In the 1760s, a Belgian mathematical genius named John Joseph Merlin invented the roller skate. But it took more than a century for the invention to get some real traction. (Perhaps literally!) The roller skate's eventual popularity is thanks in part to a man named Levant M. Richardson, who was determined to improve the ride. 129 years ago this month, Richardson obtained a patent for his innovation: placing steel ball bearings in the wheels. This created more traction and helped for a smoother glide.
The improvement gave skaters the ability to go fast without trying so hard. Suddenly roller skating became easy and was practiced by both men and women. "Roller skating is an activity that you can do as a family. It transcends all generations and is a nice way to exercise," says James Vannurden, director of the National Museum of Roller Skating. As Vannurden explains, rollerskating is one of the first truly democratic sports: "Women were accepted participating in roller derby. In 1935, during the first roller derby match in Chicago, men and women competed on the same team, which was unusual for the time."
Before long, roller skates made their way into movies, songs and TV shows. Let's pay tribute to the roller skate's greatest appearances in pop culture. Read the whole story (and see videos) at Parade magazine.