Roller Skates

james plimpton

John Joseph Merlin

Roller skates are devices worn on the feet to enable the wearer to roll along on wheels. The first roller skates were converted ice skates, with two inline wheels instead of a blade. Later the ‘quad’ style of roller skate became more popular consisting of four wheels arranged in the same configuration as a typical car.

The first patented roller skate was introduced in 1760 by Belgian inventor John Joseph Merlin. His inline two wheelers were hard to steer and hard to stop because they didn’t have brakes, and as such were not very popular. In 1863, James Plimpton from Massachusetts invented the ‘rocking’ skate using a four wheel configuration for stability, and independent axles that turned by pressing to one side when the skater wanted to create an edge. It was a vast improvement on the Merlin design and was easier to use, driving the huge popularity roller skating through the 1930s. The Plimpton skate is still used today.

Eventually, roller skating evolved from just a pastime to a competitive sport; speed skating, racing on skates, and figure skating, very similar to what you see in the Olympics on ice. In the mid 1990s roller hockey, played with a ball rather than a puck, became so popular that it even made an appearance in the Olympics in 1992. The National Sporting Goods Association statistics showed, from a 1999 study, that 2.5 million people played roller hockey. Roller Skating was considered for the 2012 Summer Olympics but has never become an Olympic event. Other roller skating sports include jam skating (a combination of dance, gymnastics, and skating) and roller derby (a contact sport played by two teams of five members roller skating in the same direction around a track). Roller skating popularity exploded during the disco era but tapered off in the 80s and 90s.

The Roller Skating Rink Operators Association was developed in the United States in 1937. It is currently named the Roller Skating Association. The Association’s web page offers some health benefits of roller skating. In the 1980s rollerskating as aerobic exercise flourished briefly. Marnie Bjornson’s 1988 exercise video ‘Roller Burn’ combined rollerskating with Tai Chi moves. Roller skating is equivalent to jogging in terms of health benefits. The American Heart Association recommends the activity as an aerobic fitness sport.


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