The history of darts is complicated, full of myth and legend. Yet, we know that the modern form of darts was invented at the end of the 19th century. But people played games similar to darts in the United Kingdom for centuries before that.
So, what is the history of darts? Let’s find out.
When Was Darts Invented?
Darts was invented in 1896. However, forms of the sport have been played in England since the Middle Ages.
The sport we know as darts today started as a way for medieval soldiers to entertain themselves. In the 1300s, soldiers would throw short weighted javelins at tree stumps to improve their accuracy. The tree rings visible in the stumps first used for target practice inspired the ring pattern of dartboards today.
A throwing game with javelins was popular among soldiers and courtiers in the United Kingdom until Victorian times. Still, the first mention of darts as a game comes from France, called flechettes. In the 19th century, a game that involved throwing pointed wooden objects at a target painted with concentric rings was popular at British and French fairgrounds.
The modern form of the game as we play it in worldwide competitions and pubs alike evolved in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Pubs started to put wooden, ringed targets on the walls indoors. There was even a brief craze for puff darts, which used a blowgun to aim the targets.
Authorities tried to crack down on darts in the early 20th century, even suing a pub owner because they considered darts to be a form of gambling.
Darts as an organized sport with competitions was first standardized in the 1920s—the first governing body, the National Darts Association, was organized in 1924. Since then, the sport has grown in popularity and spread far beyond the United Kingdom.
Who Invented Darts?
Many historians name Brian Gamlin as the inventor of the modern game of darts. The story goes that in 1896, a carpenter from Lancashire created the modern dartboard.
Yet, there is no evidence of Brian Gamlin ever existing. Researchers have tried to track him down by contacting potential descendants and looking at census records from the area, with not much luck.
Another, more plausible story is that the modern dartboard was invented by Thomas William Buckle, a wireworker from Yorkshire, in 1913. Until then, every region of the United Kingdom had its own dartboard with different designs and scoring systems. Buckle used wire to divide up a London Five-Board into 20 segments, added the random numbers, and standardized the board as we know it.
As with any other sport, the history of darts includes many different narratives.
We know for sure that the game of darts was first standardized in the early 20th century in British pubs. Descending from target practice for medieval soldiers and a popular fairground competition.
Although Brian Gamlin and Thomas William Buckle claim to have invented the modern dartboard, the sport itself was shaped by many people.