Evolution of Roller Skating
Rolling Through the Years
These days, you simply go to the skating center, put wheels on your feet and you're ready for fun, food, music, games and skating. Two centuries ago, it wasn't quite so easy.
A Belgian inventor named Joseph Merlin introduced the first recorded roller skate in 1760. And, what an introduction he made! He wore his new skates to a party in London, where he crashed into an expensive mirror. He wasn't very interested in skating after this experience. However, other inventors produced some roller skate models, most with in-line wheels to imitate an ice skating blade.
The first patent ever taken out on a roller skate was for an in-line skate in 1819. The patent went to Monsieur Petitbled, who claimed that people using his skates could do the same tricks as ice skaters. However, skating turns and curves with Petitbled's skate proved to be a major difficulty, if not impossible.
In 1863, James Plimpton, a businessman from Massachusetts, invented a roller skate that could turn. It was called a "rocking" skate -- the first one that really let people skate curves and turn. Plimpton opened a skating club in New York where gentlemen enjoyed showing off for the ladies by doing fancy figures, steps and turns.
Within 20 years, roller skating had become a popular pastime for men and women. Wealthy men in Newport, R.I., played "roller polo," a hockey game. Others held contests in dance and figure skating. Outdoors, men and women were racing in speed contests. The more the public saw of skating, the more they wanted to try it themselves. The roller skating industry started to prosper.
Just before World War II, a group of skating rink owners formed an association to promote roller skating and establish good business practices for skating rinks. The Roller Skating Association (RSA) International, which was originally named the Roller Skating Rink Operators Association (RSROA), has played an active leadership role in the roller skating industry since 1937.
Under the guidance of the association, roller skating enjoyed steady growth through the 1940s, 50s and 60s. It became known as a family activity that provides fitness, socialization and fun -- an image that prevails today.
In the 1970s, there was a big improvement in roller skating. Skating floors became easier to care for. Plastic wheels that provided smoother, easier skating became the standard. The music and lighting at skating centers was also modernized. When skaters discovered how easy it was to skate with the new wheels, another big skating boom exploded. By 1977, people everywhere were skating to music.
After the boom during the disco era, roller skating industry growth slowed down through the 80s. In 1986, manufacturers began offering in-line skates to fitness enthusiasts. When manufacturers began marketing in-line skates to the public in the 90s, people became excited about roller skating again. By the mid-90s, in-line skating and in-line hockey had become two of the most popular sports in America.
Skating center owners began to utilize the new market by renting in-line skates and promoting the safety benefits of skating indoors. During this decade of change, many skating centers began to expand into entire family entertainment centers by offering a wider variety of entertainment choices. Though many skating centers now offer video and redemption games, laser tag and soft play, operators insist that roller skating will always remain the anchor of their business.