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On 25 August 2015 at 16:11 | updated on 31 August 2015 at 14:49

The Inline skating History since 1760

The Inline skating History since 1760

From the first in-line skate to the traditional skate also known as "quad", we can't talk about the history of skating without honouring Sam Nieswizski. He wrote a famous book « Rollermania » (1991) which is a reference in France and maybe all over the world...

By Alfathor

Were the first skates in-line?

John Joseph Merlin (1760)

John Joseph Merlin (1760)

We could think that the invention of in line skates is very recent, but in fact, the first known skates were invented in 1760 by John Joseph Merlin (1735 - 1803) from Huy in Belgium. During an interview, Sam Nieswizski explains us that we were not really sure that the first skate were "inline". It is possible because it is inspired of ice skates. We partially know who invented the roller skate. Someone found another Dutch inventor of the beginning of XVIIth century but there is no precise documentation about this subject.
Merlin used straps and metal wheels under a piece of wood to realize his first skates. During a reception in london, John Joseph Merlin fell and hurt seriouslly. Was it the first skating fall ?

The Tyers in line skate

From the beginnings of skating, we noticed that the structure of old skate was similar to the most recent products. Tyers used 5 aligned wheels. His frame presents impressive common points with our speed skates.
  It is also interesting to note that wheels have various diameters (Principle of " Rockering"). In this time, we already understood that the "rockering" facilitated the fast curves. A braking system is already present on the back of the frame.

Technological evolution during the XVIIIth century

A two wheels skate (1898)

In France, Maximiliaan Lodewijik Van Lede create the «patins à terre» in 1789. Everybody thought he was nuts.
In 1819, Petibled deposited, the first patent of skates with 3 in line wheels. It was equipped with a front brake. These skates could be wooden or in metal. It possessed a brake " arrêtoir " which consisted of a screw fixed to the heel. The frame was fixed to the shoe by belts as the traditional skates of our youth.
Numerous inventors imitated Petibled : Spence, Tyers, Lohner, Garcin, Legrand. Skating became very fashionable in the American and European big cities. Specific skating rinks grew all over the world.
Materials of the second half of XIXth century did not allow to make efficient wheels. The brass, the wood or the horn used offered a precarious contact with the ground and a very bad rolling. Grounds were less smoother than today. Garcin suggested to use the ivory to make wheels, but we do not know if it really existed. Afterwards, skates did not stop being transformed and renewed.

1863 : the birth of the traditional skate ("quad")

The skates equipped with mobile axles appears in 1863 with the American James Leonard Plimpton. He named his invention: "rocking skate".
This skate possesses 4 wooden wheels mounted two by two, on two axles. The side slope of feet makes converge axles and allows to turn. The premature wear of wheels on axles was the main problem of this system. The inventor added a bronze ring inside the hole of the axle. He also added a lubrification system which allowed to limit the wear of wheels by pulling the lubricant on the points of friction. Plimpton earned a lot of money with skates.

A traditional skate from 1876, the oldest of the Sam Nieswizski's personal collection>

It is from this period that the in-line skate began to decline. The traditional skates turn better and allow to tempt the most daring figures. However, the in-line skate was not totally forgotten. Indeed, it remained lighter, cheaper, and required less maintenance.

The apparition of bearings

The english J. Gidman deposited a patent in 1852, for skates equipped with bearings. It is 30 years later that the first skates equipped with bearings were produced. S.Nieswizski told us that the invention of bearings is older. He showed that in during the XVth century, Leonard de had already elaborated this mechanical system. It stayed a concept for a long time because the balls in the bearing were hard to build. Close concepts dated from the prehistory.
The SKF[4] website show that a basic shape of bearing already existed in the Roman empire. Bearings was discovered in the wreck of a boat dating the administration of the emperor Caligula in 40 before Christ. It is interesting to note that for SKF quite as for S.Nieswizski, the real breakthrough of bearings date from the XIXth century.

The american Levant Marvin Richardson (1884) used bearing. This period was marked by the beginning of the serial production. L.M. Richardson perfected the model of Plimpton by adding rubber small cushions to restore the equilibrium position of axles. Traditional skates reached almost their " dominant design ".

In 1907, Sven Wingqvist, a brilliant swedish showed to the world the first bearing with ball aligning by itselves. They became a commercial reality the same year. The end of XIXth and the beginning of XXth century were marked by the cycles-skates. Their structures is close to skates with axles or to in-line skates. This invention is a consequence of a need need : to skate on all the types of surfaces. It prefigures off road skates which uses pneumatics tyres.

A recent revolution : polyurethane wheels

The period which is going to follow will be relatively quiet. The producers propose cheap serial products equipped with metal wheels and bearings of inferior quality.

