
also a god of battle who aided the advancing Aryans in their struggle 
against the Dasyus, the aboriginal inhabitants of India, is borne on a 
golden chariot which is swifter than thought. This vehicle is drawn 
by two or more tawny, sun-eyed chargers with flowing golden manes 
and hair like peacocks' feathers. Snorting and neighing, they rapidly 
traverse vast distances, and Indra is transported by them "as an 
eagle is borne by its wings." His weapon is the thunderbolt (vajra), 
which personifies the lightning stroke and with which he slays his 
foes. A myth of post- Vedic times tells of quaking mountains pro- 
vided with wings and gifted with the power of flight: they flew around 
like birds, alighted wherever they pleased, and with their incessant 
motion made the earth unsteady. With his thunderbolt Indra clipped 
the wings of the restive mountains and settled them permanently in 
their place; their wings were transformed into thunder clouds. 

The Acvins ("horsemen"), twin deities, presumably symbolizing 
the dawn and the morning star, travel in a sun-like chariot all parts 
of which are golden and whose construction is based on the number 
three, having three seats, triple wheels, and triple fellies. It moves 
lightly, is swifter than "thought or the twinkling of an eye," and is 
drawn by horses, but more commonly by birds, swans, eagles, or 
eagle steeds. It touches the ends of heaven and extends over the five 
countries, it races round heaven, and traverses heaven and earth 
in a single day. They also have a car which without draught animals 
traverses space. The Acvins are domiciled in heaven or in the air, 
and appear at the time of the early dawn when they yoke their chariot 
to descend to earth and receive the offering of worshippers. Ushas, 
the maiden goddess of dawn, the most poetical figure of the Vedic 


The Dawn of Airships in Ancient India 45 

pantheon, awakes the twin gods; she drives in a brilliant, well-adorn- 
ed chariot drawn by ruddy steeds or kine. The Acvins follow Ushas 
in their car, and thus their relative time seems to have been between 
dawn and sunrise. The twin brothers have the particular function 
of coming to the rescue of people in distress, and are constantly 
praised for such deeds. The story most often referred to in the Rig- 
veda is that of the deliverance of Bhujyu, son of Tugra, who was 
abandoned in the midst of the ocean or in the water-cloud and who, 
tossed about in darkness, invoked the succor of the youthful heroes. 
They rescued him with animated, water-tight ships which traversed 
the air (a sort of hydro-aeroplane), or with an animated winged boat 
(compare Lana's flying ship, Plate V), or with three flying cars hav- 
ing a hundred feet and six horses. The twins are wedded to the sun- 
maiden or the daughter of the sun, and in the marriage rite they are 
invoked to conduct the bride home in their chariot. 

The Maruts, gods of the winds, children of the storm-cloud, born 
from the laughter of lightning, speed in cars which gleam with light- 
ning, drawn by spotted coursers; brilliant as fire, they carry spears on 
their shoulders, anklets on their feet, golden ornaments on their 
breasts, fiery lightnings in their hands, and golden helmets on their 
heads. They are also described as having yoked the winds as steeds 
to their pole; that is, their chariot is driven by the winds. 

Surya, the sun god, the far-seeing spy of the whole world, who 
beholds all beings and the good and bad deeds of mortals, moves in a 
chariot drawn by one steed or by seven horses or mares. In various 
passages, however, he is conceived as a bird traversing space, is rep- 
resented as flying, and is compared with a flying eagle. The god 
Agni, the personification of the sacrificial fire, which is the centre of 
the ritual poetry of the Veda, drives in a lightning chariot, described 
as golden and luminous, drawn by two or more horses impelled by 
the wind. He yokes them to summon the gods to the sacrifice, and 
then acts as their charioteer, bringing Indra from the sky, the Maruts 
from the air. Agni is also likened to or directly designated a bird, 
and in one passage is spoken of as the eagle of the sky. 

Another Vedic god, Pushan, who is closely connected with the 
sun, moves in golden ships sailing over the aerial ocean (the sky is 
conceived as an ocean: thus, also, the Acvins' chariot approaches 
from the celestial ocean), acting as messenger of Surya, the sun-god; 
making his abode in heaven, he moves onward, beholding the uni- 
verse. He is praised as the best of charioteers or air-pilots, and 
drives with a pair of goats, presumably because the goat is a bold 

46 The Prehistory of Aviation 

climber and appears fittest to clamber the dizzy heights of heaven. 
The sun likewise appears as a boat in which Varuna, the god of the en- 
compassing sky, navigates the aerial sea. This primitive conception 
naturally arose from the experience of seeing the sun set in the ocean, 
and being animated with a personality, he required a ship to guide 
him out of the sea toward his path along the sky. On the one hand, 
therefore, the sun functions as a charioteer, and is symbolized by the 
horse and the wheel; on the other hand, as a boat and boatman: 
Hence, in India, the idea of an airship developed from that of a solar 
ship. Similar notions occur among other peoples. Re, the Egyptian 
sun god, is the owner of two barks, changing from one to another in 
the morning and evening. 

Greek philosophers style the sun "boat-shaped," and Helios rides 
in a golden boat from sunset to sunrise. In songs of the Letts the 
setting sun must be rescued and taken in a boat to save his life; or 
the sun sadly bewails the sinking of the golden ship into the sea, and 
is consoled by the wish that God might build a new one. 

In one of the Jatakas (No. 159) or stories of the Buddha's former 
births, a king of Benares owns a jewelled car in which he used to race 
through mid-air. Gunavarman (A.D. 367-431), a Buddhist monk 
from India, sailed from Ceylon to Java, where he was to convert one 
of the kings to Buddhism. A day prior to his landing in Java, the 
king's mother had a dream to the effect that a religious friar had 
embarked on a flying ship and would enter the kingdom ; on the fol- 
lowing morning Gunavarman indeed arrived in person. In the pre- 
lude to the fifth act of Bhavabhuti's drama Malatimadhava, a sor- 
cerer's maid appears in "a chariot traversing the air." 

In post-Vedic literature, the vehicle of the god Vishnu is Garuda, 
the chief and lord of birds, a celestial bird, — originally a solar bird. 
This purely mythological conception proved very fertile in stimu- 
lating imagination and, according to Indian stories, led to construc- 
tions of airships and attempts at flying. 

The Panchatantra (I, 5), the most popular collection of Indian 
folk-lore, contains the story of the Weaver as Vishnu. A weaver 
became infatuated with the king's daughter; and his friend, a car- 
penter, made for him a wooden airship in the shape of a Garuda, the 
mythical bird and vehicle of the god Vishnu, which was set in motion 
by means of a switch or spring. Equipped with all paraphernalia of 
the god, the weaver mounted the machine; and when the carpenter 
had explained to him how to manipulate the switch, he hopped off 

The Dawn of Airships in Ancient India 47 

and dropped in on the seventh story of the palace, where the princess 
had her apartment. Seeing him astride the Garuda in the splendor of 
Vishnu's regalia, she took him for the creator of the three worlds, 
and he married her instantly according to the rites of the Gandharva 
marriage (i. e. by mutual consent, without ceremony), and then con- 
tinued his relations with the princess for some time until her guards 
suspected her and made a report to the king. He questioned her, but 
her explanation that she is the consort of a god gratified his vanity. 
Believing himself in alliance with Vishnu who would grant him the 
rule over the world, the king became overbearing toward his neigh- 
boring kings, who consequently made war on him. Through his 
daughter he implored the pseudo- Vishnu to come to his rescue. This 
one, in despair, appeared in the air above the battle-field, armed with 
bow and arrow and ready to die; but Vishnu himself, fearing that 
if the weaver disguised as Vishnu were killed his own authority among 
men might suffer, entered into the weaver's body and scattered the 
king's enemies. After the victory was obtained, the weaver descended 
from the sky; and recognized by the king, his ministers and the 
people, told the whole story, whereupon the king highly honored him, 
solemnly married him to his daughter, and rewarded him with a large 
estate. The most interesting point of this story is that the bird-plane 
is utilized for military purposes to defeat and rout an army. When we 
read that Abhayakara, a saint of the ninth century from Bengal, 
assumed the form of a Garuda to disperse an army of Turushkas 
(Turks), we must understand that he was mounted on a Garuda- 
plane which functioned as a war-plane. 

A dirigible airship is described in the celebrated old collection of 
Indian stories known as "The Twenty-five Tales of a Vetala," which 
is as well known in India as the Panchatantra and which was trans- 
lated into Tibetan and Mongol ; it is usually quoted under its Mongol 
title Siddhi Kiir. The heroes of this tale are six young men, — the son 
of a rich man, a physician's son, a painter's son, a mathematician's 
son, a carpenter's son, and the son of a smith, who leave home in 
quest of adventure in a foreign land. The first of them won the hand 
of a beautiful woman of divine origin, but she was soon kidnapped 
by a powerful king who took her into his harem. The six youths 
conspired to rescue the stolen wife from her captivity, and the car- 
penter's son hit upon the scheme to construct a wooden bird, called 
Garuda, whose interior was equipped with an elaborate apparatus 
which allowed the machine to fly in various directions and to change 
its course at will: it was provided with three springs. When the 

48 The Prehistory of Aviation 

spring in front was touched, the aeroplane flew upward; when the 
springs on the sides were tipped, it floated evenly along; when the 
spring beneath was pressed, it made its descent. The painter's son 
decorated the Garuda in various colors, so that it could not be dis- 
tinguished from a real bird. The rich youth boarded the machine, 
pressed the spring, and crossed the air in the direction of the king's 
palace, where he soared above the roof. The king and his people 
were amazed, for they had never before seen such a gigantic bird. 
The king bade his consort to ascend the palace and offer food to the 
strange visitor. So she did, and the bird descended. The aviator 
opened the door of the machine, made himself known, seated his 
former wife inside, and hopped off with her, navigating his way back 
to his companions — in the same manner as we have all seen it in the 
movies with modern airships. 

In the Sanskrit version of the same story, as embodied in Soma- 
deva's Katha Sarit Sagara ("Ocean of Streams of Stories"), an ex- 
cellent Brahman, Harisvamin, has a beautiful daughter who wants 
to marry only a man possessed of heroism and knowledge, or magic 
power. The first suitor, thus informed, professed to command magic 
power. At the father's request to demonstrate it, he immediately 
constructed by his skill a chariot that would fly through the air, and 
in a moment he took Harisvamin up in that magic chariot and showed 
him heaven and all the world, and he brought him back delighted to 
the camp of the king of the Deccan to whom he had been sent as an 
ambassador to negotiate a treaty. Then Harisvamin promised his 
daughter to that man possessed of supernatural power. His son pro- 
mised her to a man skilful in the use of missiles and hand-to-hand 
weapons, and his wife promised her to a man who professed to have 
supernatural knowledge. When the three bridegrooms appeared on 
the wedding day in Harisvamin's house, it happened that the in- 
tended bride had disappeared in some inexplicable manner. The 
possessor of knowledge soon found out that an ogre (Rakshasa) had 
carried her off to his habitation in the Vindhya forest. The possessor 
of magic power prepared, as previously, a chariot that would fly 
through the air, provided with all kinds of weapons. Harisvamin, 
the man of knowledge, and the brave man jumped into the airship 
with him. In a moment they were carried to the Rakshasa's dwelling- 
place. The giant was duly slain by the brave man, the Brahman's 
daughter was released, and they all returned home in the flying chariot. 

A fundamental document referring to airships is found in Bu- 
dhasvamin's Brihat Katha, Clokasamgraha (edited and translated into 

The Dawn of Airships in Ancient India 49 

French by F. Lacote, 1908), a collection of stories written during the 
eleventh century. Vasavadatta desired to mount an aerial chariot 
and thus to visit the entire earth. Vasantaka, the master of games, 
exclaimed laughingly, "The wives of the king's servants had just the 
same craving. I said to all, 'Suspend a swing with long poles, mount 
it, and you will ascend into the air. Your husbands do not know of 
any other way of satisfying your desire.' If she had a notion to travel 
through the air, she must be content with the same medium." All 
burst out laughing. "Stop joking, and come to the point," Rumanvat 
said. "What good is it to dream thereof?" Yaugandharayana 
spoke, "This is exclusively an affair of artisans." Rumanvat sum- 
moned the carpenters and enjoined them to make without delay a 
machine capable of traversing the air. After a long deliberation 
these said frightened and stammering, "We know only four kinds of 
machines, but as regards flying-machines, they are known only to 
the Yavanas (the Greeks), but we never had occasion to see them." 

Farther on, in the same story, Vicvila mounts a mechanical 
cock and makes a trip through the air. At his return he speaks to the 
king's ambassadors thus: "It is not proper to reveal to any one, arti- 
san or any other person, the secret of the aerial machines, which is 
difficult to obtain for whoever is not a Yavana (a Greek). It is the 
same matter as the secret of the manufacture of beds; if it leaks out, 
it would become common property, and the public would treat it 
with disdain, for fashion is the creation of the moment. To bring 
this respectable art into disfavor is a grave sin, so let us drop this 
matter." A month later Pukvasaka, a clever carpenter and crafts- 
man, said to Vicvila, who was his son-in-law, "The king took me 
aside to-day and told me with a gentle smile that I must reveal to 
him this science of aerial machines. I replied that I did not reveal it to 
you, but that it was Greek artisans with whom you had curried favor. 
The king waxed angry and threatened my life. Save my life and my 
sons, therefore, by revealing to the king the secret of these machines, 
since it is his desire!" Vicvila consented, but during the night awa- 
kened his sleeping wife, Ratnavali, and said, "I have to inform you 
that I am returning to my country. Your father employs intrigues 
to banish me from this place: he wants to wrest from me the secret 
of the flying-machines which it is our duty to keep concealed, as a 
miser guards his treasure. But enough, it is my life or your father 
who is dear to you. In order to guard my secret, I shall go so far as to 
forsake you!" He and his wife mounted the machine in the form of a 
cock, and during the night made an ascent and escaped into the 

50 The Prehistory of Aviation 

country whence he had come.... The commander-in-chief assembled 
all the artisans, gave them a flogging, and ordered them to construct 
a flying-machine. Meanwhile a stranger appeared and said, "I shall 
construct the machine for you; do not flog the artisans! Give me 
immediately the necessary appliances." These were at once furnished 
by Rumanvat. One of the artisans said to the stranger, "Ask the 
commander-in-chief for the number of passengers. Because they 
did not know how many passengers they could transport, kings saw 
their chariot sink, and more than one artisan, it is said, has therefore 
suffered their wrath." The other responded, "These must have been 
wretched village artisans! But it is of no avail to waste so many 
words. Wait a moment!" In the nick of time he produced a flying 
chariot in the form of a Garuda, adorned with Mandara flowers, and 
said to the king, "Oh king, Vishnu of the kings, mount the Garuda 
and traverse the earth formerly traversed by Vishnu!" "Madam," 
the king said to the queen, "what do you tarry now? Mount this 
chariot and depart in accordance with your wish!" "My consort," 
she responded, "without you I do not even go into the garden; with- 
out you, how could I support myself in the vacuum of the celestial 
space?" The king reported these words to the craftsman, who ex- 
claimed, "But this chariot can carry the entire city!" Thereupon the 
king took his seat in the chariot together with the personnel of the 
harem, his wives, his officials, and a section of each urban corporation. 
They gained the pure spaces of the firmament, and finally took the 
route of the winds. The chariot circumambulated the earth girt by 
the ocean, and then was directed toward the city of the Avantis, 
where the festival of the offering of the water was held. The machine 
was stopped, so that the king might enjoy the spectacle. After a 
brief stay the king departed for Kaugambi under the eyes of the 
multitude which admired the chariot, and acquitted himself of his 
obligations toward the immortals, the priests, the sacred fires, his 
parents, his servants and burghers. Then he commanded to do 
honors to the craftsman. 

