The first compound bow
by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
This Allen bow is one of the first compound bows ever built. Allen invented the compound system!
This report covers:
- The first compound bow
- A gift!
- Made for a southpaw!
- Bow data
- Tuning the bow?
I was looking for something completely different for today’s report. I was temporarily bored with my list of airguns to cover and I didn’t feel like another rant, so today I am reporting on something that is in the shooting sports, but a long way from airguns — the world’s first compound bow.
About two months ago, and just before my town locked down for the Covid-19 pandemic, I was in my favorite pawn shop, looking to see what new/old things might have come in. Naturally I searched the whole store, as I always do. There are things on my watch list, like a long-bladed plain-head screwdriver with a wide tip, that I’m always searching for. I didn’t see anything interesting until the very end, when I spotted a strange and simple-looking compound bow standing in the corner by the gun rack. It looked homemade so I asked to see it. I wasn’t interested it it beyond seeing how it had been made. It looked for all the world like something that had been built from plans published in Popular Mechanics.
The first compound bow
As I was looking it over, Esther, the store owner who knows my eclectic tastes from my years of patronage, came over and told me it was the first compound bow. Well, it certainly looked like it! She told me it had been in her store for many years with absolutely zero interest, and I could see why. This wasn’t a bow anyone would ever shoot. And how many collectors of compound bows are there? About as many as there are collectors of 4-track tapes — yes, there is such a thing. Look it up! I did, and to my surprise I discovered there are even collectors of them! Okay — bad comparison.
But this bow is a different story. Most people buy bows to shoot. Looking at this one, I think that would be a very bad idea!
As she was talking to me Esther surprised me by giving it to me. She said she wanted it out of her store and I could take it. Well, I had no idea of how much a thing like this is worth, and I certainly did not want it for myself, but I figured I could give it to an archer, so I accepted.
I came home and looked it up on the internet. It was marked as an Allen Patent, so I started (and ended) there. Sure enough, Holless Wilbur Allen (1908-1979) was the inventor of the compound bow! He developed his idea in the 1960s with the thought of making bow hunting easier. He sawed off the ends or a recurve bow and added pulleys to each end. His idea was to use a block-and tackle design to reduce the effort of holding the bow at full draw and also increase the speed of the arrow.
When was the compound bow invented?
The 1960s. Holless Wilbur Allen experimented with several designs and on June 23, 1966 he applied for a patent for the first compound bow. The U.S patent 3,486,495 was granted in December, 1969.
The patent drawing resembles the first bow very closely.
At first he approached several archery manufacturers to build his bow for him, but with no takers he started making them himself. He referred to his patented idea as an Archery Bow with Draw Force Multiplying Attachments — and began production in 1967. He said of it, “All I was trying to develop was a bow that would get an arrow to a 10- to 25-yard target — a deer — before the target could move.”
The technical editor of Archery World magazine (now Bowhunting World), Tom Jennings, reviewed the Allen bow in the May 1967 issue and said things like, “reduction in peak draw weight”, “more stable than recurves” and “the first really new concept to come into bow design in a thousand years.” He became the first to license the design rights from Allen who also licensed his design to four other companies, of which Browning Archery was probably the most successful.
The first compound bow was not readily accepted by the archery community. Given the size, weight and most of all the complexity, that isn’t surprising. But Tom Jennings, who was also a bowmaker, stepped in and in 1974 released his Model T that revolutionized the infant compound bow. Until Jennings Model T, compound bows were clumsy and complex.
While other companies were still using four and six wheels for their bows, Jennings Model T used only two. It was lighter, and easier to tune. Sales went from sluggish to brisk. By 1977 Archery Digest listed more than 100 models of compound bows and they had taken over the archery world.
Allen died from injuries sustained in a car accident in 1979. But he might have had had a succession plan set up because a company called Allen Archery still makes bows today.
This first Allen bow is clunky compared to later designs. I’m not talking about the compound bows being made today — just those that were made soon after Allen started licensing his and the Jennings Model T came out.
The first Allen bow has six pulleys in the system That’s right — six! Two are at the end of each limb and the third is inside a guard on each end of the handle.
Two pulleys are at either end of the bow limbs. As you can see from the clasp at the bottom left, most of the bow is strung with stranded steel cable. The bowstring is just a short section in the middle, at the back of all the cables.
The third pulley on each side is attached to the bow’s handle.
At some point, Allen called his bow the Original. That is on a sticker on the bow I have.
My bow is an Allen Original. The black bar on front of the handle is for some accessory — probably a sight? And the arrow rest is on the left side of the bow.
Made for a southpaw!
Of all things, the bow I was given is made for a left-handed shooter. I didn’t figure that out. Reader Jeff Cloud who goes by the handle Cloud9 spotted it. It’s almost ambidextrous, which might have been intentional, but it does feel better when held by the right hand and the arrow is drawn with the left.
Like all the bows I have seen, the data for the bow is written right on it. In this case it is inscribed with a vibrating pen on one of the black steel flanges that hold the limb to the handle and also anchor the single pulley.
The bow data was put on with a vibrating pencil. The model is 7306-10. The draw weight seems to be 50-60 pounds. The draw length is 29 inches and the L at the end of the serial number would seem to indicate a left-hand model. I can guess that the serial number indicates this bow was the 304th made in December of 1975.
Tuning the bow?
This is a subject I know nothing about, but I do see what look like stringed instrument tuning mechanisms that attach to the lone pulley on either side of the handle. A cursory examination indicates they move the axel of the pulley, which may change the mechanical advantage.
The lone pulley on either end of the handle has what looks to me like a stringed instrument tuner. It seems to move the center of the pulley axel.
This is what’s written on each “tuner.” I hope someone recognizes what this is.
This bow weighs 4 lbs. 4 oz, which seems light enough to me. It has an overall length of 50 inches, and of course the draw weignt has already been given.
At some point in its run the 7306-10 model was called the Black Hunter. My bow has no such markings, but they may have been in the catalog and not on the bow, itself.
Expired listings on Ebay show asking prices for the standard model of $175-$195 without any bids. One that is active is up to $81 with 6 bids right now. There are several Buy it Now listings that sold for less than $150. So the value of these bows is not high. I guess that’s because they cannot be used anymore.
I think it’s interesting how the first compound bow is so relatively recent — or at least that’s how it seems to me. And also how quickly the archery community accepted the compound, once it was refined into a convenient form. The compound dominates center stage in the world of longbows today.