The History of Ice Skates

Ice skate
Key wound ice skate, circa 1863. Buyenlarge / Archive Photos / Getty Images

Historians generally agree that ice skating originated in Ancient Europe, though it's unclear when and where the first ice skates came into use.

Ancient History

The oldest pair of skates known date back to about 3000 B.C., found at the bottom of a lake in Switzerland. The Swiss skates were made from the leg bones of large animals, holes were bored at each end of the bone and leather straps were used to tie the skates on.

An old Dutch word for skate is "schenkel" which means "leg bone."

However, a 2008 study of northern European geography and terrain concluded that ice skates likely appeared first in Finland. This conclusion was based on the determination that Finland’s many lakes would have resulted in a 10% energy savings for early Finns who could skate across the lakes rather than walk across or circumnavigate them.

Around the 14th Century, the Dutch started using wooden platform skates with flat, iron bottom runners. The skates were attached to the skater's shoes with leather straps. Poles were used to propel the skater. Around 1500, the Dutch added a narrow, metal, double-edged blade, making the poles a thing of the past, as skaters could now push and glide with their feet (called the "Dutch Roll").

Recent History

In 1848, E. V. Bushnell of Philadelphia, PA, invented the first all-steel clamp for skates.

In 1865, Jackson Haines, a famous American skater, developed the two-plate, all-metal blade. The blade was attached directly to Haines' boots. He soon became famous for his new dance moves, jumps, and spins. Haines added the first toe pick to skates in the 1870s, making toe-pick jumps possible for figure skaters.​ Ice Hockey came about in 1875 in Canada.

The first artificial ice rink (mechanically refrigerated) was built in 1876, at Chelsea, London, England, and was named the Glaciarium. It was built near King's Road in London by John Gamgee.

In 1914, John E. Strauss, a blade maker from St. Paul, Minnesota, invented the first closed-toe blade made from one piece of steel, making skates lighter and stronger.

In 1949, Frank Zamboni trademarked the ice resurfacing machine that bears his name.

The largest, man-made, outdoor ice rink is the Fujikyu Highland Promenade Rink in Japan, built in 1967. It boasts an ice area of 165,750 square feet, the equivalent of 3.8 acres.

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Bellis, Mary. "The History of Ice Skates." ThoughtCo, Apr. 14, 2017, Bellis, Mary. (2017, April 14). The History of Ice Skates. Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "The History of Ice Skates." ThoughtCo. (accessed February 20, 2018).