Dick Held and the aerodynamic javelin

Immediately after returning from my visit to Bud in San Anselmo, I visited a man named Harry Drake who lived in Wildcat Canyon. Wildcat canyon burned out killing several residents during last summer's San Diego county fires.

Mr. Drake built bows and arrows with which his son had broken many flight arrow records.

HE often visited our hardware store and we had discussed my brother's javelin throwing and his son's archery careers. The similarity between arrow and javelin flights was part of many of these conversations. The son's arrows flew about 800 meters. During my visit Mr Drake showed me his arrow making machine. This was the basis for my machine to automatically form wooden javelins. The bows, the shape of his arrows, which was the model for the design of the earliest Dick Held Javelins and the material used in the arrows were also revealed. The modern aerodynamic javelin owes a great deal to the shared secrets of this man.

I searched for and was able to find a small supply of Port Orford cedar in a nearby specialty lumberyard. Purchasing all that was suitable for javelins I began to produce the test javelins used in the spring of 1954. This material was used until new American rules were adopted prohibiting hollow wood implements. I then built solid javelins with lighter Sitka Spruce for the front section and heavier Douglas Fir for the tails.

During those early days the wooden implements were formed by ripping a strip of wood one and three eighths of an inch square and eight feet six inches long from a solid plank. This wood blank was then hand formed with a wood plane and sanded smooth. The first few months, I had no power equipment other than a table saw. The hollow javelins were built by ripping a blank in half, then using molding head on the table saw to cut various sizes of half round groves in the two pieces. The halves were then glued back together and shaped into a round tapered shaft using the hand plane. The center of gravity and the center of crossectional area were located. The distance between these two points was measured and recorded and a simple formula applied to determine the distance rating of each individual javelin. No two wood javelins were identical because of the differences in density of the individual pieces of wood. Each blank was planed to give a shaft weighing enough to produce an eight hundred gram javelin. Ideally, each javelin would land with the point slightly down when thrown the rated distance. The attempt to keep the landing attitude as close to flat as possible resulted in a great many flat landings, especially when competitor's insisted upon using a rating that was greater than the distance they were capable of throwing.

Many years later, I received a letter from an irate father. He had ordered a sixty meter javelin for his daughter but when she threw it, it only traveled forty meters. He threatened to sue me. I asked what his daughter's best throw previous to receiving the Held javelin was and he said, about 38 meters but this javelin says sixty meters on the shaft and it should fly sixty meters.

IAAF rules were quite simple in 1954. A javelin must be made of wood or other suitable material with a metal point. It must weigh over eight hundred grams, be at least 260 cm long. The center of gravity was fixed and a 16 cm. whipcord grip covered the center of gravity. This gave me lots of room to play with shapes and diameters when trying to balance lift and drag.

By June of 1954 I was confident enough of the design to offer to supply six implements for use at the AAU National Championship meet. I did not charge for these and at that point had never sold an implement. A few were given to Bud, Cy Young and Bill Miller. The offer was accepted and I was in a race to make six shafts, hand forge six points and get the implements to the meet site in time. The deadline was just barely met but all the thrower's were happy with the new style javelins.

During the off season I found a small company in Los Angeles to make points of aluminum and I then machined steel tips to be screwed into these points to improve wear. When the 1955 season opened, a few javelins had already been sold.