The History and Development of Inline Skating
There are historic ice skating relics that date back as far as 3000 B.C. But, inline roller skates probably originated much later in Scandinavia or Northern Europe where ice skating was an easy way to travel short distances. By the early 17th century, these early Dutch called themselves skeelers and skated on frozen canals in the winter. They eventually used a primitive form of roller skate, made by attaching wooden spools to a platform to allow similar travel in warmer weather.
The first officially documented inline skate actually appeared in London in 1760. The progression from transportation to a substitute for on stage ice skating, to recreational skating, to fitness skating and eventually to inline competitive sports has been closely linked to the development of inline skate technology.
Let’s follow the developments and technological improvements that have been made to the original inline skates that lead to the comfortable and sometimes highly specialized equipment used by inline skaters today.
The National Museum of Roller Skating was the source for many of the historical facts in this article.
The first documented reference to inline or roller skating was left by a London stage performer. The inventor of these skates, which were probably an inline design, is unknown and is lost in history.
The first known inventor of an inline roller skate was John Joseph Merlin. Merlin was born on September 17, 1735, in Huys, Belgium. He grew up to become a musical instrument maker and accomplished mechanical inventor. One of his inventions was a pair of skates with a single line of small metal wheels. He wore the skates as a publicity stunt to promote his museum, and from the beginning, stopping was a problem. It is believed that one of his ballroom stunts ended in a dramatic crash into a mirrored wall because of this defect. For the next century, roller skate wheels followed the inline design alignment.
The inline skate idea made its way to France in 1789 with Lodewijik Maximilian Van Lede and his skate that he called the patin a terre which translates from French to “land skates” or “earth skates”. Van Lede’s skates consisted of an iron plate with wooden wheels attached. He was a sculptor at the Academy Bruges in Paris and was considered as very eccentric.
In 1819 the first inline skate was patented and inlines remained until 1863 when skates with two axles were developed. These quad skates allowed more control and their popularity spread quickly in North America and Europe. The four-wheeled quad skate quickly dominated the skate manufacturing industry. Some companies continued to design skates using wheels in a line, but they were not taken seriously.
In Berlin, Germany, inline roller skates were used in a ballet for ice skating moves when it was impossible have ice on a stage. The ballet called Der Maler oder die Wintervergn Ugungen: “The Artist or Winter Pleasures”. Ice skating was one of the winter pleasures simulated by roller skaters. No one knows what kind of skates were used.
The Petitbled, the first roller skate patented, was an inline. This patent was issued in Paris, France, in 1819. M. Petitbled’s invention had three inline wheels which were either wood, metal or ivory. He thought his inline skate would allow a skater to simulate ice skating moves, but the wheel construction did not allow it, and the wheels kept slipping on hard surfaces.
Robert John Tyers, a London ice skater, patented a skate called the Rolito with five wheels in a single row on the bottom of a boot. The center wheels were larger than the wheels on either end of the frame to allow a skater to maneuver by shifting his weight, but the Rolito could not follow a curved path like inline skates today.
Another roller skate patent was issued in Austria in 1828 to August Lohner, a Viennese clockmaker. Until then, all designs had been for inline skates, but this version was like a tricycle, with two wheels in back and one in front. He also added a ratchet to prevent the skate from rolling backward.
In France, Jean Garcin got a patent for the “Cingar.” The name was created by reversing the syllables of his last name. The Cingar was an inline skate with three wheels. Garcin opened a skating rink, taught skating and even wrote a book called Le Vrai Patineur (“The True Skater”). Garcin had to close his rink because of the number of skating injuries to patrons.
Monsieur and Madame Dumas, professional dancers, led a performance of fancy roller skating at Paris’s Port Saint Martin Theatre in 1840.
The Corse Halle Tavern, near Berlin, featured barmaids who served the patrons on roller skates. This was needed due to the large size of beer halls in Germany at this time.
