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Bow, United States, 1940s
Grayson Archery Collection, MAC1994-0946
The modern sport of archery is descendant from the traditional European model, but the equipment of the modern period combines new technologies with design influences from a number of different archery traditions. Until about 1930, the English longbow was the standard sport bow. A revolution in bow design was launched when Paul Klopsteg, Clarence Hickman, Saxton Pope, and other scientists and designers experimented with bow forms based on Native American and Asiatic models. New designs began to incorporate broader, thinner limbs, recurved tips, and man-made materials.
By the mid-20th century, the standard bow for sport and hunting was a recurve made of laminated wood, plastic, and fiberglass. The rigid center section (or riser) gives archers a good grip, and the limbs are quite flexible and strong; these bows are more resilient than English longbows, and provide superior accuracy, velocity, and distance. Another major innovation occurred in the early 1970s with the introduction of the compound bow, which uses a system of cables and pulleys to make the bow easier to draw. Various kinds of recurves and compounds are now common in international competitions and for bowhunting. Traditional wooden arrows have been replaced by ones made from aluminum-alloy, fiberglass, or carbon, and plastic vanes have replaced feather fletching. Arrowheads are usually of steel, and bowstrings are made from nylon, Dacron, and other synthetics.
This online exhibit presents examples of modern archery equipment from the Museum’s Grayson Archery Collection. The items shown here illustrate the transition from traditional to modern equipment during the 20th century.
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References and Related Links
Flewett, W. 1994. The compound bow: 25 years after Allen’s patent of December 30th, 1969. Journal of the Society of Archer-Antiquaries 37:48–55.
Klopsteg, P. 2005. Archery. Encyclopedia Britannica.
St. Charles, J. 1996. Vintage recurves. Traditional Bowhunter, Dec/Jan, pp. 52–55.
Text prepared by Mary French, Charles E. Grayson, and Michael J. O'Brien, winter 2006.
Photos by Mary French.
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