Flying kites is a right of passage for most kids. Catching a good breeze and watching a kite take flight for the first time is a thrilling experience. As adults we rarely think back to the days when we took to a hill or the beach on a windy day with a spool of string and a kite in hand and got lost watching as a stiff breeze propelled our kite higher and higher. Flying a kite was a fun pastime but few of us could have imagined our kite as the key step for building a bridge or a metaphor for reaching our goals.
In 1848 Canada and the United States were physically separated by the turbulent Niagara River. To cross from one country to another, you would have to walk two miles downstream or go north above the gorge and take a ferry ride. Between the Falls and the whirlpools downstream from the river, it was considered virtually impossible to build a bridge spanning the river.
Despite the odds, a joint commission was formed between the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge Company in Canada and the International Bridge Company of the United States. George Ellet, an engineer and Philadelphia native was hired to build the bridge.
The first challenge was to connect a cable from the US shore to the Canadian shore. The Niagara river is about 800 feet from shore to shore with steep cliffs of about 225 feet above the rushing waters. Boats could not cross at this point due to the dangerous whirlpools. Other options like shooting a fireworks rocket with a cable attached or an arrow across the gorge were all determined to be infeasible as well.
The bridge commission finally decided to hold a kite flying contest. A five-dollar prize would be awarded to the first youth who could fly his kite across the river. The kite string would be tied to a tree on the other side making a connection between the American and Canadian sides of the river.
Fifteen-year old American, Homan Walsh, crossed to the Canadian side of the river and walked the two miles upstream with his kite to enter the contest. The wind from the Canadian side was better for flying kites. On the first day, the wind was not strong enough, but on the second day, the winds were perfect for flying. Homan and numerous other children took attempts to cross the raging river with their kites. After flying his kite all day and into the night, Homan’s kite string broke, leaving his kite stranded at the bottom of the gorge on the American side.
Due to the weather conditions, he was not able to return across the river and retrieve his kite for another eight days. Once he was able to repair his kite, Homan returned to the Canadian side for another attempt. This time he was successful, and his kite crossed the river and lodged itself in a tree on the other side. He had won the contest, but more importantly his kite string became the first piece in the construction of the new suspension bridge.
Once the kite string was anchored on both sides of the river, thicker and thicker lines were drawn across with Homan’s kite string until a cable was eventually strung to begin the suspension bridge. Soon, the bridge was completed connecting the two countries for business and travel.
Homan Walsh and his kite are a good example of the power of small things. If a kite string could lead to the construction of a suspension bridge across the raging Niagara river, what small steps can we use to start us on the path to reach our own goals? Find your own kite string to get you started flying toward your goals.