The next time you shoot a bow and arrow, think about Ben Pearson, the Father of Archery and the founder of the first company in the United States to mass-produce archery sets and equipment. This company was in Pine Bluff.
Born in 1898, Ben Pearson was an archer, a bowyer (a craftsman who makes bows for hunting and for archery), and a fletcher (a person who attaches aerodynamically stabilizing fletchings to the shaft of arrows).
Ben Pearson made his first bow, six-foot hickory patterned after the English longbow, based on articles for Boy Scouts by Dan Beard. In 1926 Pearson entered the state championships using his own equipment; finishing next to last. Ben performed numerous exhibitions across America for youth and scout groups. Learning from the experience, he made new equipment and in 1927 he became the Arkansas State Champion.
During the Great Depression, Ben found his way to Pine Bluff. It was during this period that a chance meeting would forever change his life. Carl Haun, a retired oil man from Blackwell, Oklahoma, had purchased a bow and arrow set for his grandson. It didn’t take long for the grandson to lose or break all his arrows. Grandpa set about to replace the youngster’s arrows but found the task more difficult than anticipated. Upon learning of Ben Pearson, Mr. Haun flew his airplane to Pine Bluff. Soon Mr. Haun was knocking on Ben’s door and Mr. Haun’s arrow problems were solved. Carl listened intently as Ben explained his dream of mass-producing archery tackle and became intrigued. The two eventually formed a partnership that would become the Ben Pearson Company.
Prior to 1938 Pearson marketed his arrows through a series of eleven pamphlets, resulting in the first full Ben Pearson Inc. catalog being listed as “No. 12”. That first catalog also only listed arrows, with bows added in the 1939 catalog.
By the early 1950s Ben Pearson Inc. was best known for its relatively inexpensive archery sets. To make more people aware of the higher end custom bows and arrows Pearson was still crafting to special order, the 1958 Catalog introduced higher-end bows with names rather than just model numbers.
In 1963, Ben Pearson Inc. was selling 3,000 bows and up to 4,000 arrows per day. In 1967 the company was acquired by Leisure Group, which dropped the highest end bows from production.
Ben Pearson retired from the archery manufacturing business in 1967 and died four years later at age 72, after revolutionizing the manufacturing of archery tackle, providing quality, functional equipment well within the means of the average person. He left a legacy in the “Bushmaster” and the unsurpassed “Deadhead.” In 1972, he was among the first inducted into the Archery Hall of Fame.
Pine Bluff Bowhunters hosts a tournament each May in memory of Ben Pearson. This tournament is the oldest and largest 3D tournament in the state of Arkansas. It attracts shooters from several nearby states. Mrs. Pearson attends each year.
In addition to being the Father of Modern Archery, Ben Pearson was also a father to Ben Pearson, Jr. Ben Junior often traveled with his father to assist with archery demonstrations.
Ben Pearson was also active in restoring several historic Pine Bluff homes to their former glory, including the Trulock-Gould-Mullis residence at 704 West Barraque Street and the William Porter Grace home at 716 West Barraque Street, now known as the Hudson-Grace-Pearson home. Both homes are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.