Museum Talk

Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Antique roller skates on display at the Buffalo Island Museum in Monette.

Buffalo Island Museum has two pairs of antique roller skates in its collection. One pair is the Omnia platform sandal roller skates from the 1960s, and the other is a pair of adjustable skates from the 1950s. The Omnia skates were made in Italy and feature a button on the side that will raise or lower the hidden wheels.

Ice skates have been around since 3000 B.C. but roller skates weren't invented until the 1700s. An unknown Dutchman crafted wooden spools to blocks of wood and this was the first crudely designed pair of dry land skates. The first recorded roller skate invention was in 1760 when a Belguim inventor, Joseph Merlin, arrived at a masquerade party with his metal wheeled boots playing his violin.

The first official patent for roller skates was in 1819 when Monsier Petitbled attached a wood sole to a boot that had four metal rollers. You could only skate in a straight line so these weren't very maneuverable.

Did you think that Sonic Drive-in was the first to have its waiters on skates? In 1840 a tavern in Berlin had waiters serve beer while on roller skates. This was great publicity for roller skates, and a few years later the first public roller skate rink was opened in London.

Finally roller skating came to the United States when in 1863, Leonard Plimpton designed the quad pattern of wheels that we still use today. You could easily turn and roller skating backwards was now possible. This design led the industry for more than 100 years. About this same time period, E.H. Barney designed a clamp-on skate. Then came the adjustable plate that allowed a single pair of skates to fit all sizes. This type of skate was manufactured until the mid 1960s when plastic technology gave roller skates new material that was lighter, more durable, and allowed the skater to move with more speed. Before this, wheels were mostly made of wood: boxwood, maple or oak.

Roller skating boomed across the United States with public rinks opening and temporary rinks being set up across the country. Today most large cities have roller rinks that feature music with DJs, contests and family fun.

Fiberglas frames and rear brakes have made rollerblading competitions featuring tricks on walls and hilly tracks popular. Roller hockey, inline speed skating, and roller derby competitions abound. The new roller skates are made from a resin from Dupont and have a spring loaded suspension. These Scorpion Multi Terrain Quad Roller Skates are only available in the United States, and are very popular with today's skaters.

Do you remember in the 1950s and '60s when temporary skating rinks came to the towns on Buffalo Island? Many Monette residents remember the skating rink set up at the east end of town. Remember when Sonny Battles, who helped operate the rink, would put an unlit match in his mouth, bend down and strike it on the skating floor while skating on one foot? Several tried that trick, but I don't recall anyone who succeeded. Even though I just skated around in a circle (trying to keep from falling), looking at these old skates bring back good memories.

Buffalo Island Museum is closed for the winter months, but check our Facebook page for the latest information.

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