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 clock maker. 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 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 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.
In 1898, Levant Richardson started the Richardson Ball Bearing and Skate Company, which provided skates to most professional skate racers of the time.
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
Roller Skating Museum Curator