Inventor of the Modern Compound Bow
It's hard to imagine that any other single invention has so impacted a sport like the compound bow has influenced archery. But Holless Wilbur Allen’s new bow design did just that – it revolutionized archery and bowhunting. The invention didn’t come easy.
Allen, a mild mannered Missourian, was frustrated, like many bowhunters, that whitetail deer could jump out of the way of his slow-moving hunting arrows. He set about trying to increase arrow speed by building bows and testing his ideas.
He built a recurve bow, laminated with fiberglass roving's, which he bonded to the limb core with epoxy. No luck. He tried fabricating a long handled bow with very short, extremely recurved limbs to increase arrow speed. Again, no increase in speed. He tried shooting a short, light weight arrow down a track attached to his bow and got some increase in speed but poor penetration; this testing broke his bow, too! But nothing gave him the speed he was looking for.
Wilbur Allen was a tinkerer, a problem-solver always bent on using what materials were available to find remedies. Once, his son Douglas relates, Wilbur was a counselor on a Boy Scout camp-out on Missouri’s Osage River when the word came into camp that the white bass were biting. He’d left all of his fishing gear at home so he drove to the nearest town, bought a forty-nine cent fishing rod, some ten-cent lures and a small spool of line. Not wanting to spend $15 on a new fishing reel, Wilbur bought a thirty-nine cent egg beater, rigged it up to a coffee can and limited out on bass in short order!
Such was the innovative spirit that drove Wilbur Allen to wile away the hours contemplating a better way of building a bow that would shoot arrows faster. It really comes as no surprise, then, that lightening would strike one evening in 1966 while Wilbur was studying his drawings of a pulley bow, designed after reading up on kinetic energy in a physics book borrowed from a neighbor.
“What if,” he thought, “I positioned the pulley’s pivot hole off-center?” That was it!
Within two days, Wilbur Allen had built and tested his compound bow. It was crude, even by Allen’s standards – the eccentrics were of wood, the handle of pine boards, limb cores of oak flooring, welded T-bolts held it together with the help of Elmer’s Glue and epoxy-impregnated fiberglass threads. But, it worked!
Allen achieved significant increase in arrow speed over a recurve bow of equal draw weight, relaxation of draw weight at full draw of 15%, and a bow that would shoot lighter arrows than the equivalent recurve. His compound produced impressive performance.
Allen filed for a patent on his new bow on June 23, 1966. It was granted in 1969. By 1977, there were 100 different models of compound bows available, only 50 recurves. After only eight years in production, two thirds of the market was in compound bows.
Holless Wilbur Allen had laboriously contrived a rather complicated device that performed a relatively simple task – shoot an arrow fast. He fought hard to get approval from state game agencies for his new bow to be used for hunting and succeeded. Likewise, competitive archery organizations finally approved the compound for tournament shooting.
The rest is history.