In a Sanskrit romance, the Harshacharita ("Deeds of King Har- 
sha"), written by Bana in the seventh century, mention is made of a 
king, Kakavarna. Being desirous of marvels, he was carried away, 
no one knows whither, on an artificial aerial car made by a Yavana 
(Greek) who had been taken prisoner. The term used in this passage 
means literally, "a mechanical vehicle (yantrayana) which travels on 
the surface of the air;" that is, an airship. 

The Dawn of Airships in Ancient India 51 

From the preceding texts it follows that the Indians profess to 
have had two distinct types of flying-machines, — the Garuda airship 
of native manufacture constructed on the principle of bird-flight, and 
the Yavana airship ascribed to the Yavanas or Greeks, the manu- 
facture of which was scrupulously guarded as a secret. 

The first question to be raised is, Did the ancient Indians really 
navigate the air? Are their dirigibles realities or fiction, merely the 
upshot of a poetic imagination? To my way of thinking this point is 
irrelevant. The main point is: they had the idea; and their ideas 
about aeronautics were not worse or more defective than those enter- 
tained in Europe from the sixteenth to the first part of the nineteenth 

The Indians saw two points clearly — that aircraft must operate 
on the principle of the flight of birds and that a mechanism is required 
to start the machine, to keep it in mid-air, and to make a descent. 
Whether they actually flew or not, whether they succeeded or failed, 
the stories cited (and another will be given below) are sufficient evi- 
dence of the fact that they devoted considerable thought to problems 
of the air and aeronautics and that as a sequel of a highly developed 
mechanical science efforts were made to construct aircraft of various 

The second query that we may revolve in our mind is, Did the 
Greeks, as asserted by the Indians, really supply them with flying- 
machines? A direct response to this inquiry is not forthcoming from 
the Greek camp. The Greek mechanicians, in the ingenuity of their 
inventions perhaps the greatest of all times, are silent as to aircraft. 
Perhaps the information is lost; for myself I see nothing impossible 
in the assumption that the Greeks of the Alexandrian epoch should 
have made successful experiments in mechanical flights. 

Greek mechanics and artisans enjoyed a high reputation in India, 
and marvellous inventions were ascribed to them. The Indians have 
numerous stories of wonderful automata set in motion by intricate 
machinery; for instance, movable figures of beautiful women who 
may even assume life, tempt men and cause a quarrel among them, 
wooden figures of men able to strut, sing and dance, artificial ele- 
phants moving by means of a mechanical apparatus, or artificial 
fishes which appear to swim under a floor of rock-crystal looking 
like water. It is noteworthy, again, that in some tales such mechani- 
cal marvels are attributed to the Greeks; thus, a painter from central 
India once travelled on business to the land of the Greeks (Yavana), 
and took up his abode in the house of a mechanician who made an arti- 

52 The Prehistory of Aviation 

ficial maiden to wait upon the painter. She washed his feet and then 
stood still; he called to her to draw near, but she .made no reply. He 
seized her by the hand, and when he tried to embrace her, the figure 
collapsed and turned into a heap of chips. In another tale, an Indian 
carver in ivory travels to the land of the Greeks and settles in the 
house of a Greek painter. The great mechanicians of Alexandria 
were very proficient in the construction of mechanical toys and 
figures, and we still have Heron's work on the Automatic Theatre 
(Automatopoietika), written in the second century before our era. 
Heron was the founder of a school, surveyor, mechanician, and the 
greatest physicist of ancient times. 

Maybe, because so many wonders of technique were created by 
the Greeks, the poets of India reasoned that aircraft also must have 
been due to their genius. We do not know, but what we do know at 
present is that in the records of ancient Indian lore are distinguished 
two types of flying apparatus — the native Garuda airship and the im- 
ported Yavana airship. Here remains a fascinating problem which 
more abundant documentary material that may come to light in 
the future will help us solve. 

As regards winged flight, only one example is known to me from 
Indian literature. The Katha Sarit Sagara ("Ocean of Streams of 
Stories") contains the following good tale: "Once upon a time there 
was a young Brahman who one day beheld a prince of the Siddhas 
flying through the air. Wishing to rival him, he fastened to his sides 
wings of grass, and continually leaping up, he tried to learn the art 
of flying in the air. As he continued to make this useless attempt 
every day, he was at last seen by the prince while he was roaming 
through the air. The prince thought, 'I ought to take pity on this 
boy who shows spirit in struggling earnestly to attain an impossible 
object, for it is my duty to patronize such.' Thereupon, being pleased, 
he took the Brahman boy, by his magic power, upon his shoulder, and 
made him one of his followers." In Indian art, particularly in the 
sculpture of the Buddhists, winged beings in the act of flying are 
frequently represented, and such types like the Apsarases and Kin- 
naras have also been adopted by the Chinese. Plate X illustrates 
a fine Chinese marble sculpture from the Blackstone Chinese Col- 
lection of the Museum: two Apsarases or heavenly nymphs are flying 
down from Indra's celestial abode to guard the Buddha Amitabha. 

I shall not dwell at length on the alleged power of flightacquired 
by magical practices or witchcraft, first taught in the Yoga system 

The Dawn of Airships in Ancient India 53 

and from it transplanted into Buddhism. Among the marvellous 
abilities promised as a reward of Yoga practice there were under- 
standing of the speech of animals, assuming any shapes, resuscitating 
the dead, descent into the inferno, fast locomotion, penetrating every- 
where as air does, being poised cross-legged in the air, and traversing 
the air. What has been observed of "flying" among the modern 
Yogins proved to be walking or hopping close to the surface of the 
ground without seemingly touching it. A few examples from Bud- 
dhist literature may suffice. 

In a Buddhistic story entitled The Magician's Pupil (Schiefner- 
Ralston, Tibetan Tales, p. 288) a man of the Chandala caste (the 
lowest and most despised Pariah class) is versed in spells and magic 
lore, and obtains by means of spells from the Gandhamadana moun- 
tain fruits and flowers as are not in season, and these he presents to 
the king. A Brahman youth becomes his pupil, and when taught the 
art of magic, immediately makes a trial of his art on the spot and 
soars into the sky, reaching the fabulous mountain where he plucks 
fruits and flowers. 

In one of the Jatakas (No. 186) is mentioned a gem endowed with 
magic power and capable of raising into the air whoever holds it in 
his mouth. By his own miraculous power the Buddha is able to rise 
in the air, to be poised in mid-air, and to travel through the air 
wherever it pleases him. 

What is more interesting are two charming motifs of folk-lore 
presented by India to the world — the magic boots and the enchanted 

The Katha Sarit Sagara contains the following tale (in the trans- 
lation of C. H. Tawney): — 

"King Putraka, faithful to his promise, entered the impassable 
wilds of the Vindhya, disgusted with his relations. As he wandered 
about, he saw two heroes engaged heart and soul in a wrestling 
match, and he asked them who they were. They replied, 'We are the 
two sons of the Asura Maya, and his wealth belongs to us, — this 
vessel, this stick, and these shoes; it is for these that we are fighting 
and whichever of us proves the mightier is to take them/ When he 
heard this speech of theirs, Putraka said with a smile, 'That is a fine 
inheritance for a man!' Then they said, 'By putting on these shoes 
one gains the power of flying through the air; whatever is written 
with this staff turns out true; and whatever food a man wishes to 
have in the vessel is found there immediately.' When he heard this, 
Putraka said, 'What is the use of fighting? Make this agreement, 

54 The Prehistory of Aviation 

that whoever proves the best man in running shall possess this 
wealth.' Those simpletons said, 'Agreed,' and set off to run, while 
the prince put on the shoes and flew up in the air, taking with him 
the staff and the vessel. Then he went a great distance in a short 
time and saw beneath him a beautiful city named Akarshika and 
descended into it from the sky. Subsequently the king fell in love 
withthe daughter of a king, and one night flew up through the air to 
the window of her room by the aid of his magic shoes. Later on he 
eloped with her by taking her in his arms and flying away through 
the air, finally descending from heaven near the banks of the Ganges." 

This story is also extant in a Chinese translation (S. Julien, Ava- 
danas, No. 34, and E. Chavannes, Cinq cent contes, Vol. II, p. 185), 
and has likewise migrated to Europe (Grimm, Marchen, No. 92, 
where the three wondrous objects are almost identical). 

The legends of later Buddhist saints, as related in Tibetan records, 
frequently mention a "swift-foot apparatus" for rapid locomotion. 
In one case we are informed that such boots were made of the leaves 
of trees, the underlying idea apparently being that they should be as 
light in weight as possible. The owner of this footgear was the saint 
Vararuchi who had obtained it by virtue of magic spells; whenever 
he donned it, he was able to penetrate into the abodes of gods and 
serpent-demons (Nagas) and to abstract many treasures with which 
he delighted the hearts of the poor. Once he had a quarrel with the 
king who suspected him of using evil spells against his life and who 
sent a messenger to do away with him. Vararuchi put on his magic 
boots and fled to the city Ujjayini. The king employed a woman 
to trick him out of his boots, and when unable to flee, he was over- 
powered by the royal henchman. 

The thousand-league boots are well known to European folk-lore; 
they belong, for instance, to the equipment of the ogre in the tale of 
Petit Poucet. 

In a Swedish story entitled "The Beautiful Palace East of the 
Sun and North of the Earth" a youth acquires boots by means of 
which he can travel a hundred miles at every step, and a cloak that 
renders him invisible in a very similar way. 

A recipe for making magic boots is thus given in an Icelandic 
story: "A giant told a woman that Hermodr was in a certain desert 
island which he named to her; but could not get her thither unless 
she flayed the soles of her feet and made shoes for herself out of the 
skin; and these shoes, when made, would be of such a nature that they 
would take her through the air, or over the water, as she liked." 

The Dawn of Airships in Ancient India 55 

The enchanted horse of later Indian folk-lore is doubtless evolved 
from the solar horse of early Vedic mythology. From India this 
motif spread westward and was adopted into the Arabian Nights 
and many other collections of stories. In the Nights the flying horse, 
made of ebony, can perform in a single day a journey which under 
normal conditions would take a year; for the purpose of making the 
horse descend it is necessary to rub the switch on its left shoulder. 

In an Armenian story of Persian origin, entitled "Solomon's 
Garden and Its Mysteries," Giil, a servant of Solomon, possesses two 
wonderful steeds, — the horse of the wind and the horse of the clouds, 
which Solomon had bequeathed to him. The cloud-horse was not 
so fleet, but always followed in the track of the wind-horse. 

In a collection of Jaina stories (Samyaktvakaumudi) it is narrated 
that Samudradatta was a groom in the service of a horse-dealer and 
received from him in compensation two horses which he was allowed 
to choose himself. He won the love of his master's daughter at whose 
advice he picked two ill-shaped horses: one of these was capable of 
running through the air, the other was able to go through water. 
On the air horse he returned home together with his wife. 

In Jataka No 196 the Bodhisatva comes into the world as a 
flying horse, white all over and with a beak like that of a crow, pos- 
sessed of supernatural power, able to fly through the air. From the 
Himalaya he made a non-stop flight to Ceylon. There he passed over 
the ponds and tanks of the island and lived on wild-growing rice. 
Then he took back a number of ship-wrecked traders who had fallen 
into the hands of flesh-devouring ogres, — some climbing up on his 
back, some laying hold of his tail, — and conveyed all of them to 
their own country, and set down each in his own place. 

The collection of stories known as "The Thirty-two Tales of the 
Lion-throne" or "Tales of King Vikramaditya" contains the account 
of an air-journey on an enchanted horse (No. 8), treated very much 
like the Garuda airships aforementioned, and is remarkable for the 
vividness of impressions received by the traveller in the air. 

A carpenter once appeared before a king, leading a wooden horse 
richly caparisoned and in every respect looking like a live animal. 
The king did not think much of it, except that it was a clever model 
of a horse as any workman could accomplish, when the carpenter 
called his majesty's attention to the mechanical apparatus in the 
interior, which would allow him to reach any place he wished in a 
few moments. The king, who was interested in every uncommon 
thing and had never before seen a mechanical contrivance of such 

56 The Prehistory of Aviation 

wonderful make, bade the carpenter to mount the horse. In an in- 
stant the man was seated on its back, and before any one had time 
to notice what he did in setting the machine in motion, both horse 
and rider had flown up and vanished. In a quarter of an hour he 
alighted on the ground, guiding his horse to the foot of the throne, 
and dismounted. When the king had seen the amazing speed at 
which the horse could fly through the air, he was seized by the ardent 
desire to possess the magical steed and paid the carpenter a large 
sum for it (two lakhs of rupees; that is, two hundred thousand rupees). 
The following evening the king mounted the hippoplane, and 
turning the starting switch, took to the air and was out of sight in a 
moment. The rapid movement took the king by surprise: he felt 
dizzy and saw nothing around him but blue ether, wishing he had 
never made the ascent. For an hour he continued to rise higher and 
higher till the mountains below could not be distinguished from the 
plains, and in a moment all earthly landmarks passed out of sight. 
Then he thought it was time to descend, and imagined that all he 
had to do was to turn the same switch in the opposite direction, but 
to his horror he found that, turn as he might, he did not at all change 
his course. In his impatience to acquire the horse he had forgotten to 
inquire how to descend to earth. He set about to examine the horse's 
neck, till at last he discovered a tiny switch close to the right ear. 
This he turned and the next moment found himself dropping down 
toward the earth, somewhat more slowly than he had ascended. It 
was dark, and as he was unable to see, he was fain to allow the horse 
to take his own course. It so happened that the machine struck 
against the top of a tree, and the king, bruised and bleeding, fell to 
the ground, but escaped serious injury. He had landed in a dense 
jungle, where he discovered an enchanted princess with whom he 
fell in love. 

It is interesting to note his experiences in the air, as he relates 
them to the princess: "In an instant I was soaring much faster than 
the speed of an arrow, and I felt I was approaching the sky so closely 
that I should soon hit my head against it. I could discern nothing 
beneath me, nothing around me save the invisible air, and for some 
time I was so confused that I did not know in what direction I was 
travelling. At last when it grew dark, I found a second switch near 
the horse's right ear, and on turning it, I began slowly to sink toward 
the earth. I was forced to trust to chance, content to abide by what- 
ever my destiny had in store for me, and it was just midnight when 
finally I found myself landed safely on firm ground. I soon dis- 

The Dawn of Airships in Ancient India 57 

covered that I was in the midst of a forest, and passed the remaining 
hours of the night among the branches of a tree. I thank the tree for 
having afforded me the means of discovering this palace, and still 
more, of discovering you." 

Finally the king escaped with the princess, mounting the magic 
horse and seating the princess on a pillion behind him, and when she 
was firmly seated with her hands holding tightly to his belt, he 
touched the button, and the horse began to ascend heavenward like 
a rocket. They raced through the atmosphere like a flash of lightning, 
and the king, now an experienced air-pilot, guided his horse so skil- 
fully that in a few hours the temples and towers of Ujjain appeared 
beneath the horse's feet. They alighted outside the city gate and 
walked to the royal palace. 


The earliest traditions of the Euphrates Valley carry us back to a 
mythical age in which rulers are pictured as deities or of divine de- 
scent. Among these is the legendary sovereign, Etana, a shepherd, 
who is the hero of various tales of which large fragments, though not 
all, have been recovered. This is not the place for a discussion of the 
entire myth. An eagle has a struggle with a serpent who badly tears 
his wings and feathers, and leaves him in a mountain-pit to die. 
The eagle appeals to Etana to release him from his prison, and as a 
reward promises to fly with Etana to the dwelling of the gods. Etana 
mounts on the back of the eagle, and together they fly upward. 
They reach the heaven of Anu and halt at the gate of the ecliptic. 
At this point there is a gap in the narrative, and when the thread is 
taken up, the eagle urges Etana to continue the journey in order to 
reach the place where Ishtar (the planet Venus) dwells. As in the 
case of the first flight, a distance of three kasbu or six hours is covered. 
Whether at this point the eagle's strength becomes exhausted or 
whether the goddess herself intervenes, the precipitous descent be- 
gins. The eagle drops through the space of three double hours and 
reaches the ground. The close of the story is wanting, but clearly 
the purpose of the flight has failed. 

