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Roller Skating Once a Popular Adult Pastime

A wave of popular enthusiasm followed the invention of the modern roller skate in 1863 by James L. Plimpton of Massachusetts. Within twenty years roller skating had become a favorite pastime for men and women as American industry, always ready to invest in a new fad, began producing roller skates by the thousands.

The 1880s saw the crest of several roller skating booms. The opening of a new skating rink in Omaha in 1883 was noted by the McCook Weekly Tribune on December 6: "The [Omaha] Republican [newspaper] says there are at least 700 expert skaters in the city, although roller skating was first introduced only last year." The Tribune noted that roller skating had appeared in McCook only the month before. The new sport proved so popular that on December 27, 1883, the McCook newspaper noted that the local roller skating rink was the "all absorbing attraction on Christmas day."

Enthusiasm for roller skating ebbed for a time after its tremendous popularity in the 1880s. By December 4, 1892, the Omaha Daily Bee published an article that credited the "fickle temperament of the American people" for the decline of several sports, including "the roller skating craze, when every hamlet had its rink and the investor became rich in a day as it were. But the very craze added to wear off its novelty, and garrets and cellars now hold the discarded rollers."

However, the "craze" was far from dead, and a revival occurred about 1900. The editor of the Falls City Tribune on February 5, 1904, hailed with delight "the revival of the roller skating fad. We long for the exciting exhilaration of the rink. We cannot dance; we cannot play golf, but we feel that without doubt we can roller skate. Long years ago there was a skating rink in this town and as a boy we watched the whirling devotees of the sport glide round and round. . . . In those days we learned to roller skate, but just as we had mastered the art and reached a degree of skill that enabled us to glide over the polished floor with the grace of a swan and the charming sang froid of a well bred automobile, the bottom dropped out of the fad and the doors of the rink were closed."

Several years later, on February 8, 1908, the Norfolk Weekly News-Journal noted: "Roller skating is swinging into popularity in Norfolk in a way that suggests the roller skating of the eighties. Only it is limited to the boys and girls just now and the presence of miles of smooth cement walks has given it a new turn." The News-Journal noted that at Wayne "the fad had become so popular that it was counted a public calamity when someone stole the town's supply of skates."

Earle Reynolds, champion skater. From Spalding's Roller Skating Guide (New York, 1906).



(May 2011)



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