The History of Roller Skates

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An overview of the evolution of dry land skating aka roller skates.

Early 1700s - Skeelers

In Holland, an unknown Dutchman decided to go ice skating in the summer, ice skating was the widespread method used in the Netherlands to travel the numerous frozen canals in winter. The unknown inventor accomplished dry land skating by nailing wooden spools to strips of wood and attaching them to his shoes. 'Skeelers' was the nickname given to the new dry-land skaters.

1760 - Crashing the Masquerade Party

A London instrument maker and inventor, Joseph Merlin, attended a masquerade party wearing one of his new inventions, metal-wheeled boots. Joseph desiring to make a grand entrance added the pizzazz of rolling in while playing the violin. Lining the huge ballroom was a very expensive wall-length mirror. The fiddling skater stood no chance and Merlin crashed solidly into the mirrored wall, as his roller skates crashed into society.

1818 - Roller Ballet

In Berlin, roller skates made a more graceful entrance into society, with the premier of the German ballet Der Maler oder die Wintervergn Ugungen (The Artist or Winter Pleasures). The ballet called for ice-skating but because it was impossible at that time to produce ice on a stage, roller skates substituted.

1819 - First Patent

In France, the first patent for a roller skate issued to a Monsieur Petibledin. The skate was made of a wood sole that attached to the bottom of a boot, fitted with two to four rollers made of copper, wood or ivory, and arranged in a straight single line.

1823 - The Rolito

Robert John Tyers of London patented a skate called the Rolito with five wheels in a single row on the bottom of a shoe or boot. The Rolito was unable to follow a curved path, unlike the in-line skates of today.

1840 - Barmaids on Wheels

In a beer tavern known as Corse Halle, near Berlin, barmaids on roller skates served thirsty patrons. This was a practical decision, given the size of beer halls in Germany, which gave dry land skating a publicity boost.

1857 - Public Rinks

Huge public rinks opened in the Floral Hall and in the Strand of London.

1863 - Inventor James Plimpton

American, James Plimpton found a way to make a very useable pair of skates. Plimpton's skates had two parallel sets of wheels, one pair under the ball of the foot and the other pair under the heel. The four wheels were made of boxwood and worked on rubber springs. Plimpton's design was the first dry-land skate that could maneuver in a smooth curve. This considered the birth of the modern four-wheeled roller skates, which allowed for turns and the ability to skate backwards.

1884 - Pin Ball-Bearing Wheels

The invention of pin ball-bearing wheels made rolling easier and skates lighter.

1902 - The Coliseum

The Coliseum in Chicago opened a public skating rink. Over 7,000 people attended the opening night.

1908 - Madison Square Gardens

Madison Square Gardens in New York became a skating rink. Hundreds of rink openings in the United States and Europe followed. The sport was becoming very popular and various versions of the roller skating developed: recreational skating on indoor and outdoor rinks, polo skating, ballroom roller dancing and competitive speed skating.

1960s - Plastics

Technology (with the advent of new plastics) helped the wheel truly come of age with new designs.

70s & 80s - Disco

A second big skating boom occurred with the marriage of disco and roller-skating. Over 4,000 roller-discos were in operation and Hollywood began making roller-movies.

1979 - Redesigning Roller Skates

Scott Olson and Brennan Olson, brothers and hockey players who lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota, found an antique pair of roller skates. It was one of the early skates that used the in-line wheels rather than the four-wheeled parallel design of George Plimpton. Intrigued by the in-line design, the brothers began redesigning roller skates, taking design elements from the found skates and using modern materials. They used polyurethane wheels, attached the skates to ice hockey boots, and added a rubber toe-brake to their new design.

1983 - Rollerblade Inc

Scott Olson founded Rollerblade Inc and the term rollerblading meant the sport of in-line skating because Rollerblade Inc was the only manufacturer of in-line skates for a long time.

The first mass-produced rollerblades, while innovative had some design flaws: they were difficult to put on and adjust, prone to collecting dirt and moisture in the ball-bearings, the wheels were easily damaged and the brakes came from the old roller skate toe-brake and were not very effective.

Rollerblade Inc Sold

The Olson brothers sold Rollerblade Inc and the new owners had the money to really improve the design. The first massively successful Rollerblade skate was the Lightning TRS. In this pair of skates the flaws had vanished, fiberglass was used to produce the frames, the wheels were better protected, the skates were easier to put on and adjust and stronger brakes were placed at the rear. With the success of the Lightning TRS, other in-line skate companies appeared: Ultra Wheels, Oxygen, K2 and others.

1989 - Macro and Aeroblades Models

Rollerblade Inc produced the Macro and Aeroblades models, the first skates fastened with three buckles instead of long laces that needed threading.

1990 - Lighter Skates

Rollerblade Inc switched to a glass-reinforced thermoplastic resin (durethan polyamide) for their skates, replacing the polyurethane compounds previously used. This decreased the average weight of skates by nearly fifty percent.

1993 - Active Brake Technology

Rollerblade, Inc. developed ABT or Active Brake Technology. A fiberglass post attached at one end to the top of the boot and at the other end to a rubber-brake, hinged the chassis at the back wheel. The skater had to straighten one leg to stop, driving the post into the brake, which then hit the ground. Skaters had been tilting their foot back to make contact with the ground, before ABT. The new brake design increased safety.

Presently the best way for you to experience the latest inventions in the world of wheels is up-close and personal. Please do so, try in-line skating and keep rolling.


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Your Citation
Bellis, Mary. "The History of Roller Skates." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Bellis, Mary. (2021, February 16). The History of Roller Skates. Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "The History of Roller Skates." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).