Roller skating has been around for almost 200 years and is suddenly seeing a resurgence of interest. While most people associate skating with in-line skates, traditional roller skates have grown from a simple shoe with wheels to high-performance roller skates for the serious skater. Before you rush out for a trip to the nearest roller rink, let’s take a visit back to the beginning and see how roller skates have changed.
The Beginning Wasn’t Very Graceful
John Joseph Merlin is the first man credited with the invention of the roller skate. The native Belgian was attending a masquerade ball in London during the 1760s. He was quite the sensation arriving in his wheeled shoes. Unfortunately, he struggled to control his speed and couldn’t retain his balance well and ended up harming himself. He obviously did not practice prior to the ball. The trend did not catch on due to his accident. Monsieur Petitbled of France patented the very first roller skate in 1819. These skates featured a wood sole, leather straps, and three wheels made of ivory, metal, or wood. The wheels were placed in a single line, much like in-line skates and were very difficult to maneuver. You could only go forward and making turns required assistance. In 1863, James Leonard Plimpton was incredibly frustrated with the Petitbled style of roller skate and took matters into his own hands. He redesigned the skate to be similar but with four wheels in a quadrant position, what was fashionably called a quad skate. He got the design patented and thus began his reign as the Father of Modern Roller Skating. He then began the New York Roller Skating Association (NYRSA) to teach people about the new sport. The very first public roller skating rink was opened in 1866. The rink was a dining room of the Atlantic House Resort, located in Rhode Island, that was transformed by the NYRSA.
Bring On The 50s
The sport has seen the rise and fall of popularity since the 1800s and the 50s brought on another resurgence. By now roller rinks were as popular as drive-in movies and fast food restaurants. So popular in fact that many fast food joints had waitresses who served meals while on roller skates! By now the roller skate looked like a boot that had wheels attached to the bottom and included a rubber stopper on the front. The most popular color for these roller skates were white since they could be worn with anything at any time. Fisher Price jumped on the bandwagon and created beginner roller skates for children that went back to the original design and were strapped to shoes. Roller rinks were brightly covered, featured the latest in pop music, and had flashing lights to make the experience as fun as possible. So much fun that in Hawaii, the longboard skateboard
was developed after locals were inspired by the roller skate, wanting to combine their love of surfing with the wheeled trend.
It Ebbs And Flows
The 60s saw a drop in popularity of roller skating but the 70s found a way to get people interested again by joining in the disco craze. The style really didn’t change until the 80s that featured shoe-like quad skates and brightly colored ones to match our love for the neon and flashy. However, it was 1981 that brought the development of the in-line roller skate that harkened back to the original design but with a stopper and the boot. Unfortunately, the design needed tweaking and a love for that style came about in the 90s. Roller hockey took off and made the in-line design popular because speed was more important than flashy dance moves. Now we see that the style is heading back to a design that attaches to your shoes and is for high-performance rather than playing at the rink.
Roller skates will change over time but the important thing is that we keep on enjoying the sport. Whether we just want a fun way to get around or have fun in the rink, roller skates will be here to stay.