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John Joseph MerlinJohn Joseph Merlin (85.62.2)
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National Museum of Roller Skating

John Joseph Merlin

  • John Merlin was born September 17, 1735 in Huys, Belgium.
  • He was the first recorded person to invent a roller skate, doing so in the 1760s in London, England.
  • Merlin wore a pair of his new skates to a masquerade party at Carlisle-House in London. Though he was a well-known inventor, he was not a good skater. He could not control his speed or direction and crashed into a large mirror, severely injuring himself and possibly setting back the sport of roller skating for years.
Petitbled Skate 1819Petitbled Skate 1819  (97.91.2)

Monsieur Petitbled

  • He was the first to patent a roller skate, doing so in 1819, while in Paris, France.
  • 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!
James Leonard PlimptonPlimpton (90.36)
Plimpton SkatePlimpton (90.36)

James Leonard Plimpton

The father of modern roller skating

From the first recorded use of roller skates on a London stage in 1743 through the next 120 years, all roller skates were in-line skates. However, the design of these in-line skates did not allow the skater to turn or stop efficiently.

James L. Plimpton, frustrated by the roller skates available, invented a new type of roller skate that would revolutionize the sport.

In January 1863, Plimpton 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.

In the summer of 1866, 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.

  • Invented the four-wheeled skate (also called quad skate), 1863
  • Opened the first public roller skating rink in 1866.
  • Invented the class instructional system for teaching roller skating.
  • Invented the awarding of proficiency medals.
  • Credited with the popularity of roller skating as a recreational sport.

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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