It seems that there is no other myth relating to a flight preserved 
in cuneiform literature, and G. Hiising is probably right in evaluating 
the Etana myth, together with many others preserved in Babylonian 
records, as non-Babylonian and hailing from the Caucasus region. 
Be this as it may, the Etana myth is Aryan, not Semitic, and may 
also be derived from Iran. 

A Babylonian seal cylinder, which is preserved in the Berlin Mu- 
seum, represents the story of Etana, the flyer. He is shown being 
carried on an eagle's back, soaring between heaven and earth. The 
crescent of the moon is to his left, the sun to his right. A man stand- 
ing on the ground looks up at the strange spectacle in amazement, 
and two dogs bark at the flying pair. On the left side of the seal 
impression appears a flock of sheep in a fold, guarded by a shepherd — 
obviously the herd belonging to Etana. The British Museum owns 
another seal illustrating the same subject: here Etana is seated on the 
eagle, who is bearing his burden aloft in the sight of an admiring and 
upward-gazing dog. See, further, note on p. 91. 


From Babylon and Persia to the Greeks and the Arabs 59 

An ancient Persian tradition is of especial interest, as it was 
transmitted to Europe at an early date and exerted no small influence 
on those occupied with dreams of aviation. This story forms a 
chapter of its own, and its fate will be traced down to recent times. 

In the ancient semi-legendary history of Iran, Kavi Usan (in 
Persian : Kai Kawus) is the second king of the dynasty of the Kaia- 
nians. He was not a wise ruler, but was a rather imperfect character, 
easily led astray by passion. He ascended Mount Alburz, where he 
built seven palaces, one of gold, two of silver, two of steel, and two of 
rock-crystal. He then endeavored to restrain the demons of Mazan- 
daran. One of these evil spirits retaliated by a ruse and sowed in his 
heart the seeds of discontent with his sovereignty on earth, so that he 
set his mind on aiming at the supremacy of the celestial abode. 
Yielding to the temptation of the Evil One, he seated himself on a 
throne which was supported and raised by four eagles, and as an 
incentive to fly up four pieces of flesh were fastened to the top of four 
spears planted on the sides of the throne. In this manner he sought 
to be transported into the empyrean; but the flight was of brief dura- 
tion: the strange vehicle soon came down in a crash, and the grandees 
found the king unconscious in a forest. 

In his great epic poem, the Shahnameh ("Book of Kings"), Fir- 
dausi (935-1025) describes this event as follows (in the translation of 
Warner) : — 

The Shah mused how to roam the air though wingless, 

And often asked the wise, "How far is it 

From earth to moon?" The astrologers replied. 

He chose a futile and perverse device: 

He bade men scale the aeries while the eagles 

Were sleeping, take a number of the young, 

And keep a bird or two in every home. 

He had those eaglets fed a year and more 

With fowl, kabab, and at some whiles with lamb. 

When they were strong as lions and could each 

Bear off a mountain-sheep, he made a throne 

Of aloe from Komor (Khmer) with seats of gold. 

He bound a lengthy spear at every corner, 

Suspended a lamb's leg from every spear-head, 

Brought four strong eagles, tied them to the throne, 

And took his seat, a cup of wine before him. 

The swift-winged eagles, ravenous for food, 

Strove lustily to reach the flesh, and raising 

The throne above earth's surface bore it cloudward. 

Kawus, as I have heard, essayed the sky 

To outsoar angels, but another tale 

Is that he rose in this way to assail 

The heaven itself with his artillery. 

The legend hath its other versions too; 

None but the All-wise wotteth which is true. 

Long flew the eagles, but they stopped at last, 

60 The Prehistory of Aviation 

Like other slaves of greed. They sulked exhausted, 

They dropped their sweating wings and brought the Shah, 

His spears and throne down from the clouds to earth, 

Alighting in a forest near Amul. 

The world preserved him by a miracle, 

But hid its secret purposes therein. 

Instead of sitting on his throne in might 

His business then was penitence and travail. 

He tarried in the wood in shame and grief, 

Imploring from Almighty God relief. 

An illustrated Persian manuscript of the Shahnameh, dated 1587- 
88, which is preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New 
York, vividly depicts this aerial flight (Plate XI). The ambitious 
Shah clad in a pink robe, with feathered turban, is seated on a green 
mat spread on the bottom of a yellow hexagonal couch, holding a 
bow in his left hand and an arrow in his right, a fully laden quiver 
resting in front of him. He is ready for an attack from the air at any 
price against any enemy who might dare oppose his will. Four black 
eagles, on the wing, are harnessed to the sides of the throne, eagerly 
looking up and striving toward the flesh tied to four spears with 
fluttering red flags. The flyers are soaring in yellow and black clouds 
set off from the blue ether, leaving beneath them the highest moun- 
tain top from which a goat and another animal gaze at them in 

This Iranian motif of an aerial conveyance lifted by starved 
eagles, like many other Oriental motifs, was adopted by the Greek 
Romance of Alexander the Great, which during the middle ages was 
translated into most European languages and thus became widely 
known. I quote from Dunlop's classical book "History of Fiction." 
Having reached the extremity of the world, having received homage 
from all nations who inhabit its surface, and being assured that there 
remained nothing more to conquer, Alexander formed the inconsid- 
erate project of becoming sovereign of the air and deep. By the 
conjurations of the eastern professors of magic, whom ne consulted, 
he was furnished with a glass cage of enormous dimensions, yoked 
with eight griffins well matched. Having seated himself in this con- 
veyance, he posted through the empire of the air, accompanied by 
magicians, who understood the language of birds, and asked of the 
most intelligent natives the proper questions concerning their laws, 
manners, and customs, while Alexander received their voluntary sub- 
missions. So far Dunlop. The common version of the story is that 
the birds of prey were first starved for three days and then put to a 
carriage, while a horse-liver was stuck on a spit in front of them. 
Greedy for the flesh, the birds drew the vehicle and in it Alexander up 

From Babylon and Persia to the Greeks and the Arabs 61 

into the air until a bird with human face met him and bade him return 
to earth. Dunlop has justly remarked, "This aerial journey, like 
most of the fictions concerning Alexander, is of eastern origin. An 
old Arabian writer, in a book called Malem, informs us that Nimrod 
being frustrated in his attempt to build the tower of Babel, insisted 
on being carried through the air in a cage borne by four monstrous 
birds." Mediaeval miniatures illustrating this air voyage show Alex- 
ander with full regalia seated in a palanquin impelled by sixteen 

Francis Godwin (1562-1633), bishop of Hereford, wrote a ro- 
mance entitled " The Man in the Moone, or a Discourse of a Voyage 
Thither by Domingo Gonsales the Speedy Messenger," first pub- 
lished in 1638 after his death. In this story Gonsales, on account of 
sickness during a voyage, is abandoned on the then uninhabited 
island St. Helena, and passes his time by training a number of wild 
swans to obey his call and gradually to carry small burdens while 
flying. He conceived the idea of harnessing several birds together 
and devised a mechanism whereby the difficulty of distributing the 
weight equally at the start of the flight might be overcome. With 
a team of seven birds Gonsales experimented on a lamb, and by in- 
creasing their number to about twenty-five, he was himself carried 
aloft to his great satisfaction. "For I hold it far more honor," he 
says, "to have been the first flying man than to be another Neptune 
that first adventured to sail upon the sea." On his return to Spain 
Gonsales was saved from shipwreck by his birds, who subsequently 
flew with him to the moon — a journey which lasted eleven days. He 
finally learned that the birds he had trained were not really denizens 
of St. Helena, but of the moon. "The Man in the Moone" had a 
considerable influence on literature. Swift is said to have derived 
from it the idea of the flying island in Gulliver's Travels (1727). 
Several features of Godwin's romance were borrowed by Capt. Sam- 
uel Brunt in his "A Voyage to Cacklogallinia," which recounts ad- 
ventures among a nation of bird-men and a voyage to the moon. 
The frontispiece to this book shows the voyager conveyed through 
the air on a palanquin supported by four large birds — the same con- 
ception as found in the Shahnameh (Plate XII). 

Hodgson adds the following interesting comment to Godwin's 
romance: "Godwin's name is now seldom remembered save by 
scholars . . , but his name deserves to be kept in remembrance in 
aeronautical history. For though flight had been an aspiration and 
an object of achievement long before Godwin's time, the idea that 

62 The Prehistory of Aviation 

'the first flying man' would be greatly deserving of honor, finds its 
earliest expression in the sentiments above quoted. Moreover, that 
ingenious pioneer of flight, Domingo Gonsales, though an imaginary 
creation, is inspired with an admirable spirit of enthusiasm for aerial 
adventure of a kind that has since inspired a countless succession 
of real pioneers in aeronautical endeavor. To suggest that Godwin's 
book created that spirit would be to press the point unduly — the 
motif of a first success has ever been a strong one, and one which 
usually predicates the impulse of enthusiasm." 

In April, 1786 M. Uncles announced that he was constructing a 
balloon to be drawn by "four harnessed eagles, perfectly tame, and 
capable of flying in every direction at their master's will." In May he 
disclosed that nothing prevented an ascent save the unsettled 
weather, the birds being "well-practiced." The trial was deferred, 
however, until August when the eagles were ready on the ground at 
Ranelagh, the inflation proved a fiasco, and the balloon did not 
rise from even the ground. 

In July, 1835 Thomas Simmons Mackintosh proposed a scheme 
by which balloons may be conducted in moderate weather with safety 
by having a sufficient number of larger birds, such as hawks — eagles 
would do better if they could be tamed, but perhaps strong pigeons 
would do very well, — and let them be harnessed to the balloon to draw 
it along. In a "sketch of an aerial ship" Mackintosh shows his bal- 
loon formed like the hull of a ship with an additional frame-work 
keel on either side of which are "harnessed" eight eagles, immediately 
controlled or "driven" by the aeronauts seated in a small car between 
the two keels. A colored reproduction of this airship is contained in 
Hodgson's book (Fig. 113). 

J. Kaiserer published in 1801 at Vienna a pamphlet on his inven- 
tion to direct an air balloon through eagles ("Ueber meine Erfindung 
einen Luftballon durch Adler zu regieren"). A plate depicts the 
inventor in his balloon driving (as it were) a pair of harnessed eagles. 
The same idea was revived in France in 1845, and as it has been 
demonstrated, this idea has its root in an ancient Persian tradition 
transmitted to Europe through the medium of the Romance of Alex- 
ander the Great. 

Daedalus ("Cunning Worker") was an ingenious craftsman of an 
inventive turn of mind; he is the representative of the mechanical 
arts of the later Minoan age. While in the service of Minus, king of 
Crete, he built the labyrinth for the confinement of the Minotaur, but 

From Babylon and Persia to the Greeks and the Arabs 63 

incurred the king's wrath; and to escape imprisonment, he fashioned 
a pair of artificial wings coated with wax for himself and his son 
Icarus. Thus they fled and flew westward across the sea. The father 
enjoined his son not to fly too low lest the wings dip in the brine and 
the wax which held them together be softened, nor too high, lest the 
heat of the sun melt the wax. Icarus disregarded the paternal ad- 
monition, came too near the sun in his lofty flight, the wax which 
fastened the wings to his shoulders melted, and he fell headlong into 
the sea which is still named for him the Icarian Sea. The more cau- 
tious Daedalus landed safely on Sicily. Of all flying stories of classical 
antiquity it is this one which has left a lasting impression on future 
generations and fired the ambition of many imitators; and it is on 
this point, its moral effect, that the importance of the story rests. 
Daedalus was an historical personage, a many-sided artisan who 
surely made some attempts to fly. Like many others of his type he 
was not understood or even was misunderstood by his contem- 
poraries, and his story has been handed down in the form of poetic 
romance and exaggerated legend. 

And what, after all, is the difference whether the Daedalus story 
is true or not? It is not the gray, cold, naked objective truth that 
counts in the history of mankind and will advance the cause of civili- 
zation, but it is the flight of human imagination, the impulses and 
visions of a genius, very often his errors and miscalculations, which 
have stimulated inventions and progress. Ever since Daedalus' al- 
leged or real flight men in Europe have tried and died until finally 
success was insured. 

Daedalus' adventure finds an echo in the Germanic saga of Way- 
land the Smith (Anglo-Saxon Weland, Old Scandinavian Volundr), 
the artificer of marvelous weapons extolled in Icelandic, English, 
French, and German poetry. King Nidung endeavored to keep him 
in his service by cutting the sinews of his feet and thus laming him 
forever. Wayland forged a feather robe and, flying up to the highest 
tower of the royal castle, revealed his purpose to the king, and flew 
off to his home on Seeland. Wayland is represented on an Anglo- 
Saxon box of walrus bone of the eighth century, covered with Runic 
inscriptions; in this carving, his brother, Egil, is engaged in capturing 
birds from whose skins the clever smith will prepare his feather- 

To mention all the winged gods of Greece and their flights through 
space would mean to pass in review a substantial portion of Greek 
mythology which is a subject of common knowledge. Suffice it to 

64 The Prehistory of Aviation 

refer to Hermes or Mercury, the messenger and herald of the gods, 
of supernatural swiftness, often represented with winged shoes and 
cap; and to Perseus, who received from the nymphs a pair of winged 
sandals, a pouch, and the cap of Hades which rendered the wearer 

On the Greek stage theatrical machines (meckane, geranos) were 
used to convey the illusion of persons descending from the air or being 
lifted upward ; for instance, in Aeschylus' Fettered Prometheus, where 
the choir descends on a winged chariot and where the god Okeanos 
arrives on a fantastic conveyance. 

Archytas was a Greek who lived at Tarentum in southern Italy 
(about 428-347 B.C.). He was a philosopher of the Pythagorean 
school, mathematician, statesman, and general. Numerous fragments 
and titles of works are ascribed to him, but the authenticity of some 
is doubted. He attained great skill as a practical mechanician, and 
his flying dove of wood was one of the wonders of antiquity. He lost 
his life drowning on a voyage in the Adriatic. What his flying dove 
was is not clear from the few succinct and unsatisfactory accounts we 
have. It is described as having consisted of a wooden figure balanced 
by a weight that was suspended from a pulley; it is said to have 
soared in the air and to have been set in motion by a current of air 
"hidden and enclosed" in its interior, or by compressed air escaping 
from a valve. Some scholars incline to the opinion that it was an 
anticipation of the hot-air balloon; others think that it was an aero- 
stat or glider, as it is said it could fly, but not rise again after falling. 
It may also have been on the order of Lu Pan's wooden kite (p. 23), 
but assuredly it was not a paper kite, as sometimes assumed. 

Reference has been made to the Indian traditions of Greek air- 
ships (p. 51), but thus far no confirmation of such flying-machines has 
been found in Greek sources. 

It will not be amiss to cast a glance at the writings of Lucian, that 
delightful satirist and divine liar of the second century of our era, as 
his imageries of air voyages have inspired such eminent authors as 
Rabelais, Cyrano de Bergerac, and Swift. In his "Icaromenippus or 
the Journey above the Clouds" Lucian introduces the flyer Menippus 
as a persiflage of Daedalus, who goes one better than his predecessor 
by refraining from the use of wax. He took an eagle and a vulture of 
the largest kind, clipped their wings off together -vith the shoulders, 
and fastened to himself the eagle's right wing and the vulture's left 
wing by means of strong leather straps, to the ends of which two 
handles were attached as a grip for his hands. Thus he essayed to 

From Babylon and Persia to the Greeks and the Arabs 65 

fly, first timidly, leaping with a movement of his hands and, as geese 
do, keeping close to the ground on tiptoe and flapping his wings. 
Seeing that he succeeded, he attempted a bolder stunt, ascended the 
citadel, plunged downward, and flew to the theatre without a mishap. 
After several minor trials and exercises he scaled the Olympus, and 
carrying a supply of victuals as light as possible, started his flight 
skyward, crossed the clouds, and reached the moon. 

