There are many theories about how darts found its way across the Atlantic; the most popular being that the Pilgrim Fathers took the game with them – and indeed played it – on the Mayflower when they sailing into self-imposed, permanent exile in the ‘New World’ back in 1620.
What a load of rubbish!
I researched that theory many years ago. Unfortunately though, this oft-quoted ‘fact’ has turned into just that and has found its way into darts history via a number of otherwise authoritative books on the game.
One darts writer, Keith Turner, challenged the ‘facts’ back in 1980 in his book Darts – The Complete Book of the Game and stated that he could find no evidence to support the theory. Keith added, “In view of their beliefs and code of living it is extremely unlikely that they played any other sort of game either.” Absolutely right. Their credo would simply not have allowed it.
Determined to sort this out once and for all I wrote to The Pilgrim Society in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It came as no surprise to me that the Curator of Exhibits replied that he could find no evidence whatsoever to support such a theory stating “We have researched this in depth and have to confess that we have found no mention or hint of this in our records.” More recently, to close the book on this, Dan William Peek (2001) undertook research with The Pilgrim Society and knocked the ‘fact’ back into the realms of fiction.
It was Dan who set out on an epic journey to seek out the true history of the sport of darts in America. His book To the Point: The Story of Darts in America is an essential work and should be read by anyone interested in darts ‘across the pond.’ It is not my intention here to lift sections of Dan’s work into this article; merely to direct you to the book which was published by Pebble Publishing, Inc.
What’s my personal view?
Well, I believe darts came to the USA in a number of ways, rather like it did here in the UK. It was probably brought to the States by Irish immigrants at the turn of the twentieth century and other Brits seeking fortune, fame or refuge away from the mother country. However, there is significant evidence that the Native Americans were playing a form of darts long before any white faces were seen on the prairies. Apart from places such as Philadelphia, darts appears to have remained more of a ‘diaper’ pastime – a toy – rather than a pub game or even sport until after the Second World War.
When the Americans joined the Second World War, they ‘invaded’ Britain and thousands were stationed in towns and villages up and down the country. One of the activities that appealed to the ‘Yanks’ whilst they were ‘over here’ was visiting the local pub and what did they find in the pub? (Apart from that.) Yes, darts. A great number of those servicemen and women took darts back home with them and helped spread the word of darts in the post-war years across North America.
With the coming of the British Darts Organisation and the World Darts Federation in the 1970s, darts went well and truly international. In the USA the lead was taken by the late, much-lamented Tom Fleetwood who founded the American Darts Organization (ADO) and with his wife Della and many other colleagues worked great things for US darts for many years.
In addition to Dan William Peek, who has researched the broad history of the sport of darts in the USA, there are – I know – a few enthusiasts out there that have recorded the history of their own darts organisations. One of these is Ed Otjen who, in 1999, wrote an 18-page history of the Twin City Darts Association especially to celebrate the TCDA’s 25th Anniversary and was presented at the special Anniversary Dinner in the Fall of that year.
On e-mailing Ed I gained his permission to publish his excellent work on this web site but, after due consideration, I believe that a link would be better as this will enable those who access it to also find out more about what’s happening in the darts scene in Minneapolis and St. Paul today as well as learning about yesterday. Check out Ed’s excellent history of the TCDA at www.twincitydarts.com/history.html
I would be very interested to learn of any similar research featured on other US darts web sites so that I can forge other links to – eventually – gain a full picture of darts in America today and yesterday.
And for those who don’t agree with my potted history of how darts came to America then please drop me a line and tell me your theories. I’ll publish the best on this site.
© 2004 Patrick Chaplin (Revised, corrected and updated 2012)