RINKING: The First Wave of Popularity for Skating at the Roller Rink in the United States & Abroad, 1870-s-1890’s


Following James L. Plimpton’s improvements to the roller skate, people in America and abroad embraced roller skating as a fun, social activity. From the 1870’s and lasting through the mid 1890’s, roller skating at the local roller rink reigned as one of the most popular social events. Many entrepreneurs responded to the popularity of roller skating by opening manufacturing companies and roller rinks. Rinks began opening across the United States as well as England, continental Europe, and Australia. During the 1880’s, an estimated 3,000 rinks existed and rented over one million pairs of skates to patrons. In 1885 one estimate placed the value of roller skating property at over twenty million dollars. Rink operators advertised roller skating as a “healthful sport” that provided a “commendable social experience for youth.”


Thousands embraced the efforts of rink operators to create their rinks as a place for a safe and wholesome social experience. Though some began roller skating during the late nineteenth century to compete or to skate as a professional, most of those who went to the roller rink did so to be sociable. Rinks gave people the opportunity to spend time with family and friends, and provided a place for young people to go when dating. Relatively inexpensive, costing on average less than twenty cents for an adult for admission which included skate rental, rinks catered to both the working and the middle classes desire for affordable entertainment. Rinks further encouraged patronizing by establishing rules for conduct while at the rink to ensure that skaters enjoyed themselves without being disturbed by boisterous talking on smoking while they roller skated.

On the top top shelf you will see 8 skates spaced out across the shelf. These are all American Roller Skates.


The popularity of roller skating, like all great periods of growth whether they be of an economic or social nature, waned beginning in the early 1890s. Several factors contributed to the decline of roller skating’s popularity, but ultimately the decline can be attributed to roller rinks gaining a poor reputation from irresponsible rink management by those who came into the business with little knowledge or care for the sport and hampered the efforts of those who sought to maintain a standard of excellence among rinks. Several rink managers ran reputable rinks throughout the slump in popularity. Some in the early twentieth century, formed local or even statewide associations to promote  effective rink management and thus encourage patrons to return to the roller rink. Their efforts finally culminated in 1937, when seventeen rink operators formed a national organization, the Roller Skating Rink Operators Association, to streamline roller rink management.

On the bottom shelf you will see 8 skates positioned. These are all English roller skates.

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