Roller skating in the United States actually has a very long history. Now, you probably have heard about the roller derbies in the 1970s. You probably have heard of women who formed professional roller derby racing leagues.
There are a couple of movies made in the 1970s that featured women on skates, racing each other. Sometimes they would get physical. They would elbow each other. They would fight while racing. Sometimes it looks like people were boxing on skates. It was really crazy stuff and it’s very easy to dismiss roller rink racing and roller derbies as basically remnants or relics of the 1970s.
What if I told you that roller skating actually dates back from the 1800s? That’s right, were talking the 19th century. Roller skating is that old. The whole idea of turning ice skating into a sport that you can enjoy where there is no ice is an old idea. I’m sure ever since ice skating became all the rage in Europe, people have already wondered how to enjoy the benefits of ice skating when it isn’t winter.
As you probably already know, depending on which altitude you live in, winters can be very short and the parts of the calendar that have absolutely no snow can be quite long. The whole idea of skating on regular ground has been around for a while before roller skates were invented in 1819.
The idea was very simple. You basically take a shoe, normally leather, and put wheels, rubber wheels at the bottom. The big innovations have to do with breaking wheel material, as well as suspension and wheel design. But when it comes to the overall basic design of roller skates, it’s actually pretty old. It really hasn’t changed in any substantial way since the 1800s. That’s how far back roller skating goes.
It is no surprise then to see that there is a National Museum of Roller Skating in the United States. This museum stores all sorts of memorabilia related to roller skating.
Dating from 1800 all the way to the present day, the National Museum of Roller Skating has archived all sorts of papers from prominent people who are engaged with skating. We’re talking about personal papers, periodicals, and photographs.
In fact, its photograph collection exceeds ten thousand units. Think about it for a second, ten thousand photographs with a lot of them dating from the 1800s. In fact, some of them date from the era before the American Civil War. We’re talking a history treasure trove here.
Also, the museum archives over 125 skating periodicals in its collection. That’s a huge collection of magazines dedicated to roller skating. Of course, most of these magazines are no longer around, but this gives you a good overview of American society’s fascination with skating.
Now, this is also a good background to why rollerblading is catching on all over the United States. There are millions upon millions of people buying inline skates and engaging in a wide range of non ice skating sports and activities. This trend is not going to go away anytime soon.
The National Museum of Roller Skating also has one of the world’s largest collections of physical specimens of different versions of roller skates. As I mentioned above, roller skates’ basic designs haven’t really evolved all that much. I mean, one of the biggest breaks, of course, is the invention of the rollerblades but when it comes to roller skating, the design has been fairly stable since the early 1800s.
One of the earliest models collected by the National Museum of Roller skating dates back to 1819, this is an actual roller skate from that year. In fact, the museum is a repository of one of the world’s largest collections of different roller skate models and brands.
This massive collection of antiques has a centerpiece. The center piece involves items from the collection of the family of James L. Plimpton. Mr. Plimpton is considered by many skating experts and skating industry observers as the founder or the biggest influencer of roller skating.
The conversation about roller skating as a sport, as well as a product really isn’t complete until the name James L. Plimpton is mentioned. Accordingly, the museum’s collections also include patent models of many different types of skates produced by American manufacturers. There are also samples from international manufacturers.
The National Museum of Roller Skating really does a good job of preserving the historical context of skating. You can see by looking at the periodicals, the pictures, as well as the models that skating has always been an American fascination and this fascination, happily enough, continues to grow long into the future especially, as rollerblading in its many different offshoots continue to mature in the world of spectator sports.
The Significant of This Museum
The life of a museum really exceeds the sum of all its parts. It takes a life of its own. It really does. Why? The whole purpose of a museum is to sum up an idea or sets of ideas that are often shown at different historical periods and which change shape or expression with the passage of time. In other words, we’re not just documenting changes in design. You can get a warehouse for that. You can do that with a simple catalog. Instead, a museum houses the transformation, evolution, and struggles of ideas. This is a big deal because ideas don’t exactly live in a vacuum.
Ideas take place in the often chaotic and confusing hustle and bustle of idea exchange, changes in economic realities, cultural push and pull, and other manifestations of the turbulent side of the human experience. Change can be a lot of fun but it can also be unnerving and disconcerting. A proper museum documents all this and reflects our own present truths despite the seeming limited subject matter of the contents of the museum. The National Museum of Roller Skating does a good of job of communicating this. In a sense, it shows that our cultural products’ forms are just the beginning of the discussion we should all be having with our past.