Roller Skating - A Brief History

James Leonard Plimpton
It was 1863, when James Leonard Plimpton, designed the first quad roller skate that featured 4 wheels on two axles, and capable of turning. But, as far back as 1760 the first recorded skate invention was created by John Joseph Merlin. It was described as a primitive inline skate with small metal wheels. Prior to that there were what one could call first attempts at inline skate design that included the use of wooden wheels, had no brakes, and the only way to steer them was to completely pick up the skate from the surface, turn your foot in a new direction, then lower the skate back to the surface. All of this was while you held your breath hoping you maintained your balance. Much like John Joseph Merlin, who reportedly wore his skates to a fancy party in London, and because there were no brakes, and changing direction was nearly impossible, ended up crashing into a very expensive and ornate mirror.

In 1819, M. Petitbled was granted the first patent for roller skate design in France. This design was also similar to today’s inline skates, but they were still not very maneuverable. Anyone using these skates was lucky if they could maintain a straight line and/or make wide sweeping turns.

Then in 1823, John Tyers of London patented a skate called the Rolito. This version of the skate had five wheels in a single row on the bottom of a shoe or boot.

Returning now to the first design of the quad skate by James Leonard Plimpton in New York City, and his attempt to improve upon previous designs. The skate contained a pivoting action using a rubber cushion that allowed the skater to skate a curve just by pressing his weight to one side or the other. This new design was such an improvement, and so successful, that the first public roller skating rinks were opened in 1866, first in New York City by Plimpton, and then in Newport, Rhode Island. Plimpton’s design allowed easier turns and maneuverability, and the quad skate came to dominate the industry for more than a century.

In 1876 the toe stop was first patented. This provided skaters with the ability to stop promptly upon tipping the skate onto the toe.

In 1877 William Brown and Joseph Henry Hughes drew up the patent for a ball or roller bearing that included all the elements of an adjustable system. This gave the two men arguable bragging rights to the solution currently found in modern roller skate and skateboard wheels as possibly the most important advance in the realistic us of roller skates as a pleasurable pastime.

In the 1880s Roller skates began to be mass-produced in America. Roller Skating was now experiencing its first of many growth periods. Micajah C. Henley from Richmond, Indiana, produced thousands of skates every week when sales were at their peak. The Henley skates were the first skate with adjustable tension. They were the initial ancestor of the Kingbolt mechanism on modern quad skates.

Then in 1902, the Chicago Coliseum opened as a public skating rink where over 7,000 people attended the opening.

It wasn’t until 1937 that Roller Skating, the sport, was organized nationally by the Roller Skate Rink Owner’s Association resulting in roller skating’s golden age.

Over the years since then Roller Skating and Roller Skate Design has seen many advancements that led to the experience we enjoy today. So much so, that in 1983, then President Ronald Reagan, declared October as National Roller Skating Month.

For further information about the history of Roller Skating you might find these videos worth your time: