History of Darts: from the 14th Century to Modern Days

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Last updatedLast updated: May 29, 2021
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Darts has long been a favorite of pub dwellers and college students alike, but where did it get its start? Though darts has mostly remained unchanged for the past 50 years, it has actually been around for quite some time. In fact, the origins of the game can be traced back at least 700 years, though, of course, the game had definitely changed quite a bit from when it was first played. There have been modifications to rules and the darts themselves in this time, with different innovations and inventors leading to the game we know and love today.

Throughout its history, there have been many ebbs and flows to the popularity of this exciting game. Thankfully, many different contributors have kept it alive so that modern generations can enjoy the sport of darts. So, how exactly did darts come into being? Well, just read on and find out!

Early beginnings

If it seems like darts is a timeless game, that is because it kind of is! Darts has been around for about 700 years, though it has changed quite a lot through the centuries. It is so old, in fact, that no one is exactly sure who was the first inventor or how exactly it got started. Experts do agree, however, that the first game of darts originated in England way back in the 1300s.

Of course, back then, many folks weren’t hanging around in a pub playing with their pals. As such, it should come as no surprise that darts was quite different when it was first played. During this time period, there was always constant warfare between rival factions. Even though these wars could be quite brutal with bunches of battles, there was also quite a bit of downtime. This downtime would lead to a bit of boredom for the soldiers.

To try and alleviate this boredom, soldiers began throwing spearheads at the bottom of wine casks that were lying on their sides. As this practice grew in popularity, the leaders of these soldiers actually told them to continue this practice. As it worked out, throwing these sharp spearheads helped to keep the soldiers battle-ready.

As is the case with pretty much anything involving many men who spend tons of time together, these simple games began to become competitive exercises. Each warrior would try their very best to prove that they were the best in the company. This increased popularity also led to the wine casks being replaced with sections of tree trunks.

These trunks were a huge step forward for the game of darts. The natural rings that occur in a tree provided the soldiers and competitors with an easy scoring system. Darts would continue to change for hundreds of years, with many different contributors adding and subtracting from the game until the 1800s when it began to more closely resemble the modern game that we know today.

Soaring in popularity

History of Darts: from the 14th Century to Modern DaysThroughout the centuries, the game of darts changed quite a bit. There were many different ways to keep score. This could change based on the town or region that one was playing in since no standard scoring system had been established nationally. Regardless of this fact, darts continued to gain popularity all the way through the 1800s. This shouldn’t come as any surprise, of course, since darts is one of the easiest games to start playing, and once someone starts, it is very hard to stop. This popularity really took off when it was taken up by members of the royal family.

Even the King of England would get in on the action. King Henry VIII was a huge fan of darts. In fact, he would often make a gift of darts to various important persons, including his many wives. Obviously, this soaring popularity among the royals made it even more popular amongst the nobility of England. This, in turn, helped it spread to the masses. This helped to spread the game even further, which, of course, led to further innovation and different ways of scoring. It was through this innovation that the modern game came to be.

Darts finally gets some rules

Near the end of the 1800s, the game of darts finally got something that it was lacking: a standardized set of rules. Even though this game was popular with nobles and kings, it still was played a bit differently depending on where you were and who was providing the darts. This all changed, not because of some famous person, but because of one man’s ingenuity.

Though it cannot be known for certain who exactly was the inventor of the modern dartboard, historians generally agree on a man named Brian Gamlin. Even though he was not a big mover and shaker in England at the time, he was a carpenter, which was a skill set that lent itself to making things out of wood. Using these skills and a deeply analytical brain, Mr. Gamlin was able to come up with the scoring system on a dartboard that we still use to this day.

This development might not seem significant now, but back then, it was downright earth-shattering. This monumental achievement helped the game to achieve an even bigger following since it allowed players to travel from town to town, showing off their skills.

As you know, the modern setup for a dartboard is to have the numbers go around the circle, starting with 20 and then going in what appears to be a randomized order around the board. This actually couldn’t be further from the truth. Mr. Gamlin set up his scoring system to provide the game with a high degree of depth, strategy, and fairness that has served it well over these past 100 years.

The genius of this arrangement is hidden within its apparent randomness. If you think about it critically, you will begin to notice that numbers that are close together numerically are as far away from each other as possible. This helped to get rid of any claims of a lucky shot since the element of chance had been removed from the game completely. Instead, players need to have the correct amount of skill and be able to complete accurate throws in order to get the most points and win the game.

A controversial beginning

At the beginning of the 20th century, darts was still quite popular but was mired in a bit of controversy. Even though it had been played for centuries by soldiers, commoners, noblemen, and kings, it was regarded as a game of chance. These were strictly prohibited at the time, which made it illegal for anyone to have an organized tournament for darts. This came to a head in 1908 when a local pub owner in the town of Leeds was taken to court for allowing his customers to play darts in his pub.

Since darts were regarded as a game of chance, the owner should be penalized according to the court. Luckily for this owner, an exceptional dart playing champion came to his defense. The player proceeded to challenge the local magistrates to a game of darts. He then stuck three 20 point throws right in a row. When it was the magistrates’ turn, their clerk was not as skilled. In fact, he was only able to hit the board on one of his throws. This demonstration showed that darts was not a game of chance but rather a highly skilled endeavor. The case was dismissed, and its outcome reverberated throughout the land, turning darts into a welcome staple in homes and pubs alike.

First pro tournamentHistory of Darts: from the 14th Century to Modern Days

With the controversy out of the way, the popularity of darts blossomed even further. In fact, by the time the 1930s rolled around, you couldn’t walk into a British pub without observing a game being played. Of course, much like when it was originally conceived 600 years earlier, the more that people played the game, the more competitive it became. As such, it wasn’t too terribly long until there were tournaments and championships for players to show their skills in.

