Ken chase on skates

When Skating Goes to War

World War II touched every part of American life including roller skating. Skaters faced equipment and parts shortages and rinks dealt with blackouts and problems organizing regional competitions. Many young men and women hung up their skates and joined the military or took jobs in factories. Some gave their lives.
Recognizing its importance, the government encouraged people to skate to keep up the nation’s morale and physical fitness. Rinks and skaters responded by welcoming soldiers, buying bonds, and embracing a patriotic spirit. When peace returned in 1945, despite the war’s challenges, skating was as popular as ever.


On the coasts, rinks dealt with “blackouts” meant to defend against air raids by covering windows and doors to conceal indoor light from enemy eyes. Blackouts and gas rationing hurt rink attendance in the war’s early days, but skaters gradually returned as they got used to life during wartime.

You'll see Four “Roller Vanities” from the Broadway show of the same name skate up New York’s Fifth Avenue in June of 1942 as they campaign to save gas, which was rationed during the war.

New skates and replacement parts became scarce as skate companies switched to making other things for the war. But Skates were also crucial war materials. Richardson Skate Company made a few skates for the military for use at naval stations and arm camps.

On the right you'll notice The Chicago Roller Skate Company and its competitors switched from making roller skates to making war materials. Chicago Skate Company, taking the “Keep ‘Em Rolling” slogan from a popular wartime propaganda poster, reminded its customers to do their part and take good care of their skates, because of dwindling parts supplies.


Rinks did their part to win the war by sponsoring war bonds and scrap drives and by welcoming service men and women, often at no charge. The nation’s skaters displayed their patriotism with military-themed red, white, and blue rink stickers.

Roller Skating was gaining in popularity before the war and its popularity never wavered. Communities of all sizes supported skating facilities. Between 4,000 and 5,000 rinks of all kinds served skaters from cost to coast by the late 1940s.

Members of the roller Skating Rink Operators Association (RSROA) did much to support the war effort, always keeping a positive, patriotic, face to help keep up morale.

The Arena Gardens in Detroit, Michigan, held a scrap drive in 1943. Rink manager and RSROA founder Fred Martin shows the string of skate keys donated to the war effort.

The Arena Gardens also urged its employees to buy bonds and sold bonds and stamps to its patriotic skaters, as show in in this 1943 photo.


"Skating is one of those sports sponsored by your government because those who are engaged in this sport are better fitted to prosecute the war. The Office of Civilian Defense is organizing a national skating project to build physical fitness." Quote from John B. Kelly, Sr., National Physical Fitness Director, Office of Civilian Defense, 1942

The federal public health service created a series of posters in 1943 featuring “Jenny on the Job.” Aimed at women entering the workforce, Jenny encouraged good health habits. This poster acknowledged skating’s popularity and promoted it as a wholesome sport that would keep war industry workers fit and productive.
At huge war plants, workers often used roller skates to move quickly over long distances. These roller skating war workers in a California aircraft plant are delivering inter-departmental messages on skates.


"The last issue of [Skating News] I received was for the month of February. Consequently, I have been nearly famished for news of the sport." Quote from A W Russell writing to Skating News in July, 1945

Being in the service didn’t mean they left skating behind. Skating publications and rink newsletters carried news about skaters in the service and letters from skaters seeking information about what was happening in the sport and at their favorite rinks.
[picture, Skating was an effective method to help physically and psychologically wounded soldiers return to normal lives. Many skating publications talked bout the benefits, including the November 1945 issue of Skating News which featured this headline and photo of wounded skaters.

In the picture you see Kenneth Chancellor Chase from Dayton, Ohio, he was the 1942 Men’s Senior Figure Skating Champion (above, left). Chase joined the Navy in 1943 and became a naval pilot (above, right). He was killed in action over the Philippines in 1944.

Millions of people answered the nation’s call to service during World War II. Hundreds of thousands were likely roller skaters. A few would have been serious competitors like Kenneth Chase. How many skaters gave their lives is unknown; but each one, like Ken Chase, left a record of achievements, a list of people whose lives they touched, and a loss for the sprot and the nation.

The Chicago Roller Skate Company, along with its competitors switched from making roller skates to making war materials. Chicago made practice hand grenades for use in training (photo, right).

The Company was recognized for their work with the Army-Navy “E” Award (Plaque, above). Only 5% of the 85,000 companies making war materials earned this award.

A source of pride for skaters and advertising for rink owners, colorful, patriotic rink stickers exploded in popularity during the war. A wall rack in this gallery explains the origins of rink stickers and shows hundreds of examples from around the country.

Commercial artist Knute O. Munson painted several scenes for the Chicago Skate Company, including this one of a woman skating with a solider and sailor. The company turned it into a popular, patriotic advertising sticker. Munson is better remembered today for his risqué pin-ups that display the same unmistakable style. You can see Munson’s original painting of this skating trio elsewhere in the gallery.

This 1940s era skate case shows remnants of parotic United States service branch stickers including the Navy, Army Air Corps, and Marines.

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