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Is This A UFO?

No, this isn't a UFO. It's a kite in the form of a tetrahedral truss. Alexander Graham Bell discovered that the tetrahedral truss, created from three-dimensional triangles, could support considerable weight even when constructed of lightweight materials. Bell made extensive aerodynamic studies with these kites before attempting to build airplanes. His Aerial Experiment Association achieved the first manned flight in Canada. (Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first manned flight anywhere on Dec. 17, 1903.)

Gilbert H. Grosvenor, photographer. "Ring Kite Experiments," 1908 Alexander Graham Bell's design sketch of the telephone, ca. 1876

The Library's extensive Gilbert H. Grosvenor collection of photographs documents Bell's work and family life. Grosvenor is the editor credited with transforming National Geographic magazine from a small scholarly journal into a dynamic world-renowned monthly. His father-in-law was Alexander Graham Bell, most famous for his work on the telephone and whose papers are online from the Library of Congress. The family tree of Grosvenor's wife, Elsie May Bell, is also available.

In its early years, National Geographic was a plain-covered journal with a circulation of less than a thousand. Under Grosvenor's leadership, the magazine developed its extraordinary photographic service and map department and boosted circulation to 2 million. Using revenues from the magazine, the National Geographic Society has sponsored hundreds of scientific expeditions and research projects. Richly illustrated within the magazine, these explorations of land, air, and sea have introduced millions to amazing new worlds. If you saw the recent documentary "March of the Penguins," you saw one of the Geographic's expeditions.

In addition to the papers of Bell, the Library has an extensive collection of another famous flyer of kites: Benjamin Franklin. This year is the tercentenary of his birth, and the Library has mounted a special exhibition to mark the event. "Benjamin Franklin: In His Own Words" documents the breadth of Franklin's public, professional and scientific accomplishments through important documents, letters, books, broadsides and cartoons. The physical exhibition will be on view at the Library through June 17, 2006 -- well into kite-flying season. This online presentation will be available indefinitely.

A. Gilbert H. Grosvenor, photographer. "Ring Kite Experiments," 1908. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction information: Contact: //

B. Alexander Graham Bell's design sketch of the telephone, ca. 1876. Manuscript Division. Reproduction information: Contact: //