Category Archives: Skating

Hot Wheels: America Keeps on Rolling

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For as long as Americans have been walking about, someone has been trying to add a little pizzaz by sailing on tiny wheels.

The first known use of roller skates was at a London theater in 1743, and by the mid-1860s, skaters in New York City were rolling about on a four-wheeled skate that allowed them also to curve. By the 1880s, roller skates were being mass-produced in America.

In the 1930s, vast roller skating marathons were conducted across the country, with couples dancing on skates for as long as six days.

From that evolved roller derby, a contact skating sport performed on banked tracks. In 1940, more than 5 million spectators watched the sport in 50 American cities.

Roller rinks became popular in the post-World War II baby boom of the 1950s; a roller-skating birthday party became a rite of passage for kids of the ’50 through the ’80s. Drive-in restaurants often featured servers on roller skates.

In the ’70s, roller derby became popular again with movies like Kansas City Bomber and Unholy Rollers.

And then, with the disco craze of the late 1970s, it wasn’t long before people were roller disco dancing.

The fad took the country by storm, with 28 million Americans buying roller disco skates at a then-average of $75 a pair. Celebrities of all stripes got into the act, from Bianca Jagger to Cher to The Village People, Olivia Newton-John, John F. Kennedy, Jr., Cindy Williams and Penny Marshall (of Laverne and Shirley) and even Andy Warhol.

In 1979 the skates were redesigned using polyurethane wheels in an in-line alignment and attaching ice-hockey boots, and rollerblades were born. Various wheel sizes are used for diverse skating styles—roller hockey, artistic inline, freestyle slalom and speed skating.

Now amateur roller derby has become a popular sport for young women, with more than 1,250 leagues worldwide. Emphasizing athleticism, a strong DIY ethic and more than a little camp as players adopt “derby names” such as Punky Bruiser and Ivana Crushyu.

No one knows what will come next, but it’s a sure bet that if new wheels can be fit on a shoe, new skaters will arrive for the fun.

— David Cohea

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Skating to  work in the 1940s.

Skating to work in the 1940s.

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Anne Gwynne, 1942.

Anne Gwynne, 1942.

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The Skating Vanities of 1948 poster

The Skating Vanities of 1948 poster

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skating rink 1940s2

Skating rink, 1940s.

 

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roller_derby_1950

Roller derby, 1950.

 

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cary marilyn skating

Cary Grant and Marilyn Monroe skate in “Monkey Business” (1952).

 

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roller skate drive in

Drive-in with roller-skating waitresses, 1950s.

 

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Pepsi ad, 1958.

Pepsi ad, 1958.

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racquel welsh roller derby

Raquel Welch in “Kansas City Bomber” (1973)

 

 

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Roller disco mania, late 1970s.

Roller disco mania, late 1970s.

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Roller disco diva Cher.

Roller disco diva Cher.

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CHiPs goes roller disco.

CHiPs goes roller disco.

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Boardwalk disco queens.

Boardwalk disco queens.

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