This Day in History – August 11th, 1866


John Joseph Merlin

When Belgium born John Merlin was in his mid 20’s he broke an expensive mirror when he lost control and ran into it; this was in the 1760’s, and this was the first recorded usage of roller skates. Merlin demonstrated his pair of skates at a masquerade party at Carlisle-House in London. Though he was a well-known inventor, he was not a good skater.

petibledIn 1819, Monsieur Petitbled of Paris, France patented his roller skate design. The Petitbled skate was an in-line skate with a wood sole, leather straps and three wheels made of wood, metal, or ivory. These skates only went forward, even turning corners was a major feat!

plimpton_skateIn January 1863, James L. Plimpton, frustrated by the roller skates available, patented a four-wheeled roller skate that was capable of turning. The mechanism had a pivoting action dampened by a rubber cushion which permitted the roller skater to curve by leaning in the desired direction of travel. Plimpton built a roller skating floor in the office of his New York City furniture business and leased out his skates. He founded the New York Roller Skating Association (NYRSA) to promote the sport.


The Atlantic House.

On August 11th, 1866, Plimpton and the NYRSA leased the fashionable resort hotel, the Atlantic House, in Newport, Rhode Island, and converted the dining room into a skating area. This was the first roller skating rink open to the public in the United States! Plimpton is accredited with the sport’s popularity, which later led to the totally awesome sport of Roller Derby in 1935 🙂

Other roller skating facts . . .

  • First official roller hockey game called roller polo was played in 1878 at the Denmark Rink in London, England.
  • The National Roller Polo League was formed in Dayton, Ohio, in 1882.
  • Roller hockey debuted at the National Championships in 1961.
  • Roller hockey was an exhibition sport in the Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain, in 1992.
  • Transcontinental Roller Derby formed by Leo A. Seltzer in 1935.
  • First official U.S. Amateur Speed Skating Championship races held April 2-4, 1937 at the Arena Gardens rink in Detroit, Michigan.
  • First Dance Championship held at the Mineola Rink, Mineola, NY, in 1939.
  • First Figures Championship held at the Arena Gardens rink in Detroit, Michigan, in 1939.
  • Roller skaters were included in the 1978 Sports Act and have participated in the Pan Am Games since 1979.
  • The Skating Vanities, a professional roller skating show, performed across the U.S., Europe, and South America from 1942-1956.
  • National Museum of Roller Skating founded on October 27, 1980, to collect, preserve, research, and interpret artifacts, documents, and published materials relating to roller skating’s heritage.



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