When Were Rollerblades Invented?

Rollerblading, also known as inline skating, seemed to pop up in the late 20th century as a different version of roller-skating.

But when were rollerblades invented? You might be surprised to hear that they are not a twentieth century creation but are actually much older than that.

One thing to note right away is that the term “rollerblade” is a result of the popular brand becoming a household name.

The skates themselves are actually “inline skates,” referring to the fact that the wheels are in a straight line, rather than side-by-side like they are in the standard roller-skate.

Rollerblading is popular all over the world, but is known on the streets and paths of Southern California.

We have looked into who invented inline skating, where the sport really originated and how it was able to turn into the sport that we know today.

The Initial Creation

Set aside your thoughts of rollerblading in Southern California and instead, transport yourself to Belgium, in Western Europe.

In the 18th century, an inventor by the name of John Joseph Merlin came up with the original prototype. The exact date is fuzzy, but we do know that it happened during the 1700s.

Merlin’s prototype was simple. He took a shoe and attached small metal wheels to the bottom of it.

Upon testing them out, he discovered that while the skates could propel him forward, there was a problem: he couldn’t stop. Merlin abandoned his attempts when he wound up crashing pretty hard into a mirror that was incredibly expensive.

This initial prototype of the inline skate came out much earlier than the roller-skate did. While the roller-skate is thought of as the original skate, Merlin’s inline skate happened much earlier than the roller-skate did.

The 19th Century

Even though Merlin gave up on his prototype, the idea of rollerblades had not ended yet. In the early 19th century, an inventor from France known as Monsieur Petibled was issued a patent for a three-wheeled skate. This has been assumed that this was the first roller-skating patent in history.

Later in the 19th century, James Plimpton took the same concept and changed it up, adding another wheel to the skate.

The four-wheeled inline skate is what is used mostly today as well. Plimpton went further, creating the New York Skating Association to create a club for others who would like to skate. The Skating Association helped create the first roller rink.

As the concept began gaining in some popularity, the next change is what would have saved Merlin’s priceless mirror: the toe-stop.

Adding on the toe-stop brake to the skate provide the ability for people to slow down and stop without having to turn out.

It did not catch on right away, but by the 1880s, they had come up with a different way to control your skates. Adding ball bearings made the skates easier to control and also made the skates far more durable.

The 20th Century

The rollerblade concept continued to putter in the background, behind the more popular roller-skates as things moved into the 20th century.

Roller-skating was a recreational pastime for youth throughout the 20th century, but in the 1980s, the rollerblades were able to make their comeback.

Brothers Scott and Brennan Olsen were looking for ways that hockey players could continue to train without the ice. The question was: how hockey athletes can stay in shape and in good form in the off-season.

The brain behind the Olsen brothers’ success is thought to be Scott, who was 19 at the time that the Olsens began to develop the rollerblade.

Looking through a sporting goods store in Minnesota, the brothers happened to find a pair of rollerblades.

As they saw that the wheels made a line that resembled the way that a blade fits on a hockey skate, it seemed like a perfect solution to their problem.

Hockey Rollerblades

After adjusting the design that they found, the Olsen Brothers created the brand Rollerblade. They built the initial skates in their parents’ basement, trademarking the term “Rollerblade” in 1983. Both hockey players and skiers saw the benefits of the inline skates, helping keep them in shape during the winter months.

Naturally, the skate that came out in the early 1980s had some flaws that needed to be worked out. At first, the skates were difficult to adjust and cumbersome.

The skates did not become popular until they were able to work out these issues. In addition to them being cumbersome, there was a toe-brake that was not able to actually make the skates come to a full stop.

The wheels also were prone to breaking, being built far too fragile for the wear that the skates would put on them.

The skates also retained moisture and grime, causing them to mold and smell over time, a feature skaters did not want to embrace.

Regardless of the flaws that were in the initial prototype from the Olsen brothers, the design was the model for all of the rollerblades that came after it.

The toe-stop that they had trouble with was changed to a heel brake, preventing the control issues that people have had.

The Modern Rollerblade

The rollerblade was able to really track down its success after all of the initial flaws were worked out.

The first real win that the brand had was when the Lightning TRS was released. The Lightning TRS was made up of fiberglass frames and much more durable wheels.

They didn’t fall apart like the previous wheels did. And, with the changing brake, the skates were easier to control than their predecessors had been.

Durable Wheels

Rollerblade got rid of laces in the year 1989, bringing in the heavy-duty buckles that we now associate with the skates.

The buckles were easier than the laces, much faster to operate, and really brought in more stability than we were getting from the laces.

In 1993, Rollerblade came up with Active Brake Technology, which is also known as ABT. This is a rubber stopped that is attached to the bottom of the skate with a fiberglass post.

While other brands began to appear, using the same concept as the brand Rollerblade, the term “rollerblade” had already become a household name.

Any and all inline skates began to be referred to as rollerblades, which has stuck all the way until today. Inline skate and rollerblade now are completely interchangeable, even though the brand Rollerblade is still around.

The buckles were the only thing to change. The material that the skates were made out of changed too.

The polyurethane design was changed to get an even lighter material. The material was a thermoplastic resin, which has been reinforced with glass.

The new skates were also safer than their predecessors. In the current design actually is so safe that you don’t even need to use the brake to stop. Instead, you can just straighten your legs, prevent foot titling, and slow yourself down.

Final Words

While the brand Rollerblade has only been around for the last few decades, the concept of inline skates has been around for much longer.

While the initial prototype was unstoppable and dangerous, through trial and error, and the improvement of materials through the centuries, the modern inline skate is much safer and easier to operate than its ancestor was.

It doesn’t really matter when rollerblades were invented or who invented inline skating if you would like to just get the benefit out of the sport.

Inline skating has slowed down in popularity, especially as other sports have become more popular, such as skateboarding and scooters.

The skates are still popular in certain places in the world, such as France and Germany. But the Olsen brothers, who no longer have a stake in the Rollerblade Company, are still hoping that the rollerblade will come back on top.

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