The History of Darts

Darts is one of the oldest established pub games and since the late 1970s, has gone on become one of the most popular sports in the world. Many theories have been put forward over the years as to the game's origins. One popular belief is that it began as a contest between soldiers who would throw spears into the cross sections of trees, using the natural rings as targets. Originally an outdoor sport, it is suggested that during the winter months, the soldiers adapted the game to be played indoors, and thus developed shorter “darts” for this purpose. Others believe that the game's roots stem from archery, owing to the fact that the earliest types of dart boards resembled miniature archery targets. Historical evidence also suggests that some of the earliest dartboards were made from the bottoms of wine casks, hence the game’s original name of “butts”.

In 1896, Brian Gamblin devised the dartboard numbering layout, which is still used to this day. With a 20 on top, the board is divided into twenty numbered sections which a score of 1-20. Circular wires divide the sections into single, double and triple areas. Although Gamblin’s layout has remained the most popular, in parts of England there are still regional differences, the most notable being in Yorkshire, where the board has no treble ring or single inner bull.

As the sport grew in popularity, the dart also became standardised, comprising of a 4 inch piece of wood, with a metal tip and feathers at the end. In 1898 the first paper flight was patented by an American and in 1906, an Englishman patented the first all metal barrel. At around the same time, an employee of Hockey & Sons, a brewery located in the South West of England, came across a novel way to ensure that a standardised throwing distance was achieved from one pub to the next. By placing 3 beer crates end to end, a uniform distance of exactly 9 feet was attained.

After WW1, the first brewery leagues began to appear in England as the sport gained ever increasing popularity. By the 1930s, darts had become an established recreational sport and became more popular than skittles and rings. During WWII, it was played to help boost morale and was also introduced to American servicemen stationed in England. Although originally introduced to the U.S by Irish immigrants at the turn of the century, it was not until after WWII that substantial interest was generated.

In 1973, representatives of 15 nations, including the British Darts Organisation (BDO), formed the World Darts Federation (WDF). Currently, the WDF is comprises of more than 250,000 players, representing  60 nations across the six continents of Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North and South America. The WDF is responsible for organising the following international ‘cup’ events:

  • World Cup
  • Americas Cup
  • Asia-Pacific Cup
  • Europe Cup  

In 1992 a breakaway organisation, the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC), with the backing of Sky Television, took the sport in a new direction. Initially formed as the World Darts Council (WDC), the PDC host five ranking tournaments each year including the World Series of Darts, and broadcast to a global audience of some 300 million viewers. From humble beginnings, the sport of darts has truly become a worldwide phenomenon.


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