Did You Know? Roller Skate Edition

Roller skates were invented in 1760 by John Joseph Merlin (a young Belgian) who put wheels on his shoes to impress people at a masquerade party? Ice skates had already been around for quite a while, so watching people glide along on the ice probably gave Melin the idea.

I found this information in the Worldbook Encyclopedia 2020 edition entry on roller skates. It also tells us that there are three kinds of roller skates: quad skates with 4 wheels, in-line skates with the 4 wheels in a line, and clamp-on skates which were the original type. Competitive roller skating is common in the areas of artistic skating, speed skating and roller hockey.

One type of speed skating is roller derby, which definitely has its own artistic flair! Rollergirls: the Story of Flat Track Derby by Felicia Graham, Melissa Joulwan and Dennis Darling is all about the making of a new roller derby league: The Texas Rollergirls. The story is told mostly in photographs, but it is plain to see their passion and determination.

Adding edges to ice skates was invented by the Dutch in the 13th or 14th century. Ice skates then cut into the ice instead of gliding on top of it. These ice skates were made of steel, with sharpened edges on the bottom to aid movement. The earliest ice skating happened in southern Finland more than 4,000 years ago. This was done to save time and energy during winter journeys.

The fundamental construction of modern ice skates has stayed largely the same since then, although differing greatly in the details: particularly in the method of binding and the shape and construction of the steel blades. In the Netherlands, ice skating was considered proper for all classes of people, as shown in many paintings from the time.

The book Ice Skating School by Naia Bray-Moffatt gives excellent directions and photographs of many of the basic skating techniques. A lot of the directions could be used for roller skating as well, especially if using rollerblades.

BUT – there is a fourth kind of skate! You can see these at an aquarium. They are members of the Chondrichthyan family which include more than 70 species of stingrays. The Stingray by Miriam J Gross has detailed information about these mysterious creatures.

Now, back to that masquerade party – – Imagine the surprise on people’s faces as our John Joseph Merlin rolled in and the spectacle that his outfit must have made! I imagine that was exactly what he wanted to happen.

Someone else that always set out to make a statement was Wladziu Valentino Liberace. The book Liberace Extravaganza by Connie Solomon and Jan Jewell shows you full color photographs of a lot of the costumes he wore, with close-up photos of the beaded work on them. Some of these suits were worth $24,000 or more.

We have a wide selection of books that will make it easy for you to plan your next costume for a masquerade ball or other fancy dress occasion. Start planning now and you can make a grand entrance as well!