For darters, the 1970’s was a time of explosive growth for Darts in both the USA and Great Britain. Enthusiastic promoters and darts manufacturers organized new leagues, publicized regional and national tournaments, and heavily marketed new darts products. National and International organizations were formed, rules standardized, and the game’s popularity was taking off.
With all of the growth in competitive darts leagues and tournaments, darts enthusiasts looked for more & more technological advances to improve their game. There was a lot to see, and buy: new high-density tungsten darts, radical new flight and shaft designs, and even dartboards were being redesigned to reduce bounce-outs.
In particular, darters wanted to find a way to reduce the number of bounce-outs from hitting wires. Different dartboard designs were tried, using a variety of wiring shapes and fastening techniques.
In addition to bounce-outs from hitting wires, darters were annoyed by scoring areas being blocked by previously thrown darts. The design of smaller flights, such as the original “Coal Cracker” design, was an early effort to solve this problem.
Then, a young California darter named Walter E. Bottelsen came up with a revolutionary idea: design a dart that would come apart when it hit the dartboard, leaving only the tiny end of the steel point to impede the next darts! Only a tiny portion of the board would be blocked by the point, so very tight groups should be possible.
On the Bottelsen Darts web site, there is an account of Walt experiencing multiple bounce-outs at a darts tournament in 1975, which prompted him to consider how to design a better dart. He focused on the point, and how to change it so as to reduce the likelihood of a dart bouncing out, as well as reducing the area blocked from following darts.
His first try at this was a dart with a detachable point. The basic concept of a detachable projectile point was not in itself new, as harpoons & arrows using separate points have been used by hunters for thousands of years. And toy darts with detachable tips had been previously patented.
But, this was the first attempt to apply the concept to the traditional game of steel-point darts.
After a good deal of experimenting & “tinkering” in his garage, on September 20, 1976, Walt filed for a US Patent for the new dart design. The patent for the unusual “Breakaway Dart” , #US 4109915A, was approved and published two years later, on August 29, 1978. (Note that the patent actually described three different possible methods of having the dart point separate from the barrel.)
The original “Breakaway Darts” had brass barrels & steel points, and performed exactly as designed & advertised: they fell apart after every throw! As only the point remained in the dartboard, thin tungsten darts barrels were not required to get tight groups. Brass was much cheaper and easier to machine than tungsten billets, and since the dart barrels fell to the floor after each throw, brass barrels were less likely to break.
Other than materials, this was perhaps the first really major innovation in darts design since folding flights & shafts were invented in the 1930’s.
(Note: Rick’s Darts & Games, already in business since 1974, bought the set of Breakaway Darts shown here from Walt Bottelsen sometime around 1976.)
However, darters (even those seeking a technological advantage) tend to be traditionalists. There were immediate complaints that the new darts design was unfair to anyone using traditional darts, which continued to obstruct scoring areas after being thrown. And, of course, other manufacturers were not happy with the idea of a possibly revolutionary concept being the sole property of the patent holder, Walt Bottelsen.
As the owner of a tiny new darts company, Walt did not yet have a whole lot of influence in the growing international darts industry. The few large darts companies of the time were also sponsors of most major tournaments, and they did have a lot of influence with leagues and event organizers. So, it was not long before the new “Breakaway Point” technology was banned by the BDO, WDF, ADO, and therefore also by all of their affiliated leagues.
Although the design had the potential to greatly improve darts grouping, the primary complaint made to outlaw the design was the fact the noise and motion of the dart barrels falling to the floor caused too much commotion and disrupted the flow of the game. This was a fairly valid complaint, as each brass barrel made a fairly loud “thunk” when it hit the floor, and then the darter had to both bend down to retrieve the barrels as well as reach up to pull the points out of the board.
While discussing the history of this dart, Walt commented that he called them “diet darts”, since the darter had to constantly bend down to pick up the barrels. His own solution to that problem was to place a small padded shelf just below the dartboard.
So, after a very brief time in the limelight, and perhaps a few hundred sets sold, the “Breakaway Dart” became a historical novelty.
But, the concept that darts points may not have to be permanently fixed to the dart lit the imagination of several inventive darters, and the race to develop a high-tech darts point began.
Walt kept experimenting, and in 1979 filed patent application for another new darts point design, named the “No Bounce Dart” (#US 4230322 A, Oct. 28, 1980). Instead of the point detaching from the barrel, this new design used a clip assembly that retained the point, while allowing it to move a small distance & back into a cavity at the front of the dart. The resulting “hammer” action was designed to give the dart a bit of extra power to nudge past wires and penetrate the dartboard. Walt then persuaded the major darts organizations to allow the innovative new darts to be used in competition.
This patent was the basis for the HammerHead Dart design, which after 33 years still remains the most commercially successful movable darts point design.
Quite a few other inventors have patented movable point designs since then, using a very wide variety of methods to allow the point to move within the darts barrel. Some of those designs have used systems involving springs, clips, O-rings, magnets, and friction. As human ingenuity appears boundless, no doubt many more designs will continue to appear in the future.
But Walt Bottelsen’s “Breakaway Dart” was the first, as well as one of the most unique darts designs ever patented. (Images from the collection of Rick Osgood.)
BREAKAWAY DART – http://www.google.com/patents/US4109915
NO BOUNCE DART – http://www.google.com/patents/CA2009762A1?cl=en
Note: Although the Bottelsen designs were new to the game of steel-point darts, there had been a previous “Breakaway” darts patent for a toy type “dart w/detachable tips” (no steel points), 1974: http://www.google.im/patents/US3829094
This set of darts is part of the collection of Rick Osgood, owner of Rick’s Darts & Games.
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