The first successful use of a skate with wheels in a line was recorded in 1849 by Louis Legrange, who built them to simulate ice skating in the French Opera, “Le Prophete”. These skates had major problems because the skaters who used them could not maneuver or stop.
English J. Gidman applied for a patent for roller skates equipped with ball bearings. He had to wait 30 years to see them in use on skates.
Public roller skating rinks opened in the Floral Hall and in the Strand of London.
The Woodward skate was invented in London in 1859 with four vulcanized rubber wheels on each frame for better traction than iron wheels on a wooden floor. Like the Rolito, these skates had middle wheels that were bigger than the end wheels to make it easier to turn, but this did not fix maneuvering problems. This skate was used by Jackson Haines, the founder of modern figure skating, for exhibitions.
Reuben Shaler, an inventor from Madison, Connecticut, developed a skate designed to solve the maneuverability problem. Shaler patented a Parlor Skate, the first roller skate patent issued by the U.S. Patent Office. This skate had four wheels attached by pins to a hanger which resembled today’s inline frames. They offered a rubber or leather ring on the wheels to allow them to grip the skating surface. These inline skates never caught on.
James Plimpton initiated quad roller skate history. When he invented quad skates, they provided greater control than the inline models and were much easier to use. Plimpton put one pair of wheels in front and another in back. He put the wheels on pivots, so they could turn independently of the frame and inserted rubber cushions, so skaters could lean in the direction of their turns.
The first Plimpton skates clamped on to the shoe, but improved designs used straps with buckles instead. Plimpton installed a skating floor in his furniture business in New York, leased skates to customers, founded the New York’s Roller Skating Association, introduced skating proficiency tests, operated roller rinks in the Northeast, and traveled to give lessons. Four years later, the proficiency test medals were being given out in 20 countries where Plimpton skates were used.
Jean Garcin’s Cingar skate had a brief revival at the 1867 Exposition Universelle in Paris. But, eventually all inline roller skates became obsolete after Plimpton’s “quad” skate became popular.
William Bown patented a design for roller skates wheels in Birmingham, England. Bown’s design made an effort to keep the two bearing surfaces of an axle, fixed and moving, apart.
A toe stop design that helped skaters stop rolling by tipping the skate down at the toe was patented. Toe stops are still used today on inline figure skates and on most quad skates.
Bown worked closely with Joseph Henry Hughes, who patented the elements of an adjustable ball or roller bearing system similar to the system used in today’s skate and skateboard wheels.
Levant M. Richardson secured a patent to use steel ball bearings in skate wheels to reduce friction, and allow skaters to increase the speed with minimum effort. The invention of pin ball-bearing wheels allowed skates to roll with ease and made skating shoes weigh less.
Walter Nielson of New York got the patent for a “Combined Ice and Roller Skate.” His 14-wheel skates had a patent inscription that suggested that “a pad of rubber, leather, or like material should be placed … so that when the skater desires to stop, it is only necessary to press the pad … against the floor or ground.” This suggestion for stopping pads was ahead of its time.
Levant M. Richardson gets a patent for steel ball bearings in skate wheels. These bearings reduce friction, so skaters can go faster with less effort.
In 1898, Levant Richardson started the Richardson Ball Bearing and Skate Company, which provided skates to most professional skate racers of the time.
The end of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth century marked the appearance of cycles-skates with structures similar to modern skates online. They were invented in response to a need to skate on all types of surfaces and were the first step in the development of all-terrain skates using rubber wheels or tires. Later in the century, modern inlines emerged.
The Peck & Snyder Company patents an inline skate with two wheels in 1900.
Over 7,000 people attended opening night at the Coliseum public skating rink in Chicago.
John Jay Young of New York City creates and patents an adjustable length, clamp-on inline skate.
The Roller Hockey Skate Company designs a three-wheeled inline skate with a leather shoe and the rear wheel raised to allow the skater to pivot on the center wheel. This inline was made for roller hockey by the Roller Hockey Skate Company of New York City in 1910 with boots from the Brooks Athletic Shoe Company.