In another work known as The True History, Lucian relates how, 
prompted by curiosity, he sailed from the pillars of Hercules and 
launched into the western ocean. A whirlwind carried him with his 
mariners toward a resplendent island which turned out to be the 
moon. There they were met by a curious class of creatures who styled 
themselves Hippogypes ("Horse-vultures"), — men riding on huge 
vultures which they rode like horses. These vultures were of enor- 
mous size, almost all of them provided with three heads; each of their 
feathers was longer and thicker than the mast of a large transport- 
vessel. The Hippogypes had the duty of encircling the island and 
conducting any stranger they encountered to the court of the king. 
This was Endymion, king of the moon, who at that time was engaged 
in a war with Phaeton, king of the sun. Lucian and his crew were 
graciously received by his lunar majesty, who requested their cooper- 
ation in the ensuing campaign, and as an inducement offered to 
furnish each with one of his royal vultures and the equipment per- 
taining to it. 

The importance of Lucian's work rests on the fact that it gave the 
impetus in France to a class of fiction known as "voyages imaginaires" 
in which are recounted imaginary excursions to the planets or moon, 
like Cyrano de Bergerac's adventurous journey to the lunar world. 
Following Godwin's example (p. 61), Cyrano deBergerac (1620-55) 
wrote the "Histoire comique de la lune et du soleil," relating aerial 
journeys to the lunar and solar worlds, wherein flight is achieved by 
such chimerical contrivances as the ascensive power of the dew when 
contained in glass balls and subjected to the sun's rays (an idea pro- 
bably borrowed from Francesco Lana, see p. 21), or the use of a "very 
light machine of iron" drawn upward through the atmosphere by the 
attractive power of the loadstone. 

The Arabs, the heirs of Greek philosophy and science, were clever 
mechanicians, and independently made considerable progress in 
mechanical devices. They were, as Washington Irving characterizes 

66 The Prehistory of Aviation 

them, a quick-witted, sagacious, proud-spirited, and poetical people, 
and were imbued with Oriental science and literature. Wherever they 
established a seat of power, it became the rallying-place for the 
learned and ingenious. 

About the year 875 of our era an Arabic mechanician of Spain, 
Abu'l Qasim Abbas Ibn Firnas, called the Sage of Spain, devised a 
contrivance to make his body rise into the air; he made a pair of 
wings, clothed himself with feathers, and flew quite a distance 
through the air, but, as he had not taken into consideration what 
would happen during his descent, he fell and injured his buttocks. 
He was ignorant of the fact, the Arabic chronicler adds, that a bird 
falls only on his rump, and had forgotten to make a tail for himself. 
This man was the first who manufactured glass in Spain and who 
constructed clepsydras. In his house he made a model of the heavens 
in which he showed the stars, clouds, lightning and thunder. It is 
therefore credible that a man of his mechanical ability was led to 
make attempts at flying. 

The story of a flying architect is handed down by Ibn al-Faqih, an 
Arabic geographer, who lived in the tenth century. He erected in 
Hamadan, Persia, a huge tower for King Shapur I, son of the founder 
of the Sasanian dynasty of Persia. The jealous king decided to leave 
the master-builder on the top of the tower, as he did not want any 
one else to profit by his genius. The architect consented, but asked 
one favor of the king; he was permitted to erect a wooden hut on the 
tower to protect his corpse from the attack of vultures. The king 
granted the request and ordered to supply him with as much timber 
as he needed. Then the architect was abandoned to his fate. He 
took up his tools, made a pair of wings from the wood left with him, 
and fastened them to his body. Driven by the wind he rose into the 
air and landed unscathed at a safe place, where he kept in hiding. 
This tradition exhibits a striking affinity with the Daedalus story. 
The same Arabic author, in describing the scenes represented in the 
chamber of Perwiz near Behistun, mentions the figure of Fattus, a 
celebrated Arabic architect, outfitted with the wings of a bird, — 
presumably an emblem of architecture and sculpture. 

Under the emperor Manuel Comnenus a Saracen tried to show 
his skill in flying before a large audience at Constantinople. An eye- 
witness relates the story as follows: "It was on the occasion of the 
festivities held in honor of a Sultan of the Seljuks, who had come on 
a visit. The Saracen clambered a tower of the hippodrome where the 
horse-races were held, and announced that he would fly across the 

From Babylon and Persia to the Greeks and the Arabs 67 

race-course. There he stood on the tower, clad in a very long and 
wide garment of white color braced with rods of willow-wood laid 
over a frame- work. The cloth was loosely draped over this frame, 
and he intended to fly like a ship with its sail, hoping that the wind 
would catch in the folds of his garment. All eyes were intently fixed 
upon him, and the onlookers, enjoying the spectacle, kept on shout- 
ing, 'Fly, fly!' and 'How long will you put us off, Saracen, and esti- 
mate the wind from the tower?' The emperor sent a messenger over 
to detain him from the adventure. The Sultan, who was among the 
spectators, was filled with fear and hope, and worried about his com- 
patriot. He, however, remained undisturbed, frequently examined 
the wind, and put the audience off. He often raised his arms, used 
them like wings, and lowered them to catch the wind. When the 
wind appeared to him favorable, he soared like a bird and seemed to 
fly in the air." 

Oliver (also Eilmer or Elmer) of Malmesbury, an English astro- 
loger and mechanician, who lived early in the eleventh century, is 
said to have fitted wings to his hands and feet and to have attempted 
to fly off from a tower with the help of the wind. He fell and broke 
his legs, and attributed his failure to the lack of a tail. Milton, in his 
"History of Britain" (1670), thus relates the story of the attempted 
flight: "He in his youth strangely aspiring, had made and fitted wings 
to his hands and feet; with these on the top of a tower, spread out to 
gather air, he flew more than a furlong; but the wind being too high, 
came fluttering down, to the maiming of all his limbs; yet so conceited 
of his art, that he attributed the cause of his fall to the want of a tail, 
as birds have, which he forgot to make to his hinder parts." Hodgson 
regards this story as legendary. Be this as it may, it bears such a strik- 
ing resemblance to the Arabic accounts of flying aforementioned that 
a connection between the two must inevitably be assumed: either 
Oliver made his attempt in imitation of the Arab of whose experiment 
he had heard or read, or the story itself is patterned after the Arabic 

Giovanni Battista Danti, a mathematician of Perugia, is said to 
have attempted about 1490 winged flights over the lake of Trasimeno 
in Umbria. 

A similar adventure is ascribed to John Damian, abbot of Tung- 
land, an Italian by birth, who came to Edinburgh from France in 
1501 and became the favorite of King James IV, residing at the 
Scottish court in the capacity of physician to the king's household. 
In the autumn of 1507 when an embassy had been sent to France, 

68 The Prehistory of Aviation 

Damian averred he could overtake it by flying and to arrive in France 
before the ambassadors. He made from bird-feathers a pair of wings 
which he fastened on to himself, and hopped off from the top of 
Stirling Castle, but shortly fell to the ground and broke his legs. This 
failure he attributed to the fact that some hen feathers were contained 
in his wings and showed a natural affinity to return to the barnyard 
instead of maintaining flight skyward. John Lesley, bishop of Ross, 
who records this story in his "History of Scotland" (1578), winds up 
with the remark that in this adventure Damian was endeavoring to 
outdo King Bladud (p. 14). At any rate Damian was not so wrong 
from the standpoint of his time in laying the blame for his misfortune 
on the chicken feathers. During the middle ages it was a wide-spread 
superstition that one could not sleep well on a feather pillow, nor 
could one easily die on it. Bird-feathers were believed to retain the 
soul, hence the pillow had to be pulled away from under a moribund. 
In Ireland the belief prevailed that when a dying man suffered great 
agony, it was due to the presence of chicken-feathers in his bed, and 
his friends would sometimes lift him up and place him upon the floor 
to relieve him. In Norway it was a rule not to have chicken-feathers 
in one's pillow, for the chickens have a certain feather known as 
"restless feather" on which no one can sleep or die. 

Roger Bacon (1214-94), the Franciscan monk, one of the few 
great scholars of the middle ages, merits a place in the prehistory (I 
say advisedly prehistory, not history) of aviation, as he points to the 
possibility of a flying-machine. In his "Epistola de secretis operibus," 
written about 1250, he affirms in the chapter "Of Admirable Artificial 
Instruments," "Likewise flying-machines con be made in such a way 
that a man is seated in the midst of the machine, revolving some sort 
of device by means of which wings artificially composed may beat 
the air after the fashion of a flying bird." The Latin original is as 
follows: "Item possunt fieri instrumenta volandi, ut homo sedeat in 
medio instrumenti revolvens aliquod ingenium, per quod alae artifi- 
cialiter compositae aerem verberent ad modum avis volantis." Dis- 
cussing other mechanical devices, Bacon continues that "all these 
were made in ancient times and have also been made in our times, as 
it is certain, with the sole exception of the flying-machine which I 
have not seen, nor do I know any one who has seen it, but I know an 
expert who has thought out the way to make one" (Haec autem facta 
sunt antiquitus, et nostris temporibus facta sunt, ut certum est, nisi sit 
instrumentum volandi, quod non vidi, nee hominem qui vidisset cog- 
novi; sed sapientem, qui hoc artificium excogitavit explere, cognosco). 

From Babylon and Persia to the Greeks and the Arabs 69 

Roger Bacon has been greatly overestimated in modern times, 
until Professor Lynn Thorndike in his "History of Magic and Experi- 
mental Science during the First Thirteen Centuries of Our Era" 
(1923) has successfully refuted the exaggerated and distorted estimate 
of his importance and uniqueness and has presented the man and his 
work in a critical and just attitude. In fact Bacon was as supersti- 
tious and credulous as the majority of his contemporaries. In the 
chapter just cited he speaks, for instance, "of machines that can be 
made for walking in the seas and rivers, even to the bottom without 
danger; for Alexander the Great employed such that he might see the 
secrets of the deep." The story of Alexander diving into the sea in a 
sort of submarine is, of course, not historical, but appears only among 
the fictions of the Alexander Romance, which Bacon evidently swal- 
lowed as historical truth. What his real notions of flying were appears 
from the following passage inserted in the midst of his discussion of 
experimental science (characterized by Thorndike as "an instance of 
his gullibility") : "It is certain that Ethiopian sages have come into 
Italy, Spain, France, England, and those Christian lands where there 
are good flying dragons; and by an occult art that they possess, excite 
the dragons, and drive them at top speed through the air, in order to 
soften the rigidity and toughness of their flesh, just as boars, bears, 
and bulls are hunted with dogs and beaten with many blows before 
they are killed for eating. And when they have tamed the dragons 
in this way, they have an art of preparing their flesh. . .which they 
employ against the accidents of age and prolong life and inspire the 
intellect beyond all estimation. For no education which man can give 
will bestow such wisdom as does the eating of their flesh, as we have 
learned without deceit or doubt from men of proven trustworthiness." 
This much the Chinese knew centuries before our era. The preceding 
quotation shows that Bacon's mind was steeped in Oriental lore, and 
there is no doubt that his notions of flying are traceable to this 
source. In particular, the legend of men who tame flying dragons by 
their incantations and magic appears among the thirteenth century 
additions to the famous letter of Prester John in which the marvels of 
India and adjacent territories are recorded, and this must be the 
source of Bacon's version. 

We know that Bacon to some extent was under the influence of 
Arabic science. His mathematical ideas are based on Latin transla- 
tions of Arabic works, particularly through the medium of Witelo, a 
Polish scholar, his contemporary, who studied the writings of Alhazen 
(Ibn al-Haitham, 965-1038) and Avicenna (Ibn Sina, 980-1037). 

70 The Prehistory of Aviation 

It is therefore an exaggeration to say with Hodgson that "the 
first dawn of a rational idea of flight and of a belief in the possibility 
of achieving it is revealed in the writings of Roger Bacon," or with 
Brown that "with prophetic vision he saw the wonders that the future 
might hold." After quoting the above passage with reference to a 
flying-machine, Brown continues, "This single observation can hardly 
justify us in regarding Roger Bacon as a student of aeronautics, and 
the thought behind it was alien to the thought of the time. Neverthe- 
less, it was a portent that the mental attitude of the middle ages 
would not last for ever." On the contrary, the thought was not at all 
novel or alien to his time, but was merely the echo of an ancient idea 
that we have traced in China and India as well as among the Persians 
and Arabs. Bacon is very far from being the herald of a new era and 
opening the historical period of air navigation; his place is at the end 
of the line of its prehistoric age. 

The modern history of aviation begins with Leonardo da Vinci 
(1452-1519), who was a true pioneer of science by studying the flight 
of birds and left several sketches of aeroplanes in his manuscripts 
which were hidden in obscurity for nearly three hundred years until 
their existence was revealed in 1797. This subject, however, as well 
as the modern development of aircraft is beyond the scope of this 


To one who look'd from upper air 

O'er all the enchanted regions there, 

How beauteous must have been the glow, 

The life, the sparkling from below! 

Fair gardens, shining streams, with ranks 

Of golden melons on their banks, 

More golden where the sun-light falls; — 

Gay lizards, glittering on the walls 

Of ruin'd shrines, busy and bright 

As they were all alive with light; — 

And, yet more splendid, numerous flocks 

Of pigeons, settling on the rocks, 

With their rich restless wings, that gleam 

Variously in the crimson beam 

Of the warm west — as if inlaid 

With brilliants from the mine, or made 

Of tearless rainbows, such as span 

The unclouded skies of Peristan! 

Thomas Moore, Paradise and The Peri 

Air-mail service was first established in the United States in the 
year 1918 when the New York- Washington mail route (218 miles) 
was inaugurated on May 15. A year later the Cleveland-Chicago 
route (325 miles) was opened. The New York-Cleveland service 
(430 miles) followed on July 1, 1919. On August 16, 1920, the Chi- 
cago-St. Louis service (300 miles) was inaugurated, and on September 
8 of the same year New York was connected by air mail with San 
Francisco (2,651 miles). 

While our air mail is one of the epoch-making innovations and 
achievements of modern times, there was also a "prehistoric" air mail 
which is no less admirable — carried on the wings of pigeons. This 
prodigious institution we also owe to the Orient. I propose to survey 
it from China and India to Persia and the Near East and to show 
how it was transmitted from there to Europe. 

The first Chinese who has gone down in history as having made 
use of carrier pigeons is Chang Kiu-ling (A.D. 673-740), who flour- 
ished as a statesman and poet under the emperor Ming Huang of the 
T'ang dynasty. In his youth he was in the habit of corresponding 
with his relatives by means of a flock of carrier pigeons which he 
trained in large numbers and which he called his "flying slaves." Fei 
nu ("flying slaves") is still a designation of a carrier pigeon. The 
messages were attached to the feet of the birds, and they were taught 
how to deliver them. 

It is singular that the government organs of China never saw this 
opportunity and never availed themselves of pigeons for conveying 


72 The Prehistory of Aviation 

important messages, as it was done by the kings of India and by the 
Mohammedan rulers in the Near East. The employment of carrier 
pigeons remained restricted to private correspondence, chiefly for 
commercial purposes. They were of great service to merchants in 
conveying intelligence to the producing districts, or bringing news 
of the arrivals of cargoes and the ruling prices of the markets. In the 
old days of the Manchu empire merchants of Hongkong used pigeons 
in sending news to their business partners at Canton of the arrival 
of the English, French, or American mails. In Canton they are 
termed ch'un shii kop ("letter-transmitting pigeons"). 

