In 1863, James L. Plimpton changed the skating world forever when he patented the forerunner of the modern roller skate. Safer and easier to use than existing versions, which were little more than wheels attached to rigid boards, his “rocker skate” allowed skaters to steer simply by leaning left or right.
Roller-skating boomed! In the 1860s, Plimpton set up a skate factory and opened America’s first roller-skating rinks in New York City and Newport, Rhode Island, where he leased skates to customers. Skating soon became a popular family activity. The New York Roller-Skating Association—the first of its kind—and other clubs held speed and distance competitions in cities across the United States.
James Leonard Plimpton was born in 1828 in Medfield, Massachusetts. His first 16 years he lived on a farm where he discovered his talent as mechanic. He invested his savings in tools, drawing styles and books about mechanic. He built up an atelier in the farm of his father. When he was 16 years old, he left the farm for one year to learn in trade. He left it for a better offer in a bigger establishment in New-Hampshire.
Before turning 18 he already became factory manager. During this time, he continued his studies and collected experiences as mechanism. In the age of 21, he funded a firm with his brother in Westfield, Massachusetts in which they built machines. Plimpton moved to New-York to get in charge of his store.
As he wasn’t a very athletic nature, his doctor recommended him to practice sport; to be correct, he recommended him to start ice skating to stay in shape. Plimpton was convinced that roller skating would have the same effect on his body as ice skating. That’s why he began to improve the usual quad- system to skate better in the corners. His weak ankles caused that he only was able to skate under good conditions.
An article in the Revue of Sport was saying that Plimpton met the outstanding ice skater M. Cook on the sea in the Central Park, New York. This encounter lead Plimpton to the idea to invent an ice skate with better grip:
“… because he reached a high age without ever having tied ice skating. This weird skate is having four blades, two in front and two in the back: a small sled. The blades stay flat. Due to an mounted feather the skater was able to bend to the sides easily. If you look close to this invention, you can see the modern quad. When the ice began to melt, Plimpton’s dream grew to keep on skating also in summer. That’s how he invented the quad.”
Even if his ice skate wasn’t successful, his quad got very popular.
Plimpton first quads were made of the same system as the ice skates. Just the wheels were made out of boxwood were fixed with a plastic piece and a feather on two axels.
In 1863 he built his first quad “Wipp-Skates”. The first prototypes came out in 1860. Plimpton got the idea to separate the wheels like in train waggons.
Plimpton sold his skates only to skating rinks and not to private people. You can say that Plimpton got many innovative ideas. He was building several skating rinks so more people would skate under good conditions.