It all started with Uncle Newman Darby

First Boat

Uncle Newman Darby sank his first boat at age 12. Not surprising for a young boy.  Until you consider that he also built the boat! And while most would chalk it up as simple bad luck, for Newman it was the siren’s call.  Moreover, it began a lifelong affair with boat design, construction, and invention.

Early Years

Newman Darby was born on January 21, 1928 in the borough of West Pittston, Pennsylvania.  He showed a passion for boating at a young age. Family jaunts down the Susquehanna River and vacations on the Chesapeake Bay fueled this passion. Newman’s interest only grew. At the age of 14, he built another boat. And this time it worked!


By 25, Newman was working as a commercial sign painter and artist pursuing boat building in his free time. That year, in 1953, he finished his first invention, a folding rowboat called the Darby Dory. He continued to tinker and fine-tune, focusing largely on innovating his personal pontoon catamaran. And innovate he did. Drawing back on discoveries he made as a teenager, Newman operated his boat with a hand-held sail instead of a rudder.

Newman Darby pioneered the sport of windsurfing with his sailboard designs in 1964

Uncle Newman Darby with his early trial at sailboard design

Newman Darby

In 1942 or 1943 I bought a small boat with a keel and rudder. I wanted to go to a local island where there were Indian relics. But the water was shallow, so I took off the keel. I found that I could steer by tipping the sail left or right, so I got rid of the rudder, too.

Newman Darby told the Smithsonian Institute's Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation in 2014

Popular Science Monthly

Next Newman Darby applied the Darby Dory to catamarans. One of his designs was a watertight hinged keel with a collapsible hull. The February 1961 issue of Popular Science Monthly featured that design.

The Art of Free Sailing

But ever the forward-thinker, Newman took his ideas further. By 1964, he conceived the idea to connect a kite-shaped, hand-held sail to a flat-bottomed platform.  He attached the sail with a nylon rope through a universal joint.

It’s interesting to note that by standing on the base, a sailor directed the board by simply tilting the sail. Amazingly that summer his then-girlfriend Naomi took it for a test ride on Trailwood Lake in Bear Creek Township.  She accomplished something that up until that point had never been done.

 A New Olympic Sport

Together, they mastered the art of free sailing. Created for good ol’ fashioned fun, this invention successfully laid the groundwork for modern windsurfing.  As a result, in 1984 windsurfing became an Olympic sport.

From there, Newman started a business and, unfortunately, learned some hard lessons.

Newman Darby

Starting A Business

Later that year, Newman and Naomi married. Shortly after, they shared their sailboard idea with relatives and found a business partner in Newman’s brother, Ken. They started Darby Industries, opened a shop, and rented a barn to use as manufacturing space. With Ken as president, Newman as designer, and Naomi as marketer, the world’s very first sailboarding business began.

Sailboarding is sailing with a difference. You get all the fun of handling a fast, responsive boat. You can have the fun of spills without the work of righting and bailing out. And you can learn to master a type of maneuvering that’s been dead since the age of the picturesque square riggers.

Newman Darby wrote in Popular Science Monthly in August 1965

New Design Innovations

Soon they made more innovations and improvements. 

Their next design was a metal universal joint, the iconic three-sided sloop rig.  This brought about an impressive publicity moment. A young woman named Diane Albrecht outpaced a motorboat on her Darby sailboard.

They discussed getting a patent for the design, but attorney fees and business expenses were high.  Moreover, Popular Science had already printed detailed schematics in their magazine. Newman decided to drop the issue, figuring it was unnecessary anyway.

Some Unfortunate Events

Darby Industries struggled to keep its sailboarding business afloat. Meanwhile, American surfers Hoyle Schweitzer and Jim Drake launched a new company, Windsurfing International.  And they secured a patent in 1968 for designs based on Newman Darby’s ideas.

Sailboards didn’t experience much of a boom in the U.S. outside of Southern California. However, popularity exploded in Europe and Schweitzer bought out his partner Drake in 1973. Now the company was international, and began aggressively promoting the new sport of windsurfing.

More Competitors

However, other companies soon pushed Schweitzer out of the industry as well. Burgeoning European windsurfing companies Bic Sports and Mistral borrowed Newman’s early designs.  Furthermore, an Englishman named Peter Chilvers argued “prior art” in a bid to nullify the patent.

Sadly, big corporations with ruthless lawyers muddied what could have been a  validating moment for Newman Darby. Again, his contributions went unnoticed.

The Truth Revealed

In 1997 American Windsurfer magazine printed an article that turned things around.  The editor was criticized for overlooking Newman in a previous article about the history of the sport.  The Smithsonian Institute launched an investigation into the matter  Finally, the father of windsurfing got the credit he always deserved. And this in turn led to an exhibition of Newman Darby’s designs, photos, and films at the National Museum of American History.[/vc_.column_text]


The Family Business Today

Newman Darby passed away on December 3, 2016 at the ripe old age of 88. Uncle Newman continued to windsurf well into his seventies, taught boat-building courses, and never ceased designing and learning. His nephew Tom Darby carries on his curious mind and modest demeanor.

Tom owns and runs the business today with the help of his brother Larry.

Because of Newman Darby's inventive spirit, Darby Industries still designs, manufactures, and markets its own products today.
Because of Newman Darby's inventive spirit, Darby Industries still designs, manufactures, and markets its own products today.
Because of Newman Darby's inventive spirit, Darby Industries still designs, manufactures, and markets its own products today.

The little business that could..

Darby Industries

Between the legal strife and disregard of Newman’s designs, it would have been very easy for Darby Industries to simply close up shop. But as it so happened, Newman’s brother and president of the company kept coming up with new ideas. Ken also had the inventing itch and succeeded in carrying Darby Industries through the years.  What happened?

Early sailboard prototypes were constructed of plywood.  But Ken had the idea to use fiberglass.  This material was cheaper and more durable. Unfortunately, manufacturing of Newman Darby’s sailboard never achieved the success that the family would have liked to see.  However, a man named Jerry Price of Wyoming Sand and Stone saw Ken working with fiberglass.  Jerry invited Ken to manage his factory.

A Change in Direction

After time, Ken broke out on his own and constructed the buildings and warehouse where you can find Darby Industries today.

The company’s first successful product was the HAHSA a Heating and Heat Storage Apparatus.  This was an outdoor woodburning furnace used to heat one’s home or water. A safe, efficient, and economical solution for many people living in the country and these external furnaces are still popular today.

IMG_8041 outside Darby Ind

Another Innovation and Business

Next, the company got into backhoe and Truckhoe manufacturing, where they remained for about 15 years. The Darby Truckhoe was a high-quality, self-powered backhoe that sat in the bed of a ¾ ton truck.

It eliminated the need for a trailer and operated at about a third of the cost of a traditional backhoe.  This made it ideal for small construction and contracting businesses.

Eventually, they decided to sell this part of the business in order to focus on the production and marketing of Extend-A-Truck. And not long thereafter, brothers Tom and Larry improved upon their father’s design and created more products. Hence the Turbo Rack and Foam Kayak Blocks were added to the product lineup.