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Scott & Brennan Olsen
In-line skates were invented before "standard" roller skates, and are even older than the United States! But a single company made in-line skating the fastest-growing sport in America today.
In 1759, a Belgian violinist named Joseph Merlin attached wooden spools to the front and back center of a pair of shoes, in order to mimic iceskating at a costume party. His "skaites" did not catch on---perhaps because Merlin crashed into a full-length mirror.
An American, James Plimpton, created the classic two-by-two-wheel skate design (1863). After ball bearing wheels (invented 1884) and brake pads were added, roller skates were much smoother and safer, and remained popular with young people through the 1950s. Meanwhile, in-line skates, used rarely in Europe for athletic training or practical transportation, were forgotten.
But in 1980, two hockey enthusiasts, brothers Scott and Brennan Olson, stumbled on an old, unwanted in-line skate in a store in Minneapolis. Inspired, they replaced the blades of a hockey skate with polyurethane rollers, and added a rubber heel brake, creating a swift, safe and sturdy way of skating on any hard surface. At first, they operated their company, Rollerblade, Inc., from their parents' basement.
The Olsons' Rollerblades® were immediately popular with ice skaters and skiers, but did not really boom with the general public until the company was bought (1984), and strategic marketing began in Southern California. The company created a fad, in the same region that had given rise to the skateboard
. Besides being trendy, in-line skating was fun, challenging though basically easy to learn, and healthy.
The first Rollerblades® were soon imitated by other companies, but Rollerblade, Inc. has stayed on top of the industry it created through both advertising and design innovations---earning about 200 issued or pending patents to date. Perhaps the best evidence of their success is that "rollerblading," like "frisbee,"
has become the common term for a pastime enjoyed by countless persons worldwide.
Above in-line skating
images courtesy of Chris Edwards and Bladesker