The history of Roller Skating

If you were getting ready to invent the first pair of roller skates, what would you put on the skates and where would you put it?

If you're one of the many people who roller skate today, that question would be easy to answer. But in the 18th century, when an unknown Holland inventor came up with the first pair of roller skates, he fastened wooden spools to strips of wood. He nailed the strips to the bottoms of wooden shoes.

He was probably eager to continue skating when milder temperatures melted the ice in the canals and forced him to hang up his ice skates.

Around 1760 a Parisian named Garcin designed skates with a ''roller' at the front and another at the rear. He opened a gymnasium in Paris where people could practice year-round. The skates were difficult to control. His business failed. As time passed, others attempted to improve on the invention.

In 1863, James Leonard Plympton of New York designed a skate with four small wooden wheels. It became the ''grand-dad'' of the modern roller skate. By 1875, metal wheeled skates with roller bearings were developed. These enabled a skater to move easily for longer distances (coast) and move faster. The wheels located near each corner allowed for superior control.

Today's roller skates are lightweight and efficient. Some have wheels made of urethane plastic. These provide a smooth, quiet ride.

Good skates have contributed to making roller skating a very popular activity. Some 41 million Americans of all ages are indoor skaters. And over 3 million Americans take their wheels outside. Many skaters do both.

James Plympton offered the skating public an indoor rink that boasted a waxed , varnished, hardwood floor. It was easier to skate on than the typical raw, unfinished hardwood floor.

Today many skating centers have plastic skating surfaces. In addition, rinks are well-lighted and temperature-controlled. They also provide snack bars and music on quality sound systems.

A new skater may find that good skates and a good skating surface make roller skating easier than imagined. A new skater can ''get rolling'' on a pair of rented skates. Special occasions introduce many skaters to the activity. Birthdays and holidays are often celebrated at skating parties.

Various organizations encourage skaters by offering recognition for achievements. In 10 years, nearly two million Girl Scouts earned merit badges for roller skating skills. Boy Scouts work for merit badges too. One of the skills they must display is called ''Shoot the Duck.''

This skill demonstrates the skater's ability to maintain balance. The skater's body is bent in a sitting position with one leg skating along the surface while the other is extended horizontally in front. But long before a skater is ready to ''Shoot the Duck,'' he or she will have mastered moves like pushing off and stopping.

Basic how-to information is available from books at the local library. Some rinks conduct skating classes. A few lessons taught by a skilled skating instructor give a beginner an opportunity to develop good skating habits.

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