A Brief History of Darts: From Weapon to International Sport

by : Andrew Regan

We know that dart-like items have been used for hunting and warfare by early man, and indeed even today some tribes in South America, Africa and Asia continue to use blow darts for hunting purposes. However, in terms of the modern game of darts, the early history seems to have evolved from a game called "Puff and Dart", where players took turns to fire a small sharpened dart at a paper or cork target.

Puff and Dart became a popular game in English inns, through history records an unfortunate incident of a man who sucked rather than blew - inhaling the dart into his body, and then dying a few days later. It's not known whether this affected the popularity of Puff and Dart, but we do know that the game is no longer around today.

The next chapter in the history of Darts begins in the late 1870s, when the game "Dart and Target" (also known as Dartelle) appeared. Here, crude darts fashioned from dowel, with a pin stuck to one end and paper flights to the other, where thrown by hand into a piece of softwood board. In 1904, Dart and Target became one of several "Lawful Games on Licensed Premises", and around 1925, brewers noticed the popularity of the game; and in response, they started to organise Dart and Target leagues.

The game received a huge publicity boost when the King and Queen of England visited a social club in Slough and casually took part in ad-hoc darts game, and in doing so "made the women of Britain darts-conscious" according to The Sunday Chronicle. The number of darts playing pubs went on to triple in the next two years.

Darts' appeal to the general public piqued in the 80s and early 90s when the UK TV show 'Bullseye' aired. 'Bullseye' was a game show based around darts where contestants were paired with professional darts players, and also had to answer general knowledge questions themselves. The prizes ranged from kitchen appliances to holidays, cars, caravans and speedboats.

Since then, darts has spread across the UK and the rest of the world. It is even said that there are more pubs with dart boards in the centre of New York than there are in the centre of London. The popularity of darts has led to big international competitions and big prize money. The 2008 World Darts Championship will be held in Alexandra Palace in London, and fans wanting to see the top names in darts will find hotels in Kings Cross and Finsbury Park are conveniently located close to the event.

Though there have been some questions raised in Britain as to whether the presence of offensive weapons in a place full of drunk people is really a sensible idea, darts remains a popular game in pubs all around the world, and international competition continues to attract thousands of fans.