Up to the time of the introduction of telephones in Peking, carrier 
pigeons (called sung sin, "letter-carriers") were used to send quota- 
tions of money exchange rates from the banks located in the Chinese 
City to those in the Manchu City. 

The Chinese say that carrier pigeons are difficult to train and that 
it takes two or three years before they can be employed for long 
distance flights, which quite agrees with our own experiences. It 
takes about three years to determine the qualifications of a good 
homing pigeon for a five-hundred-mile flight. 

While the Chinese have never bred carrier pigeons on a large scale 
or intensively, they have added to the art of pigeon-training an at- 
tractive means of amusement: in the same manner as they were the 
first who communed with the air by means of kites, they also were the 
first who created "music on the air." This was accomplished by 
means of whistles extremely light in weight, attached to the pigeon's 
tail-feathers. These whistles consist of two, three, or five reed tubes 
of graded length in the shape of a Pandean pipe, varnished yellow, 
brown, or black; or of a small gourd into which reed pipes are in- 
serted. A collection of these whistles, some engraved with the names 
of the makers, is on view in a case illustrating the musical instruments 
of China in the West Gallery of the Museum; there also a mounted 
pigeon outfitted with the whistle and photographs of live pigeons 
thus equipped and taken in Peking may be seen. When a flock of 
pigeons circles the air, the wind strikes the apertures of the instru- 
ments which are set vibrating, and produce a not unpleasing, open-air 
concert whose charms are heightened by the fact that the whistles 
used in a flock are tuned differently. The Chinese explain that the 
sounds of the whistles are intended to keep the flocks together and to 
protect the birds from onslaughts of hawks and other birds of prey. 
This rationalistic interpretation, however, is not convincing. It is 
not known and at least doubtful whether such music makes an im- 

The Air Mail of Ancient Times 73 

pression on either pigeon or hawk, and would it really prevent the 
famished princes and pirates of the air from making a swoop at their 
quarry? Even supposed this might happen once in a while, we must 
consider that this music constantly fills the atmosphere year by year, 
and the unrelenting foes of the pigeon will gradually become accus- 
tomed to it and treat it with disdain or disregard. It seems more 
plausible that this quaint custom has no rational origin, but that it 
rather is the outcome of purely emotional and artistic tendencies. 
Psychologically, the pigeon whistles move along the same line as the 
musical bows attached to kites. It is not the pigeon that profits from 
the aerial music, but the human ear that feasts on the wind-blown 
tunes and derives esthetic enjoyment from them. 

The pigeons which fly about with whistles attached to them are 
termed "mid-sky beauties" (pan t'ien kiao jen). 

In India the use of carrier pigeons goes back to a great antiquity, 
and may with certainty be assumed as having been in full swing in 
the beginning of our era. The Arthacastra, an ancient handbook of 
polity and state wisdom written in Sanskrit by Kautilya, a minister 
of state, gives us the specific information that the kings of India re- 
ceived news about the movements of hostile troops by air mail, 
through domesticated pigeons which brought them stamped and 
sealed letters. 

In Indian stories various kinds of birds appear as harbingers of 
messages. A white wild goose, for instance, who had been with a 
prince all his life carries to him a letter from his parents into a remote 
kingdom, and returns there with a response from him (in the legend 
of Kalyanamkara and Papamkara). Aryadeva received an invitation 
to come to Nalanda by a letter attached to the neck of a crow (in 
Taranatha's History of Buddhism in India). Parrots frequently 
appear in the role of winged messengers. 

Linschoten, who travelled in India in the seventeenth century, 
mentions the fact that he met in India a Venitian who had brought 
carrier pigeons along to try them out and naturalize them. John 
Fryer, who travelled in the East from 1672 to 1681, notes in his 
description of Surat carrier pigeons with blubbered noses and of a 
brown color to carry letters. The fact that Darwin received carriers 
from Madras would seem to point to their use in southern India. 

As regards Persia, an interesting bit of evidence is preserved by 
Twan Ch'eng-shi, author of the Yu yang tsa tsu (ninth century), to 
the effect that on the sea-going vessels of the Persians many pigeons 
were kept, capable of flying several thousand li (Chinese miles) ; these 

74 The Prehistory of Aviation 

were released and at a single flight returned to their homes, bearing 
as it were the tidings that everything on board was well. 

Ch'ang Te, a Chinese traveller, was sent m 1259 by the Mongol 
emperor, Mangu, as envoy to his brother Hulagu, king of Persia. 
He kept a diary of his journey which was edited in 1263 by Liu Yu. 
Speaking of the postal service of Persia in his time he mentions a 
special kind of swift camel trained for the service of couriers, as well 
as pigeons which transmit news to a distance of a thousand li (Chin- 
ese miles) in one day. In mediaeval times Persian authors repeatedly 
refer to the conveyance of letters by pigeon-mail in western Asia, 
even in time of war. In 1262 when the Mongols besieged the city of 
Mosul, they caught a tired pigeon which was perching for rest on one 
of their catapults and which carried a message for the beleaguered. 
The letter was intercepted, and was found to contain news of the 
approach of an army for the relief of the city. This enabled the 
Mongols in time to throw an army against the onmarching enemy. 

The pigeon appears in love-songs of the Baluchi, an Iranian tribe 
inhabiting Afganistan. One of these love-messages begins, "Oh dove! 
Oh pigeon, among the birds be thou a messenger of my state to my 
love. Travel over the long distance, I beg of thee, blue bird, fly from 
the cliff where thou dwellest night, from the rugged rocks of the fowls 
of the air, go to my beloved's home and perch on the right side of her 
bed." In another love-song it is said, "Oh pigeon, peahen among the 
birds, be a messenger of my state to my true-love, to that modest 
fair one." (M. L. Dames, Popular Poetry of the Baloches.) 

Pigeons were used by the ancients for sending love messages (Ana- 
creon IX, 15; Martialis VIII, 32), news of a victory in the Olympic 
games, or letters into a besieged city. The earliest Greek allusion to a 
carrier pigeon is found in one of the fragments of Pherecrates, a 
writer of comedies, who lived in the fifth century before our era. 
Greek seafarers are said to have carried on their ships pigeons for the 
purpose of sending home tidings of their welfare. 

Aelianus, who lived in the second century of our era, tells this 
story, "When Taurosthenes won the laurels in the Olympic games, 
intelligence of his victory was conveyed to his father at Aeginaon the 
same day by means of a pigeon whom he took away from her young 
ones who were still unfeathered. He attached a purple piece of cloth 
to the bird and released her; she sped away to her young ones and in 
a day returned from Pisa to Aegina." 

Pisa was an ancient town in the territory of Elis in the western 
part of the Peloponnesus, not far from Olympia, where the celebrated 

The Air Mail of Ancient Times 75 

athletic games and contests were held. The distance from Pisa to 
Aegina amounts to about twenty-three and a half geographical miles. 
It will be noticed that in this case not a letter, but merely a pre-ar- 
ranged token of victory was attached to the flying messenger; purple 
was a symbol of victory. 

Pliny (X, 110) relates that pigeons have acted as messengers in 
important affairs (internuntiae in magnis rebus fuere) and cites as 
example that during the siege of Mutina, Decimus Brutus, who was 
beleaguered in that city by Antonius from December, 44, till April, 
43 B.C., sent into the camp of the consuls (Hirtius and Pansa) dis- 
patches fastened to pigeon's feet (epistulas adnexas earum pedibus). 
A somewhat different version of this event is contained in the work of 
Frontinus (Strategemata III. 13, 8) of the first century of our era: 
the Consul Hirtius attached letters to the neck of pigeons by means of 
strong hair; previously he had starved the pigeons in a dark room; 
thereupon he released them near Mutina, where they settled on the 
roofs of the houses, and were caught by Brutus, who in this manner 
was duly informed of the events. Caesar is said to have been advised 
of a revolt in Gaul by pigeon-post just in time that he could lead his 
legion down the Alps to suppress the rebellion. 

However, what is known about the use of carrier pigeons among 
Greeks and Romans is restricted to isolated instances. We must not 
generalize that it was a customary practice, for there are no records 
of carrier pigeons having been kept and trained for such purpose in 
large numbers, nor was there anything like a regular pigeon-mail. 
The curious fact remains that carrier pigeons were not transmitted 
from Italy to northern Europe in the wake of Roman civilization. 
The North-European nations first made the acquaintance of carrier 
pigeons in the Orient during the Crusades, and from that time onward 
they appeared inEurope, inclusive of Italy, as a novel affair. There- 
fore it is reasonable to conclude that among the ancients the whole 
business was of no great significance and that it was extinct in the 
days of the declining Roman Empire. The consensus of opinion is 
that the Greeks derived the institution from the Near East, and we 
have to wend our way back again to the Orient to learn more about 
its history. 

Mesopotamia appears to be the home of the domesticated pigeon, 
and the domestication of the bird was accomplished as early as pre- 
Semitic times by the Sumerians. In Sumerian documents the pigeon 
is referred to as a domestic bird. Among the Semites pigeons were 

76 The Prehistory of Aviation 

closely connected with religious practices? They are sacred to the 
goddess Ishtar (Astarte), the mother goddess or great goddess per- 
sonifying the productive powers of the earth, life, generation, and 

Lucian, in his treatise on The Syrian Goddess, informs us with 
reference to Syria, "Of birds the dove seems to be the most holy to 
them, nor do they think it right to harm these birds, and if any one 
have harmed them unknowingly, they are unholy for that day; so 
when the pigeons dwell with the men, they enter their rooms and 
commonly feed on the ground." 

It is unknown, however, when and where pigeons were first 
trained for conveying messages. Nothing to this effect has as yet come 
to light in the cuneiform literatures or on Egyptian monuments; 
both in Egypt and Mesopotamia the practice was unknown. At the 
outset it is improbable that it might have been developed in the Eu- 
phrates valley, where clay tablets were the common writing-material, 
which on account of their weight could not have been attached to 
pigeons; in later times, of course, parchment and papyrus were also 
used in Mesopotamia. 

The dove which Noah sent forth from the ark three times has 
frequently been classified among carrier pigeons, but this notion is 
erroneous. Noah's dove represents an entirely distinct class: it is not 
sent out with a message, but belongs to the category of land-spying 
birds, such as navigators of ancient times used to keep on board their 
ships and which were released by them when in quest of land if they 
had lost their bearings, on the supposition that the birds would fly in 
the direction of land; these birds, of course, never returned to their 
ships. In the Pali Baveru Jataka, which echoes ancient commercial 
relations of India with Baveru or Babiru, i.e. Babylon, the Indian 
seafarers are assisted by a crow which serves for the purpose of direct- 
ing their way in the four quarters. The crow has a well-developed 
sense of locality, and in all ancient systems of divinations crow or 
raven auguries are correlated with the cardinal points. According to 
Pliny, the mariners of Taprobane (Ceylon) did not take recourse to 
the observation of stars for the purpose of navigation, but carried 
birds out to sea, which they sent off from time to time, and then 
followed the course of the birds who flew in the direction of land. 
When the people of Thera emigrated to Libya, ravens accompanied 
them ahead of the ships to guide their way. In the ninth century 
when the Vikings sailed from Norway, they kept on board birds who 
were set free from time to time amid sea, and with their aid they 

The Air Mail of Ancient Times 77 

succeeded in discovering Iceland. Land expeditions also were ac- 
companied by land-spying birds, and tribes on the path of migration 
would settle in a territory where birds carried along by them would 
descend. The Celts, as Justinus informs us, were skilled beyond 
other peoples in the science of augury, and the Gauls who invaded 
Illyricum were guided by the flight of birds. The legendary emperor 
Jimmu of ancient Japan when engaged in a war expedition marched 
under the guidance of a gold-colored raven. 

It is asserted by many authors that the ancient Hebrews were 
acquainted with carrier pigeons, but there is no direct evidence to 
this effect in the Old or New Testament. 

In the present state of our knowledge we can only assert with 
safety that the highest development in the use of pigeon messengers 
was reached in the empire of the Caliphs and under the Moham- 
medan dynasties of Egypt when the whole business was organized 
and systematized on a scientific basis, while, of course, isolated cases 
occurred many centuries earlier. The Arabs, on their part, were only 
to a small extent original or inventive, but exceedingly clever in ab- 
sorbing and digesting the ideas and cultures of subject nations, and 
thus created an imperialistic civilization as a result of their far-flung 
conquests. Indo-Iranian peoples may very well have given the first 
impetus to the training of carrier pigeons. 

Damiri (1341-1405), in his Book of Animals ( Hay at al-hayawan), 
writes in regard to the pigeon, "It may be mentioned as a part of its 
nature that it seeks and finds out its nest even if it be set free at a 
distance of a thousand leagues; it carries news and brings it from a 
very distant place in a very short time. There are some pigeons 
which can fly three thousand leagues in a day. It may sometimes 
happen that it is caught, and may be thus away from its native place 
for ten years or more, but it still retains its intelligence and power of 
memory, and is desirous of returning to its native place, so that when 
it finds an opportunity, it flies back to it." 

Damiri likewise informs us that the Caliph Harun al-Rashid 
(786-809) was very fond of pigeons and sporting with them. The 
Arabian Nights (No. 698) introduce to us the father of Dalila who 
was postmaster and guard of the carrier pigeons at the court of this 
illustrious Caliph at a monthly salary of a thousand dinars; he used 
to train the pigeons so that they conveyed letters and messages, and 
to the Caliph each of these birds was dearer at a time of distress than 
any of his sons. After her husband's death, Dalila and her daughter 
took care of the forty pigeons, and she would daily visit the state 

78 The Prehistory of Aviation 

council to find out whether the Caliph had a message to transmit by 

In another story of the Arabian Nights (No. 96), Afridun, king of 
Constantinople, is advised of the movements of the Mohammedan 
army in Asia Minor by means of a letter sent "on the wings of a bird" 
and brought to him by the Guardian of the Pigeons. 

According to Masudi (tenth century), news of the victory over a 
rebel army was conveyed to the Caliph Motasim (838-847) by pigeon- 
post. In 1171 the Sultan Nur-ed-din established a regular air mail in 
Syria, actuated by the desire to obtain as quickly as possible intelli- 
gence of everything that happened in all of his provinces. For this 
purpose he ordered pigeons to be maintained in all castles and fort- 
resses of his empire, also had special towers erected for breeding and 
postal purposes, and devoted the greatest care to the training of the 
birds. After his death this mail service declined until in the year 1179 
it was re-established by the Caliph Ahmed Naser-lidin-allah, who had 
a veritable passion for pigeons and bestowed a special name on each 
bird. In sending a letter by pigeon-mail he was in the habit of desig- 
nating in the letter the exact name of the feathered messenger, thus: 
"This bird, son of ..." or "this bird, mother of. ... " In this manner 
he conducted a voluminous correspondence with the remotest parts 
of his dominion. The air mail developed into a general institution 
in his time, and although many engaged in the business of raising 
pigeons whose number was enormous, their prices reached amazing 
figures: a well-trained pair sold at a price up to a thousand gold 
pieces. Baghdad was the central station of the air mail until it was 
conquered by the Mongols in 1258. 

The price of a pigeon of the first quality amounted to seven 
hundred dinars (gold coins), and the egg of such a bird sold as high 
as twenty dinars. Genealogies of renowned pigeons were kept on 
special registers. 

One of the most curious incidents in the history of the pigeon- 
mail, as reported by Makrizi, refers to the rapid transmission by air 
of a consignment of cherries. The Caliph Aziz (975-996) of the Fati- 
mid dynasty, distinguished by his tolerance and his love for science, 
had a great desire for a dish of cherries of Balbek. The Vezir, Yakub 
Ben-Kilis, caused six hundred pigeons to be dispatched from Balbek 
to Cairo, each of which carried attached to either leg a small silk bag 
containing a cherry. This is the first example of parcel post by air 
mail recorded in history. 

