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Complete Information on the World of Inline Skating (Rollerblading TM)

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History of Inline Skating

Roller skating is presumed to have been born out of the frustrated passions of an ice skater during the warm summer months when no ice was to be had. Legends abound concerning who and where the first attempts were made to roller skate. Nearly all place the invention in Scandinavia or elsewhere in northern Europe.

The first documented inventor of a roller skate was John Joseph Merlin. Merlin was born September 17, 1735, in the city of Huys, Belgium. He was a well-known maker of musical instruments and other mechanical inventions.

According to a contemporary of Merlin'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." Indeed, from the beginning, starting was never a problem; stopping was.

Through various incarnations, roller skates strove to replicate the streamlined speed and maneuverability of ice skates, but without ball bearings or shock-absorbent wheels it would take 200 years before that dream was achieved. Even as late as 1960, the Chicago Skate Company attempted to market an inline skate that looked much like today's skate, but it did not offer sufficient comfort, stability or a reliable brake.

Enter Scott Olson
Although it wasn't a commercial success, the Chicago inline skate played a pivotal role in the development of what is now known as inline skating: it was the skate a young Minneapolis hockey player named Scott Olson picked up in a used sporting goods store in 1979. Seeking a means to train for ice hockey during those short periods when ice is scarce in Minnesota, Olson purchased the skates, which he modified to include better wheels and a heel brake. Finally, after over 200 years of false starts, the materials and techniques were available for inline skating to take off.

In 1984, Minneapolis businessman Bob Naegele, Jr. purchased Olson's fledgling company, which eventually became Rollerblade, Inc. Though not the first company to manufacture inline skates, Rollerblade, by offering a comfortable skate with a reliable and easy-to-implement brake, took inline skating out of the exclusive domain of hockey players and introduced millions to the sport that now has the whole world on a roll.

What Is Rollerblading?
All Rollerblades are inline skates, but not all inline skates are Rollerblades. Rollerblade is a registered trademark of Rollerblade, Inc., but, like many groundbreaking products, the trade name has become synonymous with the type of product. Other examples of this include Q-Tip, Kleenex, Band-Aid, Frisbee, and Jacuzzi. You don't go Cadillacking, neither do you blade. Just like Calvin said, "Verbing weirds language." "Rollerblading" ain't a word, although some people continue to use it. The people who work ar Rollerblade call it skating. 

The Future of Inline Skating
Why does inline skating continue to grow in popularity? Some cite its health benefits. Inline skating burns as many calories as running and is easier on the joints, to boot. Others prefer the competitive aspect, whether in hockey, stunt, race or artistic events. Many enjoy the social aspect, with organized clubs, skate tours and festivals springing up all over the world. But whatever their personal preferences, all inline skaters are united by a common experience: the thrill and easy feeling of having seemingly frictionless wheels on their feet, and the freedom of movement, expression and speed inline skating lets them achieve.

Michael Zaidman was the Director and Curator of the National Roller Skating Museum, 4730 South Street, P.O. Box 6579, Lincoln, NE 68506. 


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