Roller skates first appeared about 200 years before establishing themselves in popular culture.
The roller skate was patented by John Joseph Merlin in 1760. Not to be confused with his medieval namesake. This patent was for an inline styled skate that would resemble the modern roller blade. Steering was difficult and there was no mechanism to brake which, unsurprisingly, meant this first version was quite unpopular.
In the 1840s Meyerbeer’s Opera used skates to perform an ice skating scene on stage which resulted in roller skates making their maiden appearance in popular culture of the time. The skates would soon make their way across the Atlantic and into the hands of James Plimpton who, in 1863, came up with the concept for the skates we know today – it was aptly named the “rocking” skate.
Plimpton used four wheels, resembling a car, with independent axels that made turning possible when applying pressure to one side of the skate. He was responsible for what would be the “rinkomania” craze in the 1860s. The United States considered adding roller skates to the essential equipment repertoire of their infantry to save on fuel… thankfully somebody came to their senses and this wasn’t implemented. Roller skates are instead more fondly remembered for livening up the promenade in South Beach, Miami and mobilising the disco culture of the 1970s.
Roller skates made their way into sport and even into the Olympics briefly in 1992 through roller hockey. It never became a permanent fixture and hasn’t taken off again. Roller skating is said to be the equivalent of jogging for health and is also recommended by the American Heart Association.
Roller skates are plastered all over popular culture and have appeared in That ‘70s Show, Austin Powers and of course, Boogie Nights.