The Best-Ever Built Skate Company manufactures an inline skate with three wheels positioned close to the ground.
The original patents for Jet inline skates for ice cross-training were filed in the 1930s. An advertisement for them was published in a 1948 issue of Popular Mechanics.
Christian Siffert, of Deerfield, Illinois, patents a design for an inexpensive inline skate, which could not only be used on sidewalks but also convert to sharp-edged wheels, on ice. The Jet Skate, the ad claims, is the “only skate with brakes to stop quick.” This claim was probably false since at that time several brakes had been invented and patented for roller skates. The Jet Skate brake looked a lot like today’s heel brakes and was designed to be used the same way. Brakes have always been a design problem for skate manufacturers.
Modern inline skates begin to appear in the Netherlands.
The first U.S. patent for modern inline skates, created to behave like ice runners with individually sprung and cushioned wheels, was granted under patent number US 2644692 in July 1953 to Ernest Kahlert of Santa Ana, CA. They appeared in the April 1950 issue of “Popular Mechanics” and in the April 1954 issue of “Popular Science.”
An inline skate with 2 round, artificial rubber wheels, and no brake was developed by Rocker Skate Company in Burbank, California. It was advertised in “Popular Science” in the November 1953 issue and in “Popular Mechanics” in the February 1954 issue. The ads described them as “quiet, fast and good for stops and turning.”
The Chicago Skate Company tries to market an inline skate similar to today’s equipment, but it was shaky, uncomfortable and the brakes were not dependable.
A USSR inline skate was made in 1960 with 4 wheels and a toe stop. It appeared to have solid construction and is similar to some of the current inline figure skates with wheel-shaped, front-mounted toe stops.
A heavy-looking inline skate called the “Euba-Swingo” was manufactured by the Euba company in Germany. This skate was available permanently mounted to a boot or as a clamp-on skate. Euba-Swingo skates were rockered, had a front-mounted toe-stop and were used for dry-land figure skating training.
Inline skates also made an appearance in the Russian movie Королева бензоколонки (1962) at about 9m23s into the film.
An advertisement in a magazine shows BiSkates, another inline skate intended as an alternative for ice training.
The Chicago Roller Skate Company manufactures their inline skate with a boot. The inline skate which influenced Scott Olson was a 1966 Chicago Roller Skate Company skate. These skates featured four wheels in a line with the front and back wheel extending beyond the boot like an ice skate blade, and they played an important part in the development of inline skating.
In Germany, Friedrich Mayer obtained a patent for his inline skate. No one was interested at the time, because of the popularity of quad roller skates, featuring two wheels per axle, a canvas shoe and a stopper in the front.
In England, the Tri-Skate developed, a skate with three wheels, high leather shoes and a stopper in front, and according to Dutch articles on this topic, as many as 100,000 pairs of inline skates (not necessarily all Tri-Skates) were sold in Holland and neighboring countries. This happened before the development of RollerBlade and should be considered a great success. The details of Tri-Skate origins are uncertain. The design is either American or Dutch, the frames were made in England by Yaxon (a toy producer) and the figure boots were made in Italy. This means that the skates were sold in those countries, too.
In 1972, Mountain Dew attempted to sell Mettoy’s “Skeeler” in Canada. This three-wheeled inline skate was developed for Russian hockey players and speed skaters. The Skeelers, another name for skating or skater, were early versions of today’s inline skates and were produced in adult and children’s sizes. Celebrities who tried them as publicity stunts included dancer Lionel Blair and runner Derek Ibbotson, who had set a world record for the mile in 1957.
Speedys, a product of SKF, were an inline skate that featured soft boots, a frame, and four wheels. Unfortunately, the late 70s market was not ready for inline sports and the production was discontinued.
