Roller skates are devices worn on the feet to enable the wearer to roll along on wheels. The first roller skate was effectively an ice skate with wheels where the blade goes. 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 roller skate wasn't much more than an ice skate with wheels where the blade goes, (a style we would call inlines today). They were hard to steer and hard to stop because they didn't have brakes and as such were not very popular. The initial "test pilot" of the first prototype of the skate was in the city of Huy, which had a party with Merlin playing the violin.
- Merlin wore a pair of his new skates to a masquerade party at Carlisle-House in London. Though he was a well-known inventor, he was not a good skater. He could not control his speed or direction and crashed into a large mirror, severely injuring himself and possibly setting back the sport of roller skating for years.
Monsieur Petitbled was the first to patent a roller skate, doing so in 1819, while in Paris, France.
The Petitbled skate was an in-line skate with a wood sole, leather straps and three wheels made of wood, metal, or ivory. These skates only went forward, even turning corners was a major feat!
In 1863, James Plimpton from Massachusetts invented the "rocking" skate and used a four wheel configuration for stability, and independent axles that turned by pressing to one side of the skate or the other when the skater wants to create an edge. This was a vast improvement on the Merlin design that was easier to use and drove 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 and roller derby. 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 promotes roller skating and offers classes to the public, aiming to educate the population about roller skating. The current President is Bobby Pender. The Roller Skating Association headquarters is located in Indianapolis.
Roller skating is the traveling on surfaces with roller skates. It is a form of recreational activity as well as a sport, and can also be a form of transportation. Skates generally come in three basic varieties: quad roller skates, inline skates or blades and tri-skates, though some have experimented with a single-wheeled "quintessence skate" or other variations on the basic skate design. In America, this hobby was most popular, first between 1935 and the early 1960s and then in the 1970s, when polyurethane wheels were created and "Disco" oriented roller rinks were the rage and then again in the 1990s when in-line outdoor roller skating, thanks to the improvement made to in-line roller skates in 1981 by Scott Olson, took hold.
Roller skates in popular culture
- 1955 - Gene Kelly used roller skates as part of a dance routine in It's Always Fair Weather.
- 1971 - The song Brand New Key by Melanie Safka uses roller skates as a theme. It features the lyrics "I got a brand new pair of roller skates".
- 1975 - Rollerball - A dystopian SciFi centered around a roller skate based tournament.
- 1977 - For the opening verse in "Hollywood" from The Runaways second album Queens of Noise, Joan Jett sings, "Each night alone I dream that I'm a rebel roller queen".
- 1979 - Roller Boogie with Linda Blair
- 1979 - Vance, the leader of the "The Punks", a gang from the cult movie The Warriors, is recognizable for wearing the roller skates.
- 1980 - Xanadu, with Olivia Newton-John, has rollerskating as a recurring theme.
- 1980 - Heaven's Gate with Kris Kristofferson and Christopher Walken, which is set in 1890s Wyoming, features a scene in an early roller skating rink called "Heaven's Gate".
- 1984 - Starlight Express, a musical written by Andrew Lloyd Webber opened on London's West End. The cast perform on quad skates.
- 1995 - Man of the House features a scene where Jonathan Taylor Thomas uses early model rollerblades to get around Seattle.
- 1998 - In the Disney Channel Original Movie Brink!, in-line skating is presented as an extreme competition for teens in California.
- 2003 - The band known as The Penfifteen Club released their single "Ms.Hilton" which has a reference to roller skates in the song "roller skates on a social butterfly".
- 2005 - The plot of the film Roll Bounce centered around a group of teenagers who compete in a rollerskating competition in the late 1970s.
- 2005 - Miss'ile, founded and directed by choreographer/performer Cecile Klaus, is a female skate dance company that has appeared at the Paris Slalom World Cup and in various shows, commercials and music videos. Based in France, the Miss'iles have a sport team for inline skate competitions (downhill, speed, skate cross, cones) and an artistic team for inline/quad skate shows (cones, high-jump, skate dance).
- 2006 - In Madonna's "Sorry" video she uses roller skates.
- 2006 - In Jessica Simpson's music video for her song “A Public Affair”, starring Simpson, Christina Applegate, Eva Longoria, Christina Milian, Andy Dick and Ryan Seacrest, and a skating dance crew named Breaksk8.
- 2006 - In the movie ATL, set in Atlanta, the protagonist – rapper, T.I. – and his friends had a great love for skating.
- 2008 - MTV's Americas Best Dance Crew auditioned Breaksk8, a group of Hip Hop dancers on roller skates.
- 2008 - The songs "Seventies" by Laurent Wolf and "Kim&Jessie" by M83, featured the "Miss'ile" skate dancers
- 2009 - The movie Whip It, starring Ellen Page and Drew Barrymore – Barrymore also directing – Ellen Page as a teenager who rebels against her mother's wish for her to be a beauty queen in favor of joining a roller derby team.
- 2010 - In the movie Skateland, starring Shiloh Fernandez and Ashley Greene, which is set in the 1980s, when roller skating was very popular and many teenagers used to go to roller rinks.