The Air Mail of Ancient Times 79 

In his "History of Egypt in the Middle Ages" Stanley Lane-Poole 
writes, "The most famous and energetic of all the Bahri Mamluks, 
Beybars (1266-77), established a well-organized system of posts, con- 
necting every part of his wide dominions with the capital. Relays 
of horses were in readiness and answered reports from all parts of the 
realm. Besides the ordinary mail, there was also a pigeon-post, 
which was no less carefully managed. The pigeons were kept in cots 
in the citadel and at the various stages, which were farther apart than 
those of the horses; the bird was trained to stop at the first post-cot 
where its letter would be attached to the wing of another pigeon for 
the next stage. The royal pigeons had a distinguishing mark, and 
when one of these arrived at the citadel with a dispatch, none was 
permitted to detach the parchment save the Sultan himself; and so 
stringent were the rules, that were he dining or sleeping or in the bath, 
he would nevertheless at once be informed of the arrival, and would 
immediately proceed to disencumber the bird of its message." Bey- 
bars connected Damascus and Cairo by a postal service of four days, 
and used to play polo in both cities within the same week. Pigeons 
contributed to the complete defeat of the Mongols after the decisive 
battle of Hims (Emesa in Syria) in 1281, when they were beaten back 
by Kalaun, who harassed their retreat and sent orders by pigeons to 
his governors at the Euphrates to bar the fords to the fleeing enemy. 

The letters, which were written on a fine tissue paper with speci- 
fications of place, day, and hour, were fastened beneath the wings, 
at a later time to the tail-feather. 

The caretakers brought the incoming birds directly to the Sultan 
who alone had the right to take the letters off. The pigeons were there- 
fore called by the Arabs "angels of the kings." An Arabic scholar 
says, "The carrier pigeons are arrows which reach their goal despite 
the resistance offered them by the clouds. There is no mistake in 
styling them the prophets among the birds, because like the 
prophets they are dispatched with scriptures." An Arabic poet has 
this line: "In the marvellous speed of their flight they rush ahead 
of the winds; swiftly like a moment they bear under their wings 
in rapid flight tidings of what happens in places distant a month's 

Another Arabic author writes, "The pigeons who forward mes- 
sages are a wonder of divine almightiness worthy of being admired 
and praised by us. In faithfully executing their commissions they 
confirm the proverb which calls them birds of auspicious foreboding. 
Indeed they often surpass the itinerant messengers: the clouds are 

80 The Prehistory of Aviation 

their bridles, the air is the course they race through, the wings are 
their equipment, the winds are their escorts. They fear on their 
nights neither brigands of the desert nor the perils threatening from 
accidents on the roads." 

In 1323 Symon Semeon, an Irish Franciscan, and his companion, 
Hugo Illuminator, were on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and 
stopped at Alexandria. An entry in Symon's diary reads as follows: 
"The admiral [of Alexandria], on learning of the affair [the arrival of 
the two pilgrims], immediately dispatched a message to the Sultan at 
Cairo by means of a carrier pigeon. These pigeons were trained in the 
Sultan's Castle at Cairo and sent in cages to the governors of the 
various maritime cities, who whenever they wish to make something 
known to the Sultan dispatch one with a letter tied under its tail, 
which never stops until it has reached the castle from which it was 
brought originally; and so the Sultan and his governors are informed 
daily of what is going on in the country and of the necessary measures 
to be taken." 

A German pilgrim, von Bodmann, paid a visit to the Holy Land in 
1376-77, and when his ship neared Alexandria, she was boarded by 
two officials from the city who drew up two lists of the vessel's cargo. 
These, he relates, were tied to the wings of two pigeons who were 
dispatched to the court of King Soldan at Babylon, a distance of two 
hundred miles. 

In the second half of the fifteenth century the governmental 
pigeon-post expired in consequence of political troubles, but as a 
means of private communication it has survived in the Orient long 
after and even until the present time, especially in commercial 
correspondence when transactions had to be made quickly or when 
perishable merchandize like drugs and perfumes were at stake. 
Travelling merchants also availed themselves of the air mail to advise 
their families of their safe arrival at a place. 

In 1599 Thomas Dallam, the organ-builder, during his voyage 
from London to Constantinople, made the following observation on 
the use of carrier pigeons: "The firste of June thare was letters con- 
vayede varrie straingly from Alippo to Scandaroune, the which is 
thre score and twelve myles distance. After I hade bene thare a 
litle whyle, I persaved that it was an ordinarie thinge. For, as we 
weare sittinge in our marchantes house talkinge, and pidgons weare a 
feedinge in the house before us, thare came a whyte cote pidgon fly- 
inge in, and lyghte on the grounde amongeste his fellowes, the which, 
when one of the marchantes saw, he sayd: Welcom, Honoste Tom, 

The Air Mail of Ancient Times 81 

and, takinge him upe, thare was tied with a thred under his wynge, a 
letter, the bignes of a twelve penc, and it was Dated but four houres 
before. After that I saw the lyke done, and always in 4 houres." 

Linschoten, the great Dutch traveller of the seventeenth century, 
describes the pigeon-mail in the Turkish empire extending from Bas- 
sora and Babylonia to Aleppo and Constantinople, and writes that 
the letters were fastened to a ring placed around the bird's leg. 

Pietro della Valle (Viaggi in Turchia, Persia e India, Vol. I, 
p. 284) wrote in a letter dispatched from Ispahan in 1619, "From the 
Province of Babylon whither I addressed a letter I am awaiting some 
pigeons which convey letters from one place to another and which 
Tasso styles 'flying carrier' (portator volante). They have thus been 
used in Asia from the earliest times down to the present." 

The Jesuit father Philippe Avril (about 1670) relates how pigeon 
messages were sent from Alexandria to Aleppo. "No sooner had we 
got ashore," he writes, "but we had the pleasure to see dispatched 
away before us one of the messengers which they make use of in those 
parts to carry such intelligence as they would have speedily made 
known. For the doing of which, their most usual way is this. A 
merchant of Aleppo, who desires to have the most early information 
of what merchandizes are come from France or any other parts, takes 
particular care by an express to send away a pigeon that has young 
ones, much about the time that the ships are expected at Alexan- 
dretta, where he has his correspondent; who as soon as any vessel 
comes to an anchor, goes and informs himself of what goods the 
vessel has brought most proper for his turn; of which when he has 
given a full account in his letter, he fastens the paper about the neck 
of the winged courier, and carrying her to the top of a little mountain, 
gives her her liberty, never fearing her going astray. The pigeon 
which we saw let go, after she had soared a good height to discover, 
doubtless, the place from whence she had been taken some few days 
before, and pushed forward by that instinct, which is common to all 
birds that have young ones, took her flight toward Aleppo, and ar- 
rived there in less than three hours, tho that city be very near thirty 
leagues from the place from whence she was sent. However, they do 
not make use of any sort of pigeons to carry their dispatches, in regard 
that all pigeons are not alike proper for that service. For there is a 
particular sort of these birds, which are easily trained up to this ex- 
ercise, and which as occasion serves, are of extraordinary use, espec- 
ially for the swift management of business, and where speed of 
intelligence is required, as in the factories of the Levant, far remote 

82 The Prehistory of Aviation 

one from the other. This was the only piece of curiosity which 
we could observe during our stay in this same first port of the 

During the middle ages, the European nations became acquainted 
with the pigeon air mail when the cross and the crescent clashed dur- 
ing the crusades. In the history of the enterprises against the infidels 
there are several stories on record which depict the wonder and 
amazement of the Christian soldiers at this novel experience. In 
A.D. 1098 the commander of the Turkish castle Hasar disobeyed his 
liege lord, Rodvan of Aleppo, who declared war on him. The Turkish 
chief was unable to resist when one of his Emirs counselled him as 
follows: "Recently when Christian pilgrims marched against Edessa, 
I captured the wife of a knight, Fulcher (also called Foulqe) of 
Bouillon, and married her on account of her beauty. She is acquainted 
with our perilous situation and advises us to seek assistance from the 
Duke of Lorraine, the most powerful of the victorious Franks." The 
aversion toward an alliance with Christians was suppressed by the 
apprehension of graver consequences, and a Syrian was dispatched 
to the Duke with a ready proposal. Succor was promised by the 
latter, and the son of the Turkish chief retained by him as hostage. 
Meanwhile Rodvan beleaguered the fortress Hasar with an army of 
forty thousand, and the Franks were at a loss as to how to send the 
tidings of the pact into the fortress. To their amazement the Turkish 
envoys brought pigeons forward and tied papers to the under side 
of their wings. The birds were released, and the Franks assured that 
the good news would reach the fortress and encourage the Emir in his 
resistance till the arrival of the relief army. 

Another episode is related thus: In A.D. 1099 when the Christian 
army advanced from Akkon to Caesarea, a wounded pigeon, who had 
a narrow escape from the claws of a hawk, dropped lifeless in the 
camp of the Christians. The bishop of Apt picked the bird up and 
found under its wings a letter addressed by the Emir of Ptolemais to 
the Emir of Caesarea, reading as follows: "The cursed rabble of 
Christians has just traversed my territory, and is passing on to yours. 
All chiefs of Musulman towns should be informed of their onward 
march and take measures to crush our foes." This letter was read 
aloud in the council of princes and before the entire army. Surprise 
and joy seized the Crusaders who did not doubt that God protected 
their enterprise, since he sent them the birds of heaven to reveal the 
secrets of the infidels. 

The Air Mail of Ancient Times 83 

This incident has inspired Torquato Tasso (1544-95), the great 
Italian poet of the Renaissance, to a poetic composition, which is 
inserted in his La Gerusalemme Liberate, (Jerusalem Delivered, XVIII, 
49-53). I give a literal prose rendering of my own: — 

"While the camp prepares for assault and the city for defence, a 
pigeon is seen towering high along aerial paths over the host of the 
Franks. Agitating her swift pinions, she sails the clear air with out- 
stretched wings, and the strange messenger (la messaggiera peregrina) 
is just about to alight from the high clouds into the city. 

"A falcon (I do not know whence) swoops downward, armed with 
curved beak and large claws, and obstructs her path between the 
camp and city-wall. She does not wait for the tyrant's claws, but he 
pounces upon her and chases her to the main tent. He seems to 
reach her now, and holds his foot over her tender head when she takes 
refuge in the lap of the pious Godefroy of Bouillon. 

"Godefroy takes her up and protects her, then, while looking at 
her, notes a strange thing suspended from her neck and fastened with 
a thread, — a letter concealed under a wing. He opens it and unfolds 
it, well comprehending the terse message it contains. 'To the Lord of 
Judea,' the epistle read, 'the Captain of Egypt sends greetings. 

"Despond not, my lord, resist and hold out for four or five days, 
and I will come to liberate these walls, and you will soon see your foe 
vanquished.' This was the secret conveyed in pagan script and con- 
fided to the winged courier, as the Levante employed such messengers 
at that time. 

"The prince released the pigeon who, since she had revealed her 
master's secrets and fancied that she had betrayed him, did not dare 
to return as an unlucky harbinger." 

The poet had evidently read about carrier pigeons in the docu- 
ments of the crusades, and was profoundly impressed by this ingen- 
ious device of postal service. His detailed description, as well as his 
observation that this was customary in the Levante, seem to hint 
at the fact that letter-carrying pigeons were still unknown in the Italy 
of his time, — the sixteenth century. 

Lodovico Ariosto (1474-1533), in his Orlando Furioso (XV, 90), 
also refers to the pigeon-post: The giant Orrilo was slain by the duke 
Astolfo on the lower Nile, and this event was air-mailed by the 
Castellan of Damiette to Cairo. This is the custom there, the Italian 
poet adds, and in a few hours the news was broadcast to the whole of 
Egypt that the bandit had met his death. 

84 The Prehistory of Aviation 

Shakespeare alludes to pigeons as letter-carriers in Titus Andro- 
nicus (IV, 3), where upon the entry of a clown with two pigeons 
Titus exclaims, — 

News, news from heaven! Marcus, the post is come. 
Sirrah, what tidings? Have you any letters? 

Another interesting reference, though not to carrier pigeons, oc- 
curs in Venus and Adonis, where Venus rides in a chariot drawn by 
doves: — 

Thus weary of the world, away she hies, 

And yokes her silver doves; by whose swift aid 

Their mistress, mounted, through the empty skies 

In her light chariot quickly is convey'd; 

Holding their course to Paphos, where their queen 

Means to immure herself and not be seen. 

The Crusaders brought carrier pigeons along from the Orient. 
Mediaeval knights used them in sending communications from one 
castle to another; the convents also availed themselves of pigeon 

A study of the various breeds of carrier pigeons has led Darwin 
to the conviction that nearly all the chief domestic races existed 
before the year 1600 and that the names for them applied in different 
parts of Europe and in India to the several kinds of carriers all point 
to Persia or the surrounding countries as the source of this race. 
Certain it is that the common European breeds of pigeon were not 
fit for air-mail purposes, but that all varieties used in Europe for 
messenger service are of Oriental origin and in the last line are trace- 
able to the bagdotte which under the name of carrier was bred to 
perfection in England. The Baghdad pigeons won renown every- 
where, and were known simply as a Baghdad, or Babylonian pigeon. 
Thus Thomas Moore, in The Fire-Worshippers, has the line: — 

As a young bird of Babylon, 
Let loose to tell of victory won — 

The great Rabelais (1483-1553), in his Gargantua and Pantag- 
ruel (IV, 3), makes Pantagruel correspond with his father Gargantua 
by means of a pigeon called "Gogal [the Hebrew word for a pigeon], 
the heavenly messenger." Whenever the son was well or successful, 
he tied a white ribbon to the bird's foot; in case something untoward 
should happen to him, they had agreed on a black ribbon. Rabelais 
describes in detail this manner of communication, the bird's desire 
to return to her young ones as swiftly as possible and the rapidity 

The Air Mail of Ancient Times 85 

of her flight, which seems to hint at the fact that this was a novel 
feature in his time. 

The first employment of pigeons for military purposes in Europe 
took place during the war of liberation of the Netherlands in the 
sixteenth century. During the siege of Harlem by the Spaniards in 
1573, the garrison received several advices by pigeon-mail, an- 
nouncing the approach of a relief army under the command of the 
Prince of Orania, and therefore persevered in its resistance. In 
commemoration of this event the Prince caused these pigeons to be 
cared for until their end, and after their death they were stuffed and 
preserved in the town-hall of Leiden. 

The breeding of carrier pigeons was given special attention in 
Belgium as early as the beginning of the eighteenth century. From 
Belgium the experience thus gained was transmitted to France and 
Germany. In Belgium, Holland, and France the fondness of carrier 
pigeons developed into a sport. 

In the beginning of the nineteenth century the pigeon-mail took a 
new development, chiefly for commercial purposes. The story goes 
that Rothschild of London had his agents join Napoleon's army and 
received from them first-hand war news by air mail. He was advised 
of the emperor's defeat at Belle-Alliance three days earlier than the 
British Government, and correspondingly arranged his financial specu- 
lations. In the organization of the modern press and news agencies 
pigeons also rendered useful services. Reuter, who subsequently 
founded Reuter's Bureau in London, started his career by founding a 
pigeon-post from Aix-la-Chapelle to Brussels, and the Gazette of 
Cologne at first maintained such an aerial news service. In England 
also, a newspaper reporter equipped with a small pigeon-cage was 
formerly not a rare sight at public meetings from which he sent his 
reports immediately to his paper by a pigeon messenger. The press 
availed itself of pigeons especially for the purpose of reporting yacht 
races, and some yachts were actually fitted with lofts. I am informed 
by Japanese friends that pigeons were likewise employed by 
newspapers in Japan. 