Scott and Brennan Olson, brothers and hockey players from Minneapolis, Minnesota, find a pair of Chicago inline roller skates and begin redesigning them using modern materials. They add polyurethane wheels, attach the frames to ice hockey boots, and add a rubber toe-brake to the new design. The modifications were intended for ice hockey training when ice is not available. After over 200 years of trial and error, inline skating is ready to emerge.
Scott and Brennan Olson established Ole’s Innovative Sports which became Rollerblade, Inc. after selling inline skates with no brake at all to the hockey players who were the early adopters. The Olson brothers introduced a new skating phenomenon that has never been equaled in roller sports history. The proper term to use when describing this skating is inline roller skating or inline skating, but Rollerblade made such an impact that the name has become synonymous with the sport in spite of the fact that Rollerblade is an inline skate manufacturer.
The modern style of inline speed skates was developed as an ice skate substitute and used by a Russian athlete training on dry land for his Olympic long track speed skating events. A photo of American skater Eric Heiden using Olson’s skates to train for the 1980 Olympics on a road in Wisconsin was published in Life magazine.
The Olson brothers adopted and adapted the Chicago inline design over the years, and caused a public attraction to roller skating that has been hard to match in the sport’s history. The name Rollerblade has become inline skating to most people, overshadowing many other inline skate manufacturers and leaving out a lot of the previous history of roller and inline roller skating.
In 1982, Scott Olson adds the toe stop to his inline skate but found that it didn’t work well.
In 1984, Scott Olson adds a heel brake to help beginners get over the fear of being unable to stop.
Minneapolis businessman Bob Naegele, Jr. purchased Olson’s company, and it eventually became Rollerblade, Inc. This was not the first company to manufacture inline skates, but Rollerblade expanded inline skating to include more than just hockey players by offering comfortable skates with dependable, easy-to-use brakes. This introduced millions to inline skating sports.
Rollerblade, Inc., begins to market skates as fitness and recreational equipment.
Rollerblade, Inc. produced the Macro and Aeroblades models, the first skates fastened with three buckles instead of long laces that needed threading.
Rollerblade, Inc. switched to a glass-reinforced thermoplastic resin (durethan polyamide) for their skates, replacing the polyurethane compounds that were previously used. This decreased the average weight of skates by nearly fifty percent.
In 1990, inline skate developers once again turned to efforts to find designs and materials that would allow skaters to simulate more of the ice and quad roller figure and dance skating maneuvers. Roller skaters discovered the competitive advantages of inline skates, especially increased speed. Skate designers also began to explore wheel sizes and frame alignment. However, the majority of the development during this decade was intended for ice hockey and ice speed cross-training for skaters
Rollerblade, Inc. developed the ABT or Active Brake Technology. A fiberglass post was attached at one end to the top of the boot and at the other end to a rubber-brake and hinged to the chassis at the back wheel. The skater had to straighten one leg to stop, driving the post into the brake, which then hit the ground. Skaters had already been tilting their foot back to make contact with the ground, before ABT, so this new brake design improved safety.
Pat McHale secures the United States and European patents for a multi-purpose inline skate in 1993. This skate design features offset inline wheels that create an inside-outside edge with lateral stability for control of edges that are similar to ice blades.
In 1993, two other inventors, Bert Lovitt, and Warren Winslow work together to invent an all-terrain skate that uses 2 angled wheels.
The Italian firm Risport introduced the 3-wheeled “Galaxie” figure frame and an entry-level cheap 3-wheels inline figure skate all-plastic: “Kiria” in white and “Aries” in black. Another model with a metal frame and plastic boot was called “Vega”. All of these inline skates were designed with toe stops. Risport also discovered that a flat 3-wheeled frame can behave as a rockered frame just by using a much harder wheel in the center, thus splitting unevenly the skater’s weight among them.
Sporting goods company K2, Inc. comes up with a soft boot design which in most aspects of the sport (except Aggressive Skating) has become the most common design. This company also heavily promotes the soft boot design for fitness. By 2000, most skate manufacturers followed suit, although the hard boot is still preferred by aggressive skaters.
