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 replacing the 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 roller skate wasn't much more than an ice skate with wheels where the blade goes, a style we would call inline 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.
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 of roller skating, dubbed "rinkomania" in the 1860s and 1870s, which spread to Europe and around the world, and continued 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 U.S 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.
The Roller Skating Association’s web page offers some health benefits of roller skating. Some of these benefits include providing a complete aerobic workout and burning 350 calories per hour while skating 6 miles per hour or 600 calories while skating 10 miles per hour. 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 roller skating as an aerobic fitness sport.
Roller skating has become such a popular pastime that there are museums dedicated to its history. The National Museum of Roller Skating in Lincoln, Nebraska claims to own the largest collection of historical roller skates in the world, together with pictures, medals, films, costumes, etc. that have significance. It also hosts a large library of roller skating books and has video clips of highlights from roller skating competitions. Donations of anything that reflects “the history of roller skating on a local, regional, national, and international level” are encouraged.
- The Victorian craze that sparked a mini-sexual revolution, BBC, 6 April 2015
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Roller skates.|
- Roller Skating History of the United States
- "How Ring Rollers Are Made", by George W. Waltz – November 1951 article on how roller skates are manufactured
- Court Case Brought by Roller Skating Rings About Taxes
- History of Roller Skating In Canada
- Roller Skating International homepage
- homepage for USA Roller Sports
- Roller Skating Museum
- All Star Skates
- Real Skate Stories
- For a comprehensive listing of 1,000's of roller skating rinks and roller skating teachers from 1950 to 1912