John Joseph Merlin, musical instrument maker and inventor, is usually credited as the inventor of the roller-skate. He was born September 17, 1735 in Huys, Belgium. It is reported that at a masquerade party at Carlisle-house, Soho-Square, he entered the ballroom wearing his new roller skates and playing his violin. Having neglected to invent brakes, he careened into a plate glass mirror valued at 500 pounds, smashing it and his violin, and seriously injuring himself.
Not only did the first roller skates lack brakes, they were hard to steer. In 1863, James Plimpton of Massachusetts introduced a “rocking skate” that allowed the skater to turn
quickly and to skate backwards. Merlin’s first roller-skates were in-line skates, mimicking ice skates. Plimpton switched to a “quad” system, with two wheels in the front and two in the back.
Since his inventions made skating both safer and more interesting, skating became a popular activity.
In the 1970’s, in-line skates with plastic wheels were introduced, making roller skating easier and faster. Skaters added jumps and other stunts to the fancy figures they were
used to skating. Safety equipment such as helmets, and wrist, elbow, and knee guards were introduced. Perhaps Mr. Merlin should have invented those first. Please remember Mr. Merlin’s
experience and NEVER ROLLER SKATE WHILE PRACTICING YOUR VIOLIN!!