Those skate brands that made our history
Overview of several skate brands that fell into oblivion
That article is meant to be completed with the contribution of the readers, we count on your passion!
The aim of the article: rebuilding a puzzle that has lots of missing pieces. The aim is not to trace a linear history of the inventors, just to discover the brand that have manufactured skates.
Thus, if you have information on any of those skate brands, or if you know others, do not hesitate to contact us!
Henley skates : 1880 – 1930
Micajah C. Henley (1856-1927) was an inventor and an American manufacturer based in Richmond (Indiana, USA). He was known as 'The Roller Skate King'. His works could turn out up to 2.000 pairs of skate a day. Henley granted lots of patents, the two main patents concerning skating in 1880 and 1881. His life seems to follow the popular idea of the American dream: From a small outbuilding at the rear of his home, Henley made his business thrive until it became a large modern factory. He would have been part of the leaders of the skating market in the 1890's.
Henley's skates were the first to have an adjustable tensor with a screw, it was the ancestor of the kingbolt device of today's skates.
Go check the pictures of the Henley Skates in mint condition on the website of the CS Brétigny.
Richardson Ball Bearing ans Skate Company : 1898 – ?
The Richardson skates were born in Chicago. In 1884, Levant M. Richardson registered a patent for the use of steel bearings to reduce the friction. He precedes Plimpton who had already made his fortune in selling rollerskates.
Thanks to the bearings used by Richardson, skates gain a lot in rolling and speed.
They are sophisticated and well made. Richardson uses rubber inserts on the trucks to make the skating more comfortable. 'Beauty of design – Strength and Durability – We do not sacrifice quality for cheapness' was the motto of the brand.
The Richardson models are part of the most used in the American roller rinks. You can find some at the convention Hall of Kansas City, at the Coliseum in Chicago, at the Mechanics' Pavillion in San Francisco...
Chicago Roller Skates Company : 1905 – until today
Chicago Skates seems to be one of the oldest rollerskate brands still in activity. It was founded in 1905 by Elisha Clark Ware, and then managed by his three sons Ralph, Walter and Robert.
Chicago Roller Skates Company soon became one of the greatest brands of the 20th century. It produced skates for indoors and outdoors. It even had an ice/rollerskate convertible model.
At their instigation, lots of innovations such as the 'Saint-Pierre' detachable skate, the 'Flex-i-Flote' skate and the 'Velvet Tread' wheel system, saw the light. With its mass production and its cheap prices, the Chicago brand considerably contributed to the development of skating around the world. We especially would owe him an inline skate patent in 1960.
The most famous Chicago skates are probably the '400' and the '805'.
Partly based on support by Noel Nadrak.
Components Limited : 1900 – ?
Components is a British brand that already existed at the beginning of the 20th century. The factory was based in Birmingham (Great Britain). A 1910 model is viewable on the website of the CS Brétigny but the brand is older. Original fact: Components made skates with wheels made of buffalo leather! Lots of their rollerskate models had metal wheels with holes in their hubs to gain weight. It is also partly thanks to that, that the Components models are recognizable in second-hand shops.
Brampton : 1908 – ?
The Brampton company already existed in 1908 with one factory in Birmingham (Great britain) and one in Calais (France). Brampton put aluminum speed skates on the market, a revolution at the time. Even if they would seem heavy today, they were light back then. They were sold without straps and they were screwed on skating shoes. The 'King o' the Rink' is their most famous model. Brampton also produced skates under other brands: Universal, Columbia, Champions, Superb.
Midonn : 1908 – 1970 ?
Midonn is a French brand, the traces of which go back to the beginning of the 20th century. Proof with a photo of 1908 staging a stand of the M&G Duchemin company (14 rue Julien Lecroix, in the 20th arrondissement of Paris) selling those skates.
Midonn seems to have sold lots of skates in the 1960-70's. A great quantity of those skates can still be found on classified ads websites. Midonn would have produced skateboards too.
Polar Skate Company : 1909 – 1960
Created around 1909 and closed in 1960, it was a great German brand. The Mercedes orientable quad skates come from their factory. They started to produce double action trucks: 2 cylinders made of rubber, one on top of the other. They were part of the best skates in Europe.
Polar also made traditional skates screwed on shoes, with trucks, the axles of which were very slanted.
Rollet : 1926 – 1994 ?
A French company founded in 1926. Charles Rollet is the founder. His son Gilbert Rollet succeeded him. Rollet would have been the distributor of Midonn before creating his own skate brand.
Rollet designed orientable quad skates. Their originality: wheels in the shape of truncated cones of revolution, instead of cylindric wheels. It is a type of cone that would get narrower towards the end. Thus, taking the bends, the wheel would be flat on the ground!
Rollet also made more rudimentary skates in the 1930's with wooden plates and fixed axles – very low-end models at the time.
Vitesse Ski : 1930 – 1993 ?
A brand of the 1930's, the factory of which was in Clichy. It still existed in 1993. It was a very popular brand in the 50's in France. Collectors, take note: they are quite easy to find on classified ads websites.
