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The History of Inline Skate Development

The Evolution of Inline Roller Skates - 18th Century Beginnings


John Joseph Merlin inline skate History

John Joseph Merlin

Courtesy of the National Museum of Roller 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 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 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.

1789 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.

The National Museum of Roller Skating is your About.com guide's resource for many of the historical facts in this article. You can contact the museum by writing to:

The National Museum of Roller Skating
4730 South Street
Lincoln, NE 68506

Or email:
Roller Skating Museum Curator

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