Diederik Hol sees a bulletin board announcement that Dutch manufacturer offers a six-month research training into designing a clap skate. He saw an opportunity to develop something with the potential of setting new world records, and he used the project as a springboard for his career in design engineering. He graduated having worked on the Rotrax skate, a multiple-hinge frame that ensures a more powerful push-off and thus higher speed.
John Petell, President of Harmony Sports Inc., contacts Nick Perna, a PSA master rated coach, to test a retrofit product they called the PIC. The PIC® device attached to conventional inline skates to enable figure skaters to perform figure skating moves requiring a toe pick that was not otherwise possible on conventional inline skates.
A French inventor named Jean-Yves Blondeau gets a patent for his 31-wheeled Rollerman suit (also known as the Wheel Suit or Buggy Rollin) in 1995. This suit is designed with wheels that are very similar to inline skate wheels carefully placed on most of the major joints of the body, on the torso and even on the back.
Inline skates and skating accessories become a billion-dollar international industry, with nearly 26 million Americans participating.
Lovitt & Winslow file their first Patent Application for their all-terrain skate invention with 2 angled wheels.
The collaboration between Nick Perna and John Petell results in the development of a rockered inline figure skate frame. The final patent for the PIC skate was published on April 14, 1998. A total of 23 claims were granted by the patent examiner, but the key element to the PICand other similar skates is the toe pic angle which closely mirrors the pick angle on ice skates. The jagged metal toe picks on ice skates are used to spike jumps and assist footwork, and this inline skate has the same capabilities via the patented PIC.
The Rollerblade Coyote skate was introduced in 1997 as the first true off-road skate in the industry. The air-filled tires were designed for shock absorption, traction, and terrain versatility.
Lovitt & Winslow incorporate the new LandRoller company to manufacture and market their new skates with angled wheels.
Sportsline International offers Diederik Hol a chance to design a whole new product line of skates. After less than a year of dedicated thinking and drawing concepts, he designed what is now known as the Mogema Dual Box.
Inline figure skating develops as an off-ice training tool for ice skaters and emerges as a competitive event in roller sports. Some manufacturers, like Triax/Snyder, respond by providing equipment options needed for figure skating.
In November of 2002, after the first World Inline Figure Skating Championships in Germany, the coach of Chien-Hao Wang visits Arthur Lee to discuss damage to Wang’s inline skates and request the development of a better inline figure skating frame.
Three years after he made his first sketch, Diederik Hol convinces the Rollerblade World Team and others to use Mogemas at the World Inline Championships in France. 45 skaters won their gold, silver, and bronze medals on Mogemas.
The prototype for Arthur Lee’s Snow White Inline is complete.
Snow White sponsors two Taiwanese skaters, Chia-Hsiang Yang and Chia-Ling Hsin, for the 2004 World inline Championships in Fresno, CA. Kadu, coach of Gustavo Casado Melo and Adrian Baturin, and Ms. Yasaman Hejazi, coach of the Iran Inline Figure Skating Federation, are among the first coaches to use Snow White frames.
LandRoller’s Angled Wheel Technology breaks away from traditional inline designs with two large, side-mounted, out-of-line angled wheels that roll astride the centerline of the boot and maintain a low center of gravity.
Wheel Anti-Reversing Technology was developed by Bruce Honaker to help new inline skaters by allowing them to keep both skates on the ground, and parallel to each other. This creates comfort and stability as momentum is gained. Fear of rolling backward on inclines is also eliminated. The device may be removed after skating skills develop.
Brian Green and the Cardiff Skate Company offer an adjustable skate with a unique three-wheel configuration and braking system that is promoted as being more stable and more convenient than any other skate on the market.
Flex Brake, Ben Wilson’s lightweight braking system designed to fit most inline speed skates or fitness skates, Alex Bellehumeur’s DXS Inline Skating Disk Brake system and Gravity Master calf activated brakes from Craig Ellis revive interest in inline skate stopping technology.