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  Sport > Darts
Lankomumo reitingas Print version Print version
One Hundred Years of the Paper Flight
Yes, it’s true! The month of November 2000 saw the 100th anniversary of the first patent of the paper dart flight.

Until the end of the nineteenth century the majority of darts thrown in inns and taverns in this country and utilised in fairgrounds were imported from France. The French darts were made of wood, had a needle point, sometimes with a lead weight round the outside for better balance and always three or four turkey feathers as flights.

Darts is often described as “a traditional English pub game” and, therefore, it would seem logical that any new inventions relating to the game, especially at the turn of the century, would come from, at least, within the British Isles.

It will, therefore, come as some surprise to anyone interested in the history of darts to discover in Derek Brown’s The Guinness Book of Darts that “an American patented a folded paper flight in 1898…”. Brown offers up no further details.

One of the great things about undertaking research into the history of our sport is that, occasionally – and I mean only occasionally – I come across people who are as interested in the history of our sport as I am. I am indebted to two of these enthusiasts, Marc Van Den Avond of Belgium and Steve Jara of the USA, for providing me with the information that follows.

Yes, the paper flights are an American invention. The inventor’s name was Nathan P. McKenney, of Dixon, in the County of Lee, Illinois. Nathan filed his application of 11 March 1898 and the specification, forming part of Letters Patent No. 613,386 was approved on 1 November 1898.

Those who know about darts in America will tell you that darts did not really expand into a game to be played in bars until the mid-twentieth century, so what was Mr McKenney doing filing his application for a dart flight? The answer is simple. His patent was for an improvement to a toy. McKenney wrote:

“My invention relates to toys and games, and particularly to a game apparatus of the ‘dart and target’ type, and has for its object to provide a dart, adapted to be projected manually, whereof the feather is of four-wing construction and is formed from a foldable blank of paper or other flexible material to adapt it to be replaced with facility…”.

McKenney’s invention was simple enough. The illustration here, extracted from the USA Patent Office files, shows not only the paper flight and how to fold it, but also the type of darts and targets which were being used, at least by children, in the USA at the time.

Flights of either paper or feathers have stayed with dart players until the present day, but, of course, the materials used have diversified including plastic, vulcanised material and polyester, nowadays the designs numbering tens of thousands.

Marc Van den Avon is probably the world’s greatest collector of darts flights (technical term “belopterophilist”) having more than 18,000 different flights and clearly he was very excited when McKenny’s patent was traced. Marc told me: “I have collected flights for many years and have always wanted to know who the man was who invented the paper flight. Thanks to Steve Jara I now know that it was Nathan P. McKenney.”

So while darters across the globe are celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the BDO and Darts World magazine and the 21st year of the Embassy, let us just spare Nathan P. McKenney “a citizen of the United States”, a thought or two and thank him, 100 years on, for playing his part in the development of a game now loved and played today by millions across the globe.

And that is how darts research works best with enthusiasts sharing information in order to piece together aspects of the history of our favourite sport. If you have any information concerning the development in this country of the dart flight, the dart or any other aspect of the game, please contact me, either by e-mail patrick.chaplin@ukonline.co.uk or at 50 Norfolk Road, Maldon, Essex CM9 6AT.

         
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