Biographical / Historical
S. Newman Darby is recognized as the first person in the United States to conceive of connecting a hand-held sail rig fastened with a universal joint to a floating platform for recreational use. He called it sail boarding in 1965, when he published his designs in Popular Science Monthly magazine. Although he and his brothers Ronald and Kenneth began manufacturing the boards through their company Darby Industries, they never applied for a patent.
S. Newman Darby (1928-2016) was born in West Pittston, Pennsylvania. He graduated from West Pittston High School in 1946. A sign painter and artist, like his father Sidney Darby, he studied drafting at the Pennsylvania State University extension school where he took chemistry, business, art, and photography courses for one year. His first invention, the Darby Dory, a folding rowboat dates from 1953. The sailboard developed out of Darby's experiments with a personal pontoon catamaran, each hull being big enough for one foot and designed to be operated with a hand-held sail and no rudder. By 1964 he had designed a universal joint that connected a mast to a flat bottom sailing scow. This board had a centerboard, tail fin and kite shaped free sail. Early tests were conducted on Trailwood Lake and the Susquehanna River, near West Pittston.
Today sail boarding is known as windsurfing. It adopted its name from Windsurfer International, a company Hoyle Schweitzer and Jim Drake established on the basis of a patent granted to them in 1970 for a "wind-propelled apparatus." In all essential qualities, their claims duplicated Newman Darby's earlier work.
After Schweitzer bought out Drake's share in 1973, he energetically promoted the sport and licensed manufacturing rights to more than 20 companies around the world. Schweitzer forcefully prosecuted patent infringements he perceived among windsurfer manufacturers and he threatened to sue the 1984 Olympic Committee should it authorize a board produced by a manufacturer not licensed by Windsurfer International. Although he was aware of the growth of the sport and the profits flowing into Windsurfer International through its licensing activities, Darby was unable to mount a legal challenge to Schweitzer. His priority in the invention of the sport was overlooked and almost forgotten.
In the late 1970's, Mistral, a Swiss manufacturer sued by Windsurfer International in Germany, located Darby and presented his "prior art" as a defense. In the early 1980's, courts in the United States were asked to rule on the validity of the Windsurfer International patent. Newman Darby's prior art was at the center of the controversies. The court voided Windsurfer's original patent and Schweitzer was forced to apply for a reissue based on severely limited claims. He lost the use of "windsurfer" as a trademark. Schweitzer retained the reissued patent through further challenges until it expired in 1987. The example of Newman Darby has become a textbook case of the importance of thorough searches for "prior art" for patent attorneys.
Following completion of the patent litigation Darby designed original sail rigs for Mistral in Europe and Horizon in the United States. In 1982 Newman entered into a new partnership with his brothers Ronald and Kenneth and formed NRK, Inc., to design and manufacture windsurfing boards, training devices and to produce written and video documentaries of his contributions to the history of the sport.
Naomi Albrecht Darby, Newman's wife, sewed the first sails for the boards and participated in their testing and marketing. She documented Darby's inventions through the years in photographs and moving images. Over the years, Darby has worked on numerous inventions--most of them related to wind propulsion. Like many independent inventors, Newman Darby conceives of his ideas, executes all of the mechanical plans, builds his own prototypes and tests them. Darby continues to research improvements in windsurfing and to teach courses in boat building and design.