The competitors arrange efficient skates equipped with wooden wheels (box tree) more rolling but also more fragile. The rubber is sometimes used (in France in 1912). Skates equipped with tires and with inner tubes appear in 1987.

Plastic wheels would have been used in 1980 in the USSR. Polyurethan is used in 1979 for the first time. Theses Wheels present numerous advantages for the riders and the manufacturers. This innovation really boosted the practice of the in-line skating. It appears in the United States in the 80s, then in Europe from the beginning of the 90s.

It is also from this date that a distinction is made between the "roller" and the roller skate which will indicaterespectively the skate screwed in the shoe and the skate with belts.
  This skate looks like recent speed products : Composed leather low shoe on a long metal frame equipped with polyurethan wheels.

The number of wheels varied, between 2 and 6 even 8 wheels (not aligned). The lgonest skate with aligned wheels possessed 7.

The manufacturers made on-line skates called "Rollerblade". This name comes from the most known manufacturer. Faster, in line skatesseduced the youth of the years 1980-1990.
Skating was proposed for the first time in demonstration in the Olympic Games of Barcelona in 1992. It was the traditional skate through Rink-Hockey which had this honor.

The birth of "Rollerblade" and the growth of in line skate

The first manufacturer which deposite a patent for in-line skates in 1960 would be "Chicago" (United States).
The image (on the right) represents one of the first in-line skates of Rollerblade. We can see the brand logo on the back of the frame. It dates from the beginning of the 80s.
The creation of Rollerblade has her legend. 2 American hockey players, Scott and Brenan Olson, would have done their first pair in the garage of their parents.
They would have discovered an old in-line skate in a shop. They had decided to switch their ice skates for in-line skates to train during the summer.
The product invades the streets of Minnesota. The skiers who wished to train the summer joined the movement. The Olsons were tracked down during a show in Las Vegas by the Italian owner of Roces. He acquired the brand Rollerblade. He launch his(its) own ranges of in-line skates under the brand Roces.
Rollerblade really grew in 1985 when Robert Naegele bought the firm. Rollerblade was successively a subsidiary of the Benetton Sports System and Tecnica.
Un mono wheel skate from the middle of the XXth centuryThe B.S.S. evaluated his part of the market at 50% in 1998. We think that this data will decline. A lot of huge ski brands like Salomon and K2 are interested in skating[6]. Even if Salomon is very popular in Europe and K2 in the USA, Rollerblade seems to be the leader in 2003.

A pioneer in the industry of the in-line skating

 Rollerblade was based in Minneapolis. The leader of the world market tell to have contributed to change the vision of this sport. This sport touch a large panel of persons, children, athletes, men or women...
The market grew during the 80s but the sales really took off from 1984, with strategic marketing efforts to show rollerskating as a new sport.
During the 90s, three quarter of Rollerblade skates were produced in the Nordica factory at Trevigano in Italy. This region is moreover the area where most of brands implanted their factories.
In 1994, Rollerblade sold 60.000 pair on the french market. In 1995, Rollerblade made 36% of the BSS group business.

Evolution of Rollerblade sales between 1993 et 1997




Evolution in %


11 000




54 000

43 000



87 000

33 000



235 000

148 000



402 000

167 000


From : Roller Saga n°10 page 10 - mai 1998

Rollerblade opened the way thanks to his innovations

Rollerblade used the resources of diverse industries to improve its products. We noted, for example, the use of the polyurethan for boots, wheels, and frames. Rollerblade also use doubled ball bearings and heel brakes. The company built the first wheels with a core which allow a greater speed. Another major innovation was the introduction of dissimilar frames which are lighter and more comfortable.
The brand launched famous concepts such as micrometric buckles or removable slipper. The alliance with Kryptonics brought urethan wheels. In 1994, Rollerblade introduce the « Active Brake Technology® » (ABT®) : a brake especially designed fot beginners. It allows the skater to brake gradually and to keep a good control of the speed.
The brand deposited more than 200 patents relative to the in-line skate. Rollerblade proposed, in 1999, a variety of more than 30 models for men, women, children. The various brands which entered in competition with Rollerblade brought a multitude of innovations. It allowed a segmentation of the market. The rollerskating declines now in a plurality of products answering to very specific practices.


[1] Sources : Encyclopédie Universalis multimédia 1997
[2] Sources : Supplément de « l’Express » n°2438, avril 1998.
[3] « rockering » : specific wheels position
[4] Website : ; SKF is one of the biggest bearing firm in the world.
[6] We started a study of the in line skating market in another marketing research.

Text : Alfathor
Pictures : all rights reserved
Edited by Alfathor on 25 August 2015 - Read 135502 times