History Nebraska Blog

Roller Skating Once a Popular Adult Pastime

From Bicycle Journal (September 1968). NSHS 9778-5From Bicycle Journal (September 1968). NSHS 9778-5 (at right).

A wave of popular enthusiasm followed the invention of the modern roller skate in 1863 by James L. Plimpton of Massachusetts. Lincoln had a roller skating rink by 1877, and the 1880s saw the crest of several roller skating booms. Even towns as small as Brownville and McCook were affected. The McCook Weekly Tribune on December 6, 1883, noted that roller skating had appeared in the city only the month before and proved so popular that the local 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 credited the “fickle temperament of the American people” for the decline of several sports such as “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.”

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

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

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.” Several years later the Norfolk News-Journal on February 8, 1908, noted that “the presence of miles of smooth cement walks” in the city had given roller skating a new popularity there.

Read more about roller skating in a Timeline column on the Nebraska State Historical Society website.

— Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor for Research and Publications

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