Dart history 101: Invention, purpose, modern tips, & more

Darts: the little missiles with some big history. Playing darts is a great way to pass time. Whether thrown traditionally at pubs, as recreation across the world in people’s backyards and basements, or professionally in national competitions, it’s a game of finesse that can be enjoyed by anyone, anytime. 

When talking about the history of darts, there’s been many references to the medieval times from archers, crossbowmen and spear throwers shortening their weapons into small darts, so let’s see what this is all about.


References to Henry VIII a Tudor King of England receiving a set of ornamented darts for use for games from Anne Boleyn isn’t exactly true. While he did receive such a gift, these were short throwing spears not used for games. 

These small throwing spears would have been thrown from horseback into wild boar or pigs and not used for a target game. Although these shortened spears could kill directly, it is more likely to injure or create a wound that would not heal rendering the prey into submission.

If rumor holds true that the game of darts had its origin during the reign of King Henry VIII of England, it is believed that he told his archers to practice their arching skills all year round so they would be sharp and ready for battle at any time. It’s been said that while practicing outside, some archers, instead of shooting, started throwing their arrows as a means of fun. Maybe the thinking was, “anyone can shoot accurately lets see who can throw accurately.”

But, again, we don’t know for certain. After all, some individuals say that the earliest reference to darts as a game can be traced to France while others credit England to being the home of darts (which we’ll address in the next section).

Related reading(s): A Brief History of Darts!, Learn the Darts History from Medieval Times


  • The Medeival era

  • Brian Gamlin

  • A military pastime

  • Tree trunks

Darts and the Medieval Era

In case you couldn’t tell, direct evidence for hand throwing darts into a target for a game or practice has been hard to find — was it the French or the English who started the pastime? The bulk majority says that the development of darts as a game originated in England during the medieval era in the 1300s. So, for the sake of consistency, we’ll stick with England.

Brian Gamlin & the Modern Dartboard

The invention of modern darts can be attributed to a carpenter from Lancashire by the name of Brian Gamlin in 1896; he invented the dartboard numbering layout of today. The original darts were also made from wood (so it makes sense that it was invented by a carpenter).

Brian Gamlin’s numbering sequence layout was specifically created with the intention to penalize inaccuracy. Although many papers were written about the billions of different dartboard numbering sequences that could be devised with 20 numbers, it is widely accepted that Gamlin’s numbering sequence layout is the closest to perfect randomness you will ever find. (Gamlin died in 1903 before he could patent his idea).

The original darts is said to have had a metal point and the flights were made from bird feathers (mainly turkey feathers). However, dart history goes back much farther than turkey feathers — gobble, gobble!

Related reading(s): Who Invented Darts? (The Origins & History Of The Game)

Darts and the Military

Darts began as a military pastime originating in England during the medieval era in the first couple of decades of the fourteenth century. The tale goes that between battles, bored soldiers would sit in the trenches and compete by throwing spearheads and other sharp objects at the bottoms of upturned wine casks as a “target.” 

Officials encouraged soldiers to participate since it was an effective way to practice their aim and throwing skills. And, naturally, as the pastime spread amongst the rank and file, soldiers began competing in an attempt to prove their moral fiber. 

And here’s an interesting fact about the word target: the bottom of a wine or beer barrel was called a “butt” which originated from archery from the French word “butte” which means “target.” (The more you know!)

Darts and the tree trunks

After a while, soldiers moved on from hitting the bottom of upturned wine casks and started using cross-sectioned tree trunks as targets. And, as it turns out, the tree trunks own growth rings, and radial cracks offered the first template for the sections that would eventually appear on the sport’s modern-day dart boards.

Darts would progressively change over hundreds of years until the turn of the nineteenth century when it began to approximate the game we all know and love.


  1. Know that every dart board is the same. Each board is numbered from 1 – 20 in non-sequential order around the board. You play darts by throwing a small dart onto different parts of the board, counting your points as you go. 

  1. The board is split into distinct sections with points associated with that section. If a dart lands in the outer green or red sections, the thrower scores double that section’s number of points. If a dart lands in the inner small green or red sections, the thrower scores triple that section’s number of points. (EX: if you land inside the double ring under 18, you would score 36 points)

  1. The most common form of the game is simply known as “01.” Objective: Each player must reduce his score down to zero. Why is it called “01”? The title refers to the fact that each player always starts a game with a score that ends in “01.”

  2. To start the game and see who goes first, each player throws a dart. The person who gets closest to the double bull gets to throw first.


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