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