The first wheels, invented around 3500 B.C., were not used for transportation but as potters’ wheels for molding clay. It took
300 years before wheels were
used to move chariots. And it
took almost another 5,000 years for someone to invent the first roller skate. Consider the colorful history of this wonderful mode of transportation during October, Roller Skating Month.
The first recorded instance of someone affixing wheels to shoes came in 1760 when John
Joseph Merlin embedded metal wheels into his
shoes. Merlin planned to debut his invention at a
London masquerade party. He wanted to shock
the party-goers by gliding into the salon while playing the violin. Unfortunately, Merlin hadn’t yet perfected his skating technique and his wheels were not engineered to turn, so instead of gliding gracefully, he sped into a mirror and crashed, suffering injuries to both his body and his pride.
Over the next few decades, various designs
of roller skates showed up everywhere from Germany to France and Sweden and London,
but they all suffered the same design flaw: the fixed wheels made it almost impossible to turn. Finally, in New York City in 1863, James Leonard Plimpton invented his “quad skates” or “rocker skates.” His skates consisted of four wheels attached to springy rubber cushions that allowed wearers to easily turn by shifting their weight from side to side. Plimpton capitalized on his invention
by establishing the first roller rink at his New York City furniture business. He also organized the first roller skating club, the New York Roller Skating Association, to both promote his new
sport and sell his skates.
By the 1880s, roller skates were a booming industry. Rinks opened across America and all around the world. By the 1950s, food was being delivered to cars by roller-skating “carhops” at drive-ins. And by the 1970s, the roller revolution reached its height. It was no surprise when, in 1983, President Ronald Reagan declared October Roller Skating Month.