Benjamin Franklin, our nation’s founding kitesurfer

Years before his famous experiment with a kite and a key, Benjamin Franklin made another groundbreaking kite discovery: kitesurfing.

As he wrote in a letter (and as we first discovered in Walter Isaacson’s Franklin biography), the famous Philadelphian grew up in Boston, first on Milk Street and then in Haymarket Square. He played along the Charles River and came up with a few swimming innovations, including oval palettes to fit on his hands and feet so he could glide through the water more quickly.

One day, he wanted to fly a kite and float at the same time (and sometimes swimming made him tired).  He loosed his kite from the stick it was tied to and began to float. The kite dragged him across.

“Having then engaged another boy to carry my clothes round the pond,” he wrote, “I began to cross the pond with my kite, which carried me quite over without the least fatigue and with the greatest pleasure imaginable.”

He even believed that, with a little luck and a good wind, you could cross from Dover to Calais thanks to kite-power.

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