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The History of Roller Skating

Oct 02, 2012

Whether you think roller skating is hell on wheels or free-wheelin’ fun, it has been a popular pastime and even a competitive sport for longer than most of us realize. Did you know that roller skating dates all the way back to the 1700s? Find out more in The History of Roller Skating!

Getting the Ball Rolling

The first recorded pair of roller skates were used for a theatrical performance in London in 1743, unfortunately the inventor’s name has been lost to history, but the idea soon caught on and by 1819 M. Petitbled patented the first roller skates in France. These early skates were the predecessors to the inline skates we use today, although it would have been hard to do more than skate in a straight line. By 1863 the four wheeled skate (or quad skate) with an added rubber piece to allow skaters to curve when they moved was developed in New York City, and it was such a hit that the first roller rink was opened in the city shortly thereafter. Over the rest of the century the design of the roller skate was fine tuned with the addition of things like toe stops, making it easier and more enjoyable for people to roller skate. By the end of the 1800s roller skates were being mass produced in the U.S.

The Rise of Roller Rinks

Roller skating became increasingly popular again after the 50’s and roller rinks popped up all across North America, with lots of drive in movies and fast food restaurants even featuring waitresses on wheels who would come by your car to take your order!  By the ‘70s and ‘80s roller skating was a full-on craze again, becoming a popular destination for parties and dates, roller rinks became roller discos and would play music you could skate to and flash loads of different colored lights to make it as fun as possible.

Skating Sports

Roller skating wasn’t just a recreational activity though, by the end of the ‘70s the potential for roller skating as a sport had been spotted, and the new single-line of wheel style of skates (rollerblades) that we use today were invented for maximum speed and manoeuvrability. This gave people the ability to practice hockey in the off-season, and gave rise to competitive skating and sports like Roller Derby and speed skating.

Fun Facts!

  • Roller Derby has become popular with women athletes
  • The movie Whip It!  starring Ellen Page is about a small town girl who joins an aggressive roller derby team
  • In the show America’s Best Dance Crew a group called BreakSk8 choreographed and performed all their hip hop routines on roller skates
  • The single wheel skate was invented in 1988 in California
  • The movie The Piano, set in the 1800s, features a scene with a young girl where early roller skates
  • The musical Xanadu features roller skating throughout

Have Your Say

Have you ever roller skated? Let us know in the comments section below.