The French were the first who ingeniously used carrier pigeons 
for military purposes. During the siege of Paris in 1870 (till January 
28, 1871) several hundred pigeons were placed at the disposal of the 
military service by a Carrier Pigeon Club. The sole advices that 
arrived at Paris from the outside world at that time were conveyed 
by the wings of pigeons. A hundred and fifteen thousand official 
dispatches and about a million private messages are said to have 

86 The Prehistory of Aviation 

reached their destination in this manner. The dispatches were re- 
produced on both sides of small films by means of microphotography ; 
eighteen such films weighed a half gram, and contained from twelve 
to sixteen large folio pages of news on an area of about a hundred 
square centimetres. The contents of a complete number of the Times 
could be accommodated in this space. About three thousand dis- 
patches could be copied on each film. The films were rolled and 
placed in a quill which was sealed and fastened to a tail-feather of a 
pigeon by means of a fine wire fortified by a silk thread. For the 
purpose of deciphering the incoming dispatches they were pro- 
jected, considerably enlarged, on a screen, so that they could be 
easily read and copied. The price of these air dispatches was half a 
franc (ten cents) each word. Money orders also were sent out to the 
extent of three hundred francs each. The average income from every 
flight of a carrier pigeon amounted to 35,000 francs ($7,000). 

During the World War, as is still within the memory of every one, 
pigeons were extensively utilized and achieved brilliant records of 
flight under great difficulties. A case of supreme endurance was noted 
on October 21, 1918, when a carrier pigeon was released with an im- 
portant message at Grand Pre" at 2:35 p.m. during intense machine- 
gun and artillery fire. This bird delivered its message to the loft at 
Rampont, a distance of 24.84 miles in twenty-five minutes. One of 
its legs had been shot off, and its breast was injured by a machine-gun 
bullet, but even under these conditions the bird did not fail to reach 
its destination. For more information on the valorous deeds of pig- 
eons in our army the National Geographic Magazine (January, 
1926, pp. 86-91) may be consulted. The same article contains 
twelve beautiful colored plates representing various breeds of 

In warfare the service of pigeons will always remain indispensable. 
Telephone and wireless communication are often interrupted in the 
zone of advance, or may be put out of commission. Scouts and couri- 
ers may be delayed or intercepted, optical signals obscured by rain, 
smoke, or dust, and aerial observation hampered by unfavorable 
weather conditions. Pigeons are not disturbed by bombardments, 
fog, smoke, or dust, and will work regularly under almost any condi- 
tions. In 1919 an area of Texas was wrecked by a storm, and a United 
States Army relief-train was dispatched to Corpus Christi. Pigeons 
carried on this train were released and braved storm and rain, bring- 
ing the first news of conditions in the stricken area. Even for two 
days after a radio had been set up and put in operation, the pigeons 

The Air Mail of Ancient Times 87 

were the only means of conveying news from that district, as atmo- 
spheric conditions crippled radio communication. 

Pigeons are still bred and kept in large numbers for messenger 
service and racing. They are useful for transmitting messages where- 
ever communication by telegraph or telephone is not available. In 
the beginning of this century there was still a real pigeon-mail be- 
tween New Zealand and Great Barrier, a solitary and inhospitable 
isle about ninety km distant from Auckland, whose colonists are en- 
gaged in mining operations. A land-owner of this isle, Flicker by 
name, hit upon the idea to establish a permanent daily pigeon-mail 
with Auckland, as the mail-steamer ran but once a week. The letters 
had to be written on a special form, and the postage from Great 
Barrier to Auckland was twelve cents, in the opposite direction 
twenty-five cents. The Dutch Government established a pigeon-post 
system in Java and Sumatra early in the nineteenth century, the 
birds being obtained from Baghdad. 

At a trial flight conducted from Compiegne in France to Antwerp 
a swallow previously distinguished by a special mark was released 
simultaneously with several carrier pigeons. The bird immediately 
took up its flight in the direction of Antwerp whence it had been 
taken, while the pigeons, as they always do, first fluttered around to 
find their bearings. The swallow made the way from Compiegne to 
Antwerp (255 km) in sixty-eight minutes, which means that in one 
minute it covered 3 % km, whereas the first pigeon arrived only 
after three hours. The swallow therefore was about three times faster; 
it would be the swiftest winged messenger, but unfortunately it can- 
not be trained like a pigeon. 

Amazing records of speed and endurance have been achieved by 
pigeons. In good weather young birds will fly about three hundred 
miles in from seven to nine hours, and flights of six hundred miles in 
one day have been accomplished by older birds. This is the maximum 
of a day's flight; in fact, only a very small percentage of the birds 
will make five hundred miles in one day. During favorable weather 
some pigeons will fly five hundred miles without stopping to eat or 
drink. The distance from Dover to London (76 3^ miles by rail, 70 
miles by air-line) was once covered by a carrier pigeon beating by 
twenty minutes the express train which ran at a speed of sixty miles 
an hour. 


In regard to Shun as a flyer and user of a parachute compare E. 
Chavannes, Les M£moires historiques de Se-ma Ts'ien, Vol. I, p. 74; 
and J. Legge, Chinese Classics, Vol. Ill, Prolegomena, p. 114. 

The K'ai yuan t'ien pao i shi (ch. A, p. 9) relates that the magician 
Ye Fa-shan, who lived under the T'ang dynasty, had an iron mirror 
which reflected objects like water; whenever a person was ill and 
looked into this mirror, his interior organs became completely visible, 
and revealed any obstructions that might be there; then he was 
treated by means of drugs until he was completely cured. Cf . above, 
p. 11. 

The same work also contains the first notice of carrier pigeons 
(p. 5) alluded to above on p. 71: "In his youth Chang Kiu-ling 
kept in his house swarms of pigeons. When he had to correspond 
with his relatives, he tied the letter to a pigeon's foot. The bird, 
relying on the localities to which it had been trained, flew off and 
delivered the letter. Chang Kiu-ling styled them 'flying slaves.' 
His contemporaries were all filled with admiration." 

The same work (ch. B, p. 24b) contains a curious story of a 
swallow transmitting a letter: "At Ch'ang-an there was a man of 
the people, Kwo Hing-sien by name, who had a daughter called 
Shao Lan. She was married to a big merchant, Jen Tsung, who 
pursued his trade in Siang (Hu-nan). For several years he was 
absent from home, and no news from him had reached his family. 
One day Shao Lan was in the living-room of her house and observed 
a couple of swallows playing on the ridge-pole of the roof. She 
heaved a long sigh and addressed the swallows, 'I have heard that 
you swallows come from the east of the sea and return there and in 
your constant migrations must pass through Siang. My husband 
left home several years ago, and has not returned. There is no 
tidings as to whether he is dead or alive, and I have no means of 
knowing whether he exists or not. I trust to you to deliver a letter 
to my husband.' When she had finished her speech, she burst into 
tears. The swallows fluttered around, uttering sounds as though 
responding to her request. Again, Lan spoke to them, 'If you wish 
to be loyal to me, descend into my lap!' The swallows thereupon 
flew on her lap, and with many sighs Lan recited the following 
stanza: 'My husband has gone far away beyond the lakes; I am 
almost in despair, mingling bloody tears with this message. Con- 


Notes 89 

fidently I trust to the swallow's wings to transmit this letter to my 
unfeeling husband.' Thereupon Lan committed this brief message 
to writing and tied it to the foot of one of the swallows. These 
emitted a sound and flew off. Jen Tsung then happened to be at 
King-chou and suddenly noticed a swallow flying above him. He 
was astounded when he saw the bird who alighted on his shoulder. 
He observed that a tiny letter was attached to the bird's foot; he 
released it and read his wife's message in verse. He was deeply 
moved and shed tears. The swallow rose into the air and flew off. 
The following year Jen Tsung returned home and showed Shao Lan 
the verses which she had written. Subsequently the scholar Chang 
Yiie (a well-known poet, A.D. 667-730) recorded this story to have 
it preserved as a curiosity of literature." 

Chao, an emperor of the Han dynasty, while hunting in a park, 
shot a wild goose and found a piece of cloth attached to one of its 
feet. It contained a message to the effect that Su Wu and his com- 
panions were in a certain marsh in the country of the Hiung-nu. 
Messengers were at once dispatched to the Hiung-nu to demand 
the release of the prisoners who had been believed to be dead (P£til- 
lon, Allusions, p. 505; Giles, Biogr. Diet., p. 685). 

The first who made the passage from the Ti wang shi ki known 
was G. Schlegel (Chinesische Brauche und Spiele in Europa, p. 32, 
Breslau, 1869). Schegel, in the same manner as I, takes Ki-kung-shi 
(wrongly written by him Ki-kwang-shi) as the name of an individual, 
but draws an erroneous conclusion from this text when he observes 
the "the air-balloon invented in Europe in 1872 was assuredly known 
to the ancient Chinese." The Chinese "flying chariot" has nothing to 
do with a balloon which is based on the principle of a bag filled with 
heated air or hydrogen gas; such a contrivance was not known to the 
Chinese at any time, notwithstanding what has been written to the 
contrary. Professor Giles, in the article quoted below, justly remarks, 
"No credence whatever should be given to the absurd story of the 
French missionary, Father Besson, who is said to have written in 
1694, stating that a balloon had ascended from Peking at the coro- 
nation of Fo Kien in 1306. No emperor was crowned in 1306, and no 
such emperor is known to Chinese history as Fo Kien." 

H. A. Giles, Traces of Aviation in Ancient China (in his Adver- 
saria Sinica, Vol. I, No. 8, 1910, pp. 229-236), cites all texts relative 
to the Ki-kung flying chariot, save the one from the Ti wang shi ki. 
It is noteworthy that the Ts'e Yuan (under "flying chariot") quotes 

90 The Prehistory of Aviation 

only the latter, which apparently is the most important, but omits the 
Po wu chi, Shu i ki, and Kin lou tse. 

As in European folk-lore, so in China also rocks of peculiar shape, 
bells, statues, swords, and other objects are credited with a magic 
power of flight. "A rock which arrived flying" (fei lai shi) is shown 
on the sacred Mount T'ai in Shan-tung. Flying swords are mentioned 
in the romance of the Three Kingdoms (Brewitt-Taylor, San Kuo, 
Vol. II, p. 311). "Flying scissors" {fei lai tsien) of cast iron are 
figured and described by L. Gaillard (Croix et Swastika en Chine, 
1893, p. 217). 

Good information on Korean and Japanese kites will be found in 
the interesting book of Stewart Culin, Korean Games with Notes on 
the Corresponding Games of China and Japan, pp. 9-21 (Philadel- 
phia, 1895) ; see also W. M tiller, Der Papierdrachen in Japan (Stutt- 
gart, 1914), who deals well with the construction of Japanese kites. 

Those interested in the subject of kite-fishing may consult H. 
Balfour, Kite-fishing, in Essays and Studies Presented to William 
Ridgeway (1913), pp. 583-608, and H. Plischke, Der Fischdrachen, 
published by Museum fur Volkerkunde, Leipzig, No. 6, 1922. In this 
monograph the distribution of kite-fishing and the use of kites for 
fishing in Indonesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia are set forth in detail. 
The author also regards China as the home of the kite whence it 
spread to Indonesia and the South Sea Islands on the one hand and to 
Europe on the other hand. His statement (p. 36) that the earliest 
Chinese references to the kite belong to the second and fifth centuries 
B.C., however, is erroneous; he has been misled by De Groot (Religi- 
ous System of China, Vol. Ill, p. 665), who misinterprets the wooden 
bird mentioned by Mo Ti as a kite. 

In the Panchakyanaka, a Jaina recension of the Panchatantra, 
we also find the story of the Weaver as Vishnu (translated by J. 
Hertel, Indische Marchen, 1921, p. 92); in this version, the Garuda 
airship is set in motion by a push of the elbows. 

The story of the Bodhisatva as a divine horse rescuing merchants 
from flesh-devouring ogres by carrying them from Ceylon to India, 
traversing the clouds and passing the sea to the other side, is contained 
in the Valahassa Jataka (Jataka No. 196) and Hiian Tsang's account 
(S. Beal, Buddhist Records of the Western World, Vol. II, p. 242). 

The influences of Greece on India are set forth in a good summary 
by Count Goblet d'Alviella in his book Ce que l'lnde doit a la Grece: 
des influences classiques dans la civilisation de l'lnde (2nd ed., Paris, 
1926). While art, medicine, mathematics, and astronomy are duly 

Notes 91 

considered, mechanics and references to airships are passed over with 

Sylvain Levi, however, in his treatise Quid de Graecis veterum 
Indorum monumenta tradiderint (Paris, 1890, p. 24), has thus 
referred to the Yavana airship: "Memorandus tandem ille Yavana 
qui machinam per aera volantem construxerat, ut Candis principem 

In regard to the myth of Etana see G. Hiising, Zum Etana 
Mythos, Archiv fitr Religionswissenschaft, 1903, p. 149, and Die ira- 
nische Ueberlieferung (1909), pp. 39, 100; M. Jastrow, Another Frag- 
ment of the Etana Myth, Journal American Oriental Society, 1910, 
pp. 101-129; B. Meissner, Babylonien und Assyrien, Vol. II (1925), 
pp. 189-191. The British Museum seal representing Etana's bold 
flight is figured and described by P. S. P. Handcock, Mesopotamian 
Archaeology (1912), pp. 297-298. W. H. Ward, The Seal Cylinders 
of Western Asia, pp. 142-148 (Washington, Carnegie Institution, 
1910), describes five seals with this subject. 

The story of Kai Kawus is also recorded in the Bundahishn (trans- 
lated by E. W. West in Sacred Books of the East, Vol. XXXVII, 
pp. 220-223) and in the Arabic History of the Kings of Persia by 
Al-Tha'alibi, translated by H. Zotenberg (Histoire des rois des Perses, 
1900, p. 167). The Arabic chronicler gives the case a more theological 
flavor by making Kai Kawus construct the tower of Babylon whence 
he takes his skyward flight. After his fall he demands milk and water 
from the people who have come to his rescue, and that locality was 
therefore called Siraf ("Milk and Water"). In the same work (p. 13) 
is found the story of King Jemshed constructing a chariot of teak and 
ivory which is transported by demons through the air and in which 
he flies from Donbawand to Babylon in a single day. 

Hodgson errs in tracing Godwin's bird-airship (p. 61) to Lucian, 
who in fact has nothing of the kind. All that Lucian offers in regard 
to air voyages is given above (p. 64), and these are effected by means 
of wings, not of birds. Feldhaus is mistaken in permitting the Baby- 
lonian tradition of the flying Etana to migrate into Persia without 
even knowing the story of the Shahnameh. Etana, however, accom- 
plishes flight merely by mounting a bird, while the Persian king Kai 
Kawus flies comfortably seated in a vehicle drawn by four eagles who 
supply the motor. The two traditions are entirely distinct and not 

The old yarn of Simon the Magician as having attempted, at the 
time of Nero, a flight which ended in failure, is still warmed up in 

92 The Prehistory of Aviation 

many books, recently again by C. L. M. Brown (p. 7). Suetonius 
(Nero, 12) reports nothing about a flight, still less lisps a word about a 
flight of Simon. He writes merely that at a performance of the story 
of Icarus in the theatre an actor (a petaurista or petauristarius) had 
a fatal accident and collapsed on a spot near the emperor whom he 
covered with his blood; the question is of a stage disaster, not of a 
flight. Only mediaeval legend connects Simon with a flight achieved 
with the devil's assistance. Arnobius, writing about the year 300 of 
our era, says that the people of Rome saw the chariot of Simon Magus 
and his four fiery horses blown away by the mouth of Peter and 
vanish at the name of Christ. Cyril of Jerusalem (315-386) speaks of 
Simon's being borne in the air in the chariot of demons, and is not 
surprised that the combined prayers of Peter and Paul brought him 
down. Finally in the Didascalia Apostolorum, an apocryphal work 
extant in Syriac and Latin, Peter finds Simon at Rome drawing many 
away from the church as well as seducing the gentiles by his "magic 
operation and virtues." Peter then states that one day he saw Simon 
flying through the air, but by virtue of his prayer Simon fell and 
broke the arch of his foot. In another, Greek version of the legend 
Simon announced his flight in the theatre. While all eyes were turned 
on him, Peter prayed against him. Meanwhile Simon mounted aloft 
into mid-air, borne up, Peter says, by demons, and telling the people 
that he was ascending to heaven, whence he would return bringing 
them good tidings. The people applauded him as a god, but Peter 
stretched forth his hands to heaven, supplicating God through Jesus 
to dash down the corrupter and curtail the power of the demons. 
He asked, however, that Simon might not be killed by his fall, but 
merely bruised. Thereupon Simon fell with a great commotion and 
bruised his bottom and the soles of his feet (compare L. Thorndike, 
History of Magic and Experimental Science, Vol. I, p. 422). All this 
is freely invented legend for a dogmatic purpose and has nothing to 
do with a real attempt at flight. 

