Sunday, February 19, 2006

A brief history of skating boots

Call me an old couch potato but come the Olympics, summer or winter you will always find me transfixed to the box watching the beach volleyball and the figure skating, respectively. I blame my hormones myself, but the spectacle of the body beautiful is just compulsive viewing.

Skating as a human endevour is thought to date back twelve millennium. The oldest pair of skates which date to 3000 BC were found at the bottom of a lake in Switzerland. The origins of the term skate remain unclear but are thought my many to derive from the old Dutch words “schaats “ a stilt, or “schenkel", a leg. Early skates were made from animal bones with holes bored at each end. The skate was attached through a thong arrangement to foot and skating was a practical means of travel.

Skaters were propelled forward with the use of poles, like ski sticks but when Icelanders in the Middle Ages replaced bone with iron, poles were no longer necessary. Narrow double edged blades gave the skater more speed and the Dutch used wooden platform skates with flat iron runners. These were attached to the skater's shoes with leather straps. Scandinavia is thought to be the motherland of figure skating with records dating back to around A.D. 1000. During the middle ages women were not allowed to skate. Ice skating on frozen canals was brought to England after the Restoration by exiled followers of Charles II who had taken refuge in Holland.

In 1662 Britain had a very severe winter with many lakes and canals frozen, ice skating became a fashionable fad. By the middle of the 1600's, North Americans began to enjoy recreational skating. The fashion followed British officers stationed in North America who exhibited ice skating to the populous. Skating spread quickly throughout the entire continent.

The first skating club was formed in Scotland in the eighteenth century. Skate blades were now curved runners attached to wooden soles on boots. The runners extended beyond the heel and enabled a skater to carve figures. Turning became more elegant with the longer curved blades but skaters still very stiff in posture and performed simple figures with no attempt at grace or style. The first book to be written on skating was called A Treatise on Skating by Robert Jones and published in 1772. It referred to figure skating.

The first all steel clamp for skates was invented by North American, E. V. Bushnell of Philadelphia in 1848. One year later the first figure skating club in North America was formed in Philadelphia. The group skated on river ice. After studying dance in Europe American Ballet-Master, Jackson Haines (1865) , developed the two plate all metal blade so he could incorporate dance movements into skating with musical accompaniment. He was the first to treat Ice and Roller Skating as an art form and successfully took his Ballistic Skating to several European capitals.

At first the new figure skating met with mixed reception but after he opened a skating school in Vienna in 1863 people began to take to the new the "international style." Haines was always known as the “American Skating King,” but it was Canadian Louis Rubinstein , one of his pupils, who popularized the style in North America.

Haine’s blades were attached directly to his boots which gave the skater more freedom to jump, spin and move. Later he added toe picks to his skates making jumps possible. Popularity of skating increased with the introduction of the first mechanically refrigerated ice rink in 1876 in London. Called the Glaciarium it was built by John Gamgee.

Up until the Great War skating grew in popularity and skating had moved from a pleasant pastime to a year round sport. By the turn of the century, ice skating was professional and very popular with the public. Improvements to skate boots continued when a lighter and