Speedy : 1930 – 1987 ?
A brand founded in Lyon, France, which belonged to the Etablissements Masson. Some models of 1938 can be found still. They would especially make junior skates with 3 wheels.
Speedy also made quad skates with fixed axles and speed skates. Speedy invented a system in fashion with wheels fixed with clicks (special dedication to Wawa). That system is still used today!
In the 1980's, they invented a 2-wheel inline skate with rubber wheels: the 'Brake Skate' saw the light in 1987 with a braking cable. But they could not take bends because they were not easy enough to handle.
Sure Grip Skate Company > Sure Grip International : 1936 until today
The Sure Grip Company was born in 1936 at the instigation of John L. Wintz. Sure Grip was initialy famous for its wheels with rubber on-cores created in 1937 for quad skates. These wheels were made from phenolic fibers, a material commonly used in the engineering industry for its resistance to wear properties. A revolution compared to the wooden wheels that lacked grip! It is where the name of the society comes from...
from 1945, Sure Grip made their own models of rollerskates. In 1947, Sure Grip launched the 'Double Action' skate which considerably improved the handling. It is none the less than the double system of cushions on the trucks to improve the handliness and comfort in bends. 1947 is also the year of the arrival of the first aluminum plates.
At the end of the 1970, the industry of skating took off with the coming of leisures. The same year and for the first time in the history of skating, Sure Grip introduces an outdoors model fixed on a sport shoe, the 'Jogger'. The model witnessed a significant success from New-York to California. Then, the engineers of Sure Grip designed skates with ski bindings, adjustable on any ski shoe and called 'Roller Ski'.
With the coming of roller-hockey in 1992, Sure Grip got into the making of frames. In 1994, the brand issued the H-400 frame. It was the first extruded frame with double hollow made out of 7000 aluminum, and also one of the first frames to be designed on computer (CAD). Then, Sure Grip kept on improving its manufacturing techniques in inserting carbon fiber on models such as the H-605-CFTM hockey frame.
In the 2000's, the return in force of roller derby breathed new life into the brand which got into the production of speed boots, like the XL series. A complete range was dedicated to roller derby: the 'Rebel'.
Fulgur : 1937 – ?
The first skates of the kind (see picture on the right) made in France were designed under the brand Fulgur in 1937. Those skates, quiet, cheap and robust, adapting better to uneven grounds than quad skates, have a drawback: unable to take bends, they imposed to the skater a propulsion closer to the movement of cross-country skiing (using the toe stop) than to that of skating.
They met such a success that all the French manufacturers (Speedy, Rollet, Midonn...) copied them the next year. Interrupted by the war, their production started again and lasted until the 1950's. It is quite hard to date them precisely when you find a pair.
Mistral : 1950 – ?
A French brand which produced junior skates in the 1950's. Most of the models had fixed axles and rubber wheels. These skates were quite basic.
Riedell : 1947 until today
The Riedell company is both famous and unknown. Today, the roller derby wave put the brand back into the spotlight. Yet, it was founded in 1947 by Paul Riedell, a roller and ice skater, and by his wife Sophie in Red Wing (Minnesota, USA). Riedell developped products destined to a wide public, but also made-to-measure models for champions such as Kurt Browning and Johnny Weir. For lots of years, Riedell supplied the market of leisure skating.
Today, the company is managed by the grand children of the founder : Bob, Dan, Scott, as well as by Paul Riegelman. The brand is famous for its products dedicated to derby such as the R3. Riedell is yet quite present on the freestyle, artistic, speed, dance, leisure skating ranges... and of course in roller derby. The blue and red company also works in collaboration with brands of ice skating blades, such as Eclipse Blades. Riedell equips a great number of skating rinks in the USA with its rented skates.
Hustler Skates : 1950
The Hustler Corporation company saw the light in Sterling, Illinois (USA). It produced skates with adjustable straps and metal wheels in the 1950's. One of the most common models is the 'King' with its full wheels with red cores.
Gloria : 1960 – ?
Gloria is another German brand of the 1960's. It mainly supplied junior quad skates: Blitz, RollStar, RollFix-Knirp. It also launched a track skate with very sophisticated wooden wheels: the Gloria-Super.
Jack : 1938 – 1970 ?
Jack is a French brand. It released into the market skates with four wheels, but also with three wheels! Jack essentially produced junior skates. In 1954, they made a convertible ice/roller skate.
It is essensially skates with straps.
- T series : skates with 2, 3 or 4 steel wheels
- U series : convertible skates with rubber wheels
- V series : convertible from ice to rollerskate
- W series ...
Want to start a collection?
Most of the models that can be found on classified ads websites date from the 1960-70's. There are a few earlier models, but you will have to seach for them. Often, straps, screws or the box are missing or rusted. Take your time to compare the models. Do not pounce on the first come, the Internet is full of more or less old skates that you can get at very reasonable prices. The shipping often costs more than your find.
Useful LinksBy Alfathor
Translation: Chloé Seyres
Thanks to Sam Nieswizski
Photos: Alfathor, Sam Nieswizski, Basel museum
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