Thursday April 22, 2021’s Smile of the Day: Roller Skates
On this Day:
In 1823, R J Tyers patented roller skates. But he was not the first person to invent roller skates.
Roller skates are shoes, or bindings that fit onto shoes, that are worn to enable the wearer to roll along on wheels. The first roller skate was effectively an ice skate with wheels replacing the blade. Later the “quad” style of roller skate became more popular consisting of four wheels arranged in the same configuration as a typical car.
Roller skating is a hobby, sport, and mode of transportation using roller skates.
While the first reported use of roller skates was on a London stage in 1743, the first patented roller skate was introduced in 1760 by Belgian inventor John Joseph Merlin. His roller skate wasn’t much more than an ice skate with wheels where the blade goes, a style we would call inline today. They were hard to steer and hard to stop because they didn’t have brakes and, as such, were not very popular. The initial “test piloting” of the first prototype of the skate was in the city of Huy, which had a party with Merlin playing the violin.
In the 1840s, Meyerbeer’s opera Le prophète featured a scene in which performers used roller-skates to simulate ice-skating on a frozen lake set on stage. The result was to popularize roller skating throughout the Continent. As ice skaters subsequently developed the art of figure skating, roller skaters wanted the ability to turn in their skates in a similar fashion.
In 1863, James Plimpton from Massachusetts invented the “rocking” skate and used a four-wheel configuration for stability, and independent axles that turned by pressing to one side of the skate or the other when the skater wanted to create an edge. This was a vast improvement on the Merlin design, one that was easier to use and drove the huge popularity of roller skating, dubbed “rinkomania” in the 1860s and 1870s, which spread to Europe and around the world, and continued through the 1930s. The Plimpton skate is still used today.
Eventually, roller skating evolved from just a pastime to a competitive sport; speed skating, racing on skates, and inline figure skating, very similar to what can be seen in the Olympics on ice. In the mid 1990s roller hockey, played with a ball rather than a puck, became so popular that it even made an appearance in the Olympics in 1992. The National Sporting Goods Association statistics showed, from a 1999 study, that 2.5 million people played roller hockey. Roller skating was considered for the 2012 Summer Olympics but has never become an Olympic event. Other roller skating sports include jam skating and roller derby.
Roller skating popularity exploded during the disco era but tapered off in the 1980s and 1990s. Sales of roller skates increased during the COVID-19 pandemic as people sought safe outdoor activities.
Roller skating saw a revival in the late 2010s and early 2020s, spurred on by a number of viral videos on the popular video sharing app TikTok. Many popular brands sold out to the point of back-order, with many people taking up the hobby during COVID-19 quarantines across the globe (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
A mom greets her young daughter.
Mom: You are back from your roller skating lessons; how did it go?
Daughter: Good, I guess…
Mom: What was the hardest part?
Daughter: The pavement.
Second, a Song:
Melanie Anne Safka-Schekeryk (born February 3, 1947), professionally known as Melanie or Melanie Safka, is an American singer-songwriter. She is best known for the 1971-72 global hit “Brand New Key”, her cover of “Ruby Tuesday”, her composition “What Have They Done to My Song Ma”, and her 1970 international breakthrough hit “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)” (inspired by her experience of performing at the 1969 Woodstock music festival).
“Brand New Key” is a pop song written and sung by folk music singer Melanie. Initially a track of Melanie’s album Gather Me, produced by Melanie’s husband Peter Schekeryk, it was known also as “The Rollerskate Song” due to its chorus. It was her greatest success, scoring No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart during December 1971 and January 1972. Billboard ranked it as the No. 9 song of 1972. It also scored No. 1 in Canada and Australia and No. 4 on the UK Singles Chart.
The song is sung from the viewpoint of a girl with roller skates trying to attract the attention of a boy (per Wikipedia).
In an interview with Examiner.com, Melanie described what she claimed was the inspiration for the song: “I was fasting with a 27-day fast on water. I broke the fast and went back to my life living in New Jersey and we were going to a flea market around six in the morning. On the way back… and I had just broken the fast, from the flea market, we passed a McDonald’s and the aroma hit me, and I had been a vegetarian before the fast. So we pulled into the McDonald’s and I got the whole works… the burger, the shake, and the fries… and no sooner after I finished that last bite of my burger… that song was in my head. The aroma brought back memories of roller skating and learning to ride a bike and the vision of my dad holding the back fender of the tire. And me saying to my dad… ‘You’re holding, you’re holding, you’re holding, right?’ Then I’d look back and he wasn’t holding and I’d fall. So that whole thing came back to me and came out in this song.”
The song has been described as folk music, pop music, and soft rock.
Melanie has acknowledged the possibility of detecting sexual innuendo in the lyrics, but has denied any deeper meaning:
[The song], “Brand New Key”, I wrote in about fifteen minutes one night. I thought it was cute; a kind of old thirties tune. I guess a key and a lock have always been Freudian symbols, and pretty obvious ones at that. There was no deep serious expression behind the song, but people read things into it. They made up incredible stories as to what the lyrics said and what the song meant. In some places, it was even banned from the radio. My idea about songs is that once you write them, you have very little say in their life afterward. It’s a lot like having a baby. You conceive a song, deliver it, and then give it as good a start as you can. After that, it’s on its own. People will take it any way they want to take it (per Wikipedia).
Here is an 8 mm film made for a school class project in the 70’s by a fellow’s sister in Wichita Kansas who then transferred it to tape, set to “Brand New Key” and hosted it on YouTube. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“It’s a strange world of language in which skating on thin ice can get you into hot water.” – Franklin P. Jones
Further to the Electromagnetism Smile:
Sandy Weames of Campbell River, BC, Canada writes:
“Thanks David,I have been on a few bullet trains when I lived in Japan, but that one is sure to beat them all.”
Eric O’Dell of Surrey, BC, Canada writes:
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky