The First Roller Skates

The idea of easy personal movement or transportation has been with us for centuries. Evidence asserts that in Holland, where the Dutch avidly skated on ice, one enthusiast could not bear the spring and summer off skates. Hans Brinker produced a wheeled skate with several wooden spools in a line to simulate ice skating on pavement. Thus, the roller skate was born out of the desires of a frustrated ice skater in the early 1700’s.

1743 marks the first recorded use of roller skates on the stage in a London, England theater during the performance of a play by Tom Hood. The first recorded man to invent roller skates was John Joseph Merlin (right). Merlin was a maker of musical instrumentals and a general craftsman. He moved to London from Belgium in 1760 because he was invited by the Royal Academy of Science to work for them.

According to a colleague of Merlin’s, while working in London in the 1760’s one of his inventions was a pair of skates “contrived to run on small metallic wheels. Supplied with a pair of these and a violin, he mixed in the motley group of one of the celebrated Mrs. Cornely’s masquerades at Carlisle-house, Soho-square; when, not having provided the means of retarding his velocity, or commanding its direction, he impelled himself against a mirror, of more than five hundred pounds’ value, dashed it to atoms, broke his instrument to pieces, and wounded himself most severely.”

Needless to say roller skating was not heard from for almost sixty years until when Monsieur Petitbled received the first patent for roller skates from the French government in Paris, France.

Petitbled claimed that anyone could use his skates to do the same things that could be done on ice skates. Each roller skate was the same size and only straight forward skating was attempted. Turning a corner was a major physical feat and almost impossible. Petitbled’s skate was not all he claimed it to be.

On the side left wall a cartoon showcases a roller skater using a large pillow to protect his fall in 1849. Since the invention of the roller skate, skaters have tried many different ways to stop or slow down. The Volito skate in 1823 was the first skate that used a brake system.

On the side right wall see an illustration of one of the the first public skating rinks. Which opened in 1857 in London, England. The largest rink in Europe opened in London in 1890, called the Grand Hall Olympia with 68,000 square feet. The skating surface was as big as a football field. The image above showcases an orchestra on the balcony while the crowd skates on the floor in 1876.

On the top shelf see a Petitbled skate. The first patent for a roller skate was received by Monsieur Petitbled, November 12, 1819 in Paris France. The design was a sole of wood with several roller arranged in a straight line (1st patented in-line skate), the wheels were made of either wood, metal, or “deluxe” ivory.

On April 22, 1823, the Volito roller skate was patented by Robert John Tyers of London, England. Described as an “apparatus to be attached to boots, shoes, and other covering for the feet, for the purpose of traveling for pleasure.” This skate was considered an improvement over the Petitbled roller skate because the wheels were of unequal size so the skater could execute turns by shifting weight and the metal hook could be used as a brake.     
Photograph courtesy of the Smithsonian.

This three wheel wood plate roller skate with brass hooks possibly used for brakes on the front and rear or the skate was patented by Garcin in France on July 26, 1828 and sometimes called the Cingar skate.

As you turn your attention to the second shelf see a Legrand Skate. The German composer Giacomo Meyerbeer took the opera “Le Prohpete” to new heights by using roller skates invented by Louis Legrand. Legrand’d 1849 patented roller skates were used in the opera to simulate an ice skating scene. Legrand made skates for the entire cast and gave lessons on their use. The opera was a huge success in Paris and started an interest in roller skating using Legrand’s skates on paved streets, marble, and parquet floors.

This unique skate was patented December 28th, 1852 by Joseph Gidman. The design has four wood wheels, a wood plate and a brass frame. A single wheel is placed at each end with the other two paired centrally under the wood plate. The patent for this skate wrote, “On the top surface of the heel of each sole, it is intended to screw a piece of sheet iron or steel in order to fasten the skate more firmly to the foot.” The size of this skate is smaller than the other skates because this skate was used to show the patent office.

In 1859, the Woodward skate was new and featured wheels made from vulcanized India rubber. The skaye’s rubber wheels did not slip as much as wood or metal wheels, Jackson Haines, an American skater used the Woodward skate to perform exhibitions in Europe in the 1860’s.

Reuben Shaler patented this four wheel in-line roller skate on May 29, 1860. Each of the four wood wheels are grooved around the edge to receive a rubber ring. These early rubber tires improved traction, somewhat elimating the danger of slipping. The skate is smaller than usual since this skate was presented to the patent office.

As you turn your attention to the bottom you will see na early model of an inline skate. This four-wheeled in-line roller skate has a plate made of steel utilizing rubber wheels. The manufacturer of this particular model is unknown, but the patent date, February 24, 1860, has been engraved in the plate.

National Museum of Roller Skating Audio Tour - Museum Proper
  1. The First Roller Skates
  2. Patented Roller Skates
  3. The Father of the Modern Roller Skating
  4. Rinking
  5. The "Newest" Craze
  6. The Disco Era
  7. Pop Culture! Skating in Lines: Roller Skating and Comics
  8. Pop Culture! Orchestras, Organs, & Disco: Music in the Rink
  9. Pop Culture! Movies: Roller Skating Across the Silver Screen
  10. Competition: The History of Hockey on Wheels
  11. Competition - Speed Skating
  12. Competition - Dance Skating
  13. Competition - Figure Skating
  14. Competition - Derby
  15. C. W. Lowe's Tent Rink
  16. When Skating Goes to War
  17. Skating for Others
  18. Roller Skating Car Hops
  19. Jam Skating
  20. Extravaganza on Wheels: The Skating Vanities
  21. Vaudeville