The National Darts Association was founded in London in 1924. This helped to establish the game as a legitimate sport that could have organized tournaments and championships. It also further standardized the rules and regulations so that everyone would be on the same playing field. This led to the first official darts championships turning into a yearly event in the 1920s. All of these factors only helped to grow the game even more. The game was, thankfully, not just for men either, as many women grew to enjoy the sport as well. In fact, Queen Elizabeth famously played a game of darts in Buckinghamshire in 1937.

By the time 1939 rolled around, three hundred thousand players signed up to compete for the World Championship. This immense playing field was eventually widdled down to only two men, Jim Pike and Marmaduke Brecon. Such was the popularity of the game at the time that their final match was attended by about 15,000 spectators. The darts that they played with that day have not changed much over the years. In fact, if you are looking for a dartboard that harkens back to this golden age of the game, you might want to try something from Winmau. This Welsh company was founded in 1945, and their Winmau Blade 5 is still an unbeatable leader among bristle dartboards.

How darts appeared in America

Darts continued to be very popular in Great Britain all the way through World War II. In fact, it was so popular at this time that British soldiers were issued a set of darts as standard equipment. This was thought to improve morale, as it gave the soldiers something else to think about aside from the war and being far away from their families.

Since British soldiers were stationed all over the world, they took their darts with them. As they interacted with other soldiers from America, New Zealand, and Australia, they shared this game with their comrades in arms. When the war ended, these other soldiers took the love of darts back with them to their own countries. It is in this way that it is thought that darts made their way across the pond to the United States.

Darts took a good bit of time to become popular in the States. In the 1940s, it was mostly played by former soldiers when they would get together with old friends from the war. As the 1950s and 1960s rolled by, however, more and more Americans started to take up the game. As it had in England many years before, darts started to take hold as a favorite pass time of Americans in bars and at parties.

Leagues and associations

As the popularity of darts began to spread around the world, the National Darts Association of Great Britain decided to set up and organized different leagues. These leagues and associations would be organized at both the local and national levels. This next step in the development of darts allows it to gain even more popularity and an air of legitimacy as well, leading up to its competitions being broadcast on television.

Darts had a checkered past when it came to viewership on television. Though the first televised game was broadcast in 1936, barely anyone was able to watch it. It wasn’t until a tournament was put out in 1972 that people really started to tune in to watch games. This continued into the 80s, with more and more superstar players being introduced to folks right in their living rooms. Much like any other sport, these stars garnered admiration wherever they went, thanks to their impressive skills.

Modern daysHistory of Darts: from the 14th Century to Modern Days

Thanks in part to the pioneering spirit of these players and the members of the organizing bodies, the game of darts has never been more popular. Not only can you still find a dartboard in pretty much any pub or bar around the world, but you can also still see professional players battle it out in yearly championships. There are also many ways that regular players can feel more connected with the pros. Whether it be getting a great dartboard or well-designed and durable steel-tipped darts, it is very easy to improve your skills thanks to the conveniences of today. Regarding steel tip darts, Bottelsen is among the most trusted manufacturers today. You’ll love their Gorilla Grip darts for their sturdiness, secure grip, and elegant looks, of course.

There are many different organizations around the world for professional players to show off their skills. One of the more popular is known as the World Darts Federations. This organization holds a yearly worldwide competition to find the best of the best. The winners of these tournaments get the crowning glory of being known as the best of the best in the world, which is an impressive feat. It becomes even more impressive when you consider the fact that this organization represents 70 different countries. This high level of diversity is precisely why the winners of the championship can rest assured that they truly are the best around.

While the game has become more organized, it has also become more technologically advanced as well. Many tournaments now use electronic dartboards. This makes it much easier to keep score and really helps to streamline the playing experience. It has also made the game more accessible and, as a result, even more, popular than it was before.

Darts variations: baseball darts, lawn dartsHistory of Darts: from the 14th Century to Modern Days

Though many purists prefer to keep to the traditional style of darts, there are several different variations on the game that are also lots of fun. These variants can be played with or without a dartboard, depending on the rules. Some of these variations include the following:

  • Baseball Darts – In baseball darts, players take turns trying to throw their darts at the board based on the innings in baseball. For instance, when it is the first inning, each player tries to throw their darts to the number 1 section. A hit in the sing section scores one run, a double is two runs, and a triple is worth 3. Any hits outside of the correct section results in a score of 0. This game continues until you have reached nine innings.
  • Lawn Darts – As the name implies, these darts are usually played in an outdoor setting, preferably in the grass. The players toss oversized darts towards a target. Much like horseshoes, the player scores points if their darts land in the target area. If they miss, then they do not receive any points.
  • Around the Clock – In this game, players work around the board to try and hit all of the numbers in ascending order. Each player gets three throws at a time but can only attempt one number at a time. If, for instance, they achieve two hits in the number one spot, however, they can skip number two and go right to three. This continues until one of the players has hit all 20 numbers.

Final thoughts

The game of darts has undergone many changes since it started as a pastime for soldiers to relieve boredom. It has been a great way for people to unwind and relax throughout the centuries. From kings and queens to commoners, many people have spent hours upon hours hurling darts at a board for fun.

Thanks to many different inventions and innovations, the game has continued to evolve over time. Because of this innovative spirit, it has also become more and more popular throughout its history. This has led to tournaments and championships, as well as superstars and celebrities. Truly, darts is one of the best games on the planet today, which is why the history of darts is one worth studying and cherishing.

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