In regard to the letter of Prester John see the critical discussion 
of L. Thorndike, History of Magic and Experimental Science, Vol. II, 
pp. 240-245, a book that is to be highly recommended for its 
thorough, judicious, and critical scholarship. 

The chapter "The Air Mail of Ancient Times" is the most com- 
prehensive historical study of carrier pigeons thus far written. An 
interesting article on Chinese lore of pigeons is by T. Watters, 
Chinese Notions about Pigeons and Doves, in Journal China Branch 
Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. IV, 1868, pp. 225-242. No reference to 

Notes 93 

carrier pigeons is made in this article, although the name of Chang 
Kiu-ling is mentioned. Those interested in Chinese pigeon whistles 
may consult my article on the subject in The Scientific American, 
1908, p. 394, where also the process of making the whistles is de- 
scribed with illustrations of examples and of the tools used in making 
them. In regard to pigeon breeds in general see W. B. Tegetmeier, 
Pigeons: Their Structure, Varieties, Habits, and Management, Lon- 
don, 1868 (with colored plates). 

The Oriental origin of Greek carrier pigeons is upheld by H. Diels, 
Antike Technik (1914), pp. 68-69; see also my review of this book in 
American Anthropologist , 1917, pp. 71-75. There is an interesting 
article by F. Kluge, Die Heimat der Brieftaube, reprinted in his 
Bunte Blatter (Freiburg, 1908), pp. 145-154. The author of this 
article quotes chiefly from early German pilgrimages to Palestine to 
prove the Oriental origin of the pigeon-mail. He justly emphasizes 
the point that the ancients employed pigeons as messengers only 
incidentally and occasionally. L. Rauwolf's Beschreibung der Raiss 
inn die Morgenlander (1583), p. 215, may be added to his German 
sources. Compare also Gaudefroy-Demombynes, La Syrie a l'^poque 
des Mamelouks d'apres les auteurs arabes (1923), pp. 250-254. 

In his charming story "Legend of Prince Ahmed Al Kamel or, 
The Pilgrim of Love" inserted in his The Alhambra, Washington 
Irving has skilfully combined the Oriental motives of talking birds, 
knowledge of birds' speech on the part of the prince, the courier, 
pigeon carrying love letters (that "trustiest of messengers"), the en- 
chanted horse, and the flying carpet of Solomon on which the lovers 
elope. Thomas Moore, in The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan, alludes 
to Solomon's silken rug in the lines — 

Waved, like the wings of the white birds that fan 
The flying throne of star-taught Soliman — 

and comments that when Solomon travelled, he had a carpet of green 
silk on which his throne was placed, being of a prodigious length and 
breadth, and sufficient for all his forces to stand upon, the men plac- 
ing themselves on his right hand and the spirits on his left; and that 
when all were in order, the wind, at his command, took up the carpet, 
and transported it with all that were upon it, wherever he pleased; 
the army of birds at the same time flying over their heads, and form- 
ing a sort of canopy to shade them from the sun. The same motif is 
frequently referred to in the mediaeval Midrash literature. 


Bell, Alexander Graham. — The Tetrahedral Principle in Kite Structure. 
National Geographic Magazine, Vol. XIV, 1903, pp. 219-251. 

Aerial Locomotion. National Geographic Magazine, 1907, pp. 1-34. 

Dr. Bell's Man-Lifting Kite. National Geographic Magazine, 1908, 
pp. 35-52. 

Brown, C. L. M. — The Conquest of the Air, an Historical Survey. London, Oxford 
University Press, 1927. 

Chanute, O. — Progress in Flying Machines. New York, 1899. 

Feldhaus, F. M. — Ruhmesblatter der Technik. Leipzig, 1910. 
Leonardo der Techniker und Erfinder. Jena, 1913. 

Hart, Ivor B. — The Mechanical Investigations of Leonardo da Vinci. Chicago, 
Open Court Publishing Co., 1925. 240p. 

Chap. VII: Leonardo da Vinci as a Pioneer of Aviation. 

Hodgson, J. E. — The History of Aeronautics in Great Britain from the Earliest 
Times to the Latter Half of the Nineteenth Century. 150 illustrations. Oxford 
University Press, London, Humphrey Milford, 1924. 436p. 

Lana, Francesco (Bresciano). — Prodromo overo saggio di alcune inventioni 
nuove premesso all'arte maestra. Brescia, 1670. 252p. 20 plates. 

Copy in Library of Armour Institute of Technology, Chicago. 

Chap. VI: Fabricare una nave, che camini sostentata sopra 1'aria a remi 
e a vele; quale si dimostra poter riuscire nella prattica ("To manufacture a ship 
which travels supported above the air by means of oars and sails: it is demon- 
strated that this is feasible in practice"). 

Wilkins, John. — Mathematicall Magick or, The "Wonders that may be performed 
by Mechanicall Geometry." In Two Books. Concerning Mechanicall Powers, 
Motions. Being one of the most easie, pleasant, usefull, (and yet most ne- 
glected) part of Mathematicks. Not before treated of in this language. By 
J. W. M. A. London, printed by M. F. for Sa. Gellibrand at the brasen 
Serpent in Pauls Church-yard, 1648. 269p. 

Copy in Library of Armour Institute of Technology, Chicago. 
Book II is entitled "Daedalus, or Mechanicall Motions." 



Aelianus, 74. 

Aerial top, Chinese, 42. 

Air bombardments, 12-13, 22, 47. 

Airship, Chinese conception of, 17; 

Indian conception of, 46 
Alchemy, in China, 26, 28; in Asia 

and Europe, 30. 
Alexander the Great, romance of, 60, 

62, 69. 
Alexandria, carrier pigeons at, 80, 81. 
Anti-aircraft practice, first example of, 

Arabian Nights, 77, 78. 
Arabs, attempts at flying by, 65-67; 

organizers of pigeon-posts, 77-80. 
Archytas, flying dove of, 23, 37, 64. 
Ariosto, 83. 
Aziz, Egyptian Caliph, first recipient of 

parcels by air mail, 78. 
Avril, P., 81. 

Bacon, Roger, 68-70. 

Baden-Powell, man-lifting kite of, 42. 

Baghdad, centre of pigeon-mail, 78; 

pigeons of, 84, 87. 
Bate, J., description of kite by, 38. 
Baveru Jataka, 76. 
Belgium, carrier pigeons in, 85. 
Bell, A. G., 13, 42. 
Beybars, air mail organized by, 79. 
Bird-men, Chinese, 15. 
Birds, used by navigators to spy land, 

Bladud, aerial flight of, 14. 
Boots, magic, 53-54. 
Bow, musical, attached to kites, 33, 37. 
Breathing, art of, 29. 
Brihat Katha Clokasamgraha, 48. 

Caesar, 75. 

Cairo, carrier pigeons at, 79, 80. 

Carrier pigeons, history of, 71-87. 

Cayley, Sir George, 42. 

Centipede kite, 32. 

Chang Kiu-ling, first Chinese who kept 

and trained carrier pigeons, 71, 88. 
Chanute, O., 31, 32. 
Cock, Indian airship in the form of, 49. 
Crane, vehicle of flyers, 26, 27. 
Crusades, carrier pigeons used during, 

75, 82-84. 
Cyrano de Bergerac, 64, 65. 

Daedalus, 9, 62-63. 
Dallam, T., 80. 
Damian, John, 67-68. 
Danti, G. B., 67. 
Darwin, C, 84. 

Darwin, E., 13. 

Dirigible airships, in Indian tradition, 

Dragons, as vehicles of aerial flights, 

18, 69. 

Eagles, carrying an airship, 59, 62. 
Elixir, promoting flight, 26, 30. 
Enchanted horse, 55. 
England, carrier pigeons in, 85; kite 

used in, 38. 
Etana, 58, 91. 

Fire-crackers, in connection with kites, 

Flutes, connected with kites, 33. 
Flying elixir, 30. 
Flying horse, 55-56. 
Flying shoes, 28. 

Flying Taoist saint, on painting, 28. 
France, use of carrier pigeons in, 85-86. 
Franklin, Benjamin, experiments of 

with a kite, 39. 
Frontinus, 75. 

Gandharva marriage, 47. 

Garuda airship, 6, 47, 50, 51. 

Giles, H. A., on Chinese airship, 20, 89. 

Glanvill, J., 13. 

Godwin, F., bird airship of, 61, 65, 91. 

Goose, as messenger, 73, 89. 

Greeks, carrier pigeons among, 74-75; 
flying among, 62-65; regarded in India 
as the inventors of a type of airship, 

Gunavarman, 46. 

Harshacharita, 50. 

Harun al-Rashid, pigeon-post of, 77. 

Hawthorne, Nathaniel, 30. 

Hodgson, J. E., author of History of 

Aeronautics in Great Britian, 8, 34, 

43, 61, 67, 70, 91. 
Holland, carrier pigeons in, 85. 
Huang Ti, 18, 19. 

India, carrier pigeons in, 73; conception 
of airships in, 46-52, 55-57; kites in, 

Irving, Washington, 65, 93. 

Jatakas, 46, 53, 55. 
Jivaka, 11. 

Kai Kawus, flying Persian king, 59, 91. 
K'ai yuan t'ien pao i shi, three texts 

translated from, 88. 
Katha Sarit Sagara, 48, 52, 53. 
Ki-kung, maker of flying chariot, 19. 




Kibaga, flying warrior of Uganda, 12. 
Kircher, A., acquainted with kites, 37, 

Kite, contest, 32; for catching fish, 36; 

in England, 38; in India, 37; in Italy, 

37; in Polynesia, 36; in Siam, 37; 

paper, 31, 35; ridden by men, 40; 

wooden, 23, 25. 
Kites, history of, 31-43. 
K'ii Yuan, Chinese poet, air-journey of, 

Kung-shu Tse, 23, 24. 

Lana, Francesco, airship of, 2, 21, 22, 
65; flying birds made by, 25; on 
kites, 37. 

Lanterns, attached to kites, 30. 

Lei Kung, Chinese god of thunder, 16. 

Leonardo da Vinci, aeroplanes of, 70; 
parachute of, 15. 

Li Sao, first description of an air- 
journey in, 17. 

Li Ye, inventor of musical kite, 33. 

Linschoten, 73, 81. 

Logan, J., 13. 

Lu Pan, 23, 24. 

Lucian, 64, 76, 91. 

Mackintosh, bird airship of, 62. 

Magic boots, 28, 53-54. 

Mao Mong, 18. 

Masudi, 78. 

Mercury, in alchemy, 30. 

Mesopotamia, flying in, 58; home of 

domesticated pigeon, 75. 
Mirror, showing interior organs of body, 
, ,11, 88. 
Mo Ti, 23. 
Mongols, 74, 79. 
Moore, Thomas, 71, 84, 93. 
"Music on the air," produced by kites, 

33; produced by pigeon whistles, 72. 

Noah, dove of, 76. 

Nur-ed-din, air mail organized by, 78. 

Oliver of Malmesbury, 67. 

Panchatantra, 46. 

Parachute, first used by Shun, 14; of 

Leonardo da Vinci, 15. 
Parcel post by air mail, first example 

in tenth century, 78. 
Passenger airship, in India, 50. 
Pei Ti, 18. 
Persia, carrier pigeons in, 73-74; flying 

architect of, 66; tradition of airship 

drawn by eagles in, 59-60. 
Pigeon whistles, 72, 93. 
Pliny, 75, 76. 

Po Ku-i, flying shoes of, 28. 
Po wu chi, 19 

Rabelais, 64, 84. 

Regiomontanus, 25. 

Reuter, pigeon-post of, 85. 

Roentgen rays, idea of anticipated in 
China and India, 11-12, 88. 

Romans, carrier pigeons among, 75. 

Rukh, the giant bird, first air-bom- 
bardier, 12. 

Schlegel, G., 89. 

Shahnameh, 59, 60. 

Shakespeare, 84. 

Shan hai king, 19. 

Shun, Chinese emperor, first flyer re- 
corded in history, 14, 88. 

Si Wang Mu, flying on crane's back, 27. 

Siddhi Kur, 47. 

Signalling, by means of kites, 34, 35. 

Simon the Magician, 91-92. 

Solar ship, conception of in India, 
Egypt, and Greece, 46. 

Spinning Damsel, 16. 

Stanley, story of flying Uganda warrior 
recorded by, 12. 

Strutt, J., 38. 

Sulphur, in alchemy, 30. 

Sun Pin, flying shoes of, 28. 

Swallow, Chinese story of transmitting 
a letter, 88; speed of compared with 
carrier pigeon, 87. 

Swift, 61, 64. 

Symon Semeon, 80. 

Syria, pigeon-post in, 78. 

Tasso, 83. 

Thorndike, L., 69, 92. 
Thousand-league boots, 28, 54. 
Ti wang shi ki, 19, 89. 
Tiger, vehicle of flyers, 27. 
Ts'in Shi, mirror of, 11. 
Turks, kite-flying among, 37. 

Uganda warrior, flyer and air-bombar- 
dier, 12. 
Uncles, M., eagle airship of, 62. 

Wayland the Smith, 63. 

Weaver as Vishnu, story of, 46, 90. 

Wells, H. G., on Daedalus story, 9. 

Wilkins, J., 9, 22. 

Wilson, A., scientific experiments of 

with kites, 39. 
Wind-driven chariot, in China, 19; in 

India, 45. 
World War, carrier pigeons in, 86. 

Yavana airship, 49, 50, 51. 
Ye Fa-shan, magician, 88. 
Yoga practice, 53. 
Yogins, 30. 
Pocock, G., kite-chariot of, 21, 41. Yji yang tsa tsu, 73. 

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Field Museum of Natural History Anthropology, Vol. XVIII, No. 1, Plate IV 


Chinese Woodcut from T'u shu tai ch'eng 

Field Museum of Natural History 

Anthropology, Vol. XVIII, No. 1, Plate V 

From Lana's Prodrorao, 1670 

Field Museum of Natural History 

Anthropology, Vol. XVIII, No. 1 , Plate VT 


Chinese Landscape in Ink from General Munthe Collection 

now in Los Angeles Museum 

Field Museum of Natural History 

Anthropology, Vol. XVIII, No. 1, Plate VII 



Scene from an Embroidered Chinese Screen of the K'ang-hi Period (1662-1722) in 

Blackstone Collection of Field Museum 



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Field Museum of Natural History 

Anthropology, Vol. XVIII, No. 1, Plate IX 

From John Bates' The Mysteries of Nature and Art, 1634 

Field Museum of Natural History 

Anthropology, Vol. XVIII, No. 1, Plate X 



Marble Sculpture with Votive Inscription Yielding Date A.D. 677 

Blackstone Chinese Collection of Field Museum 

Field Museum of Natural History 

Anthropology, Vol. XVIII, No. 1, Plate XI 




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From a Persian Illustrated Manuscript of the Shahnameh, Dated 1587-88 

Courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 

Field Museum of Natural History Anthropology, Vol. XVIII, No. 1, Plate XII 

From F. Godwin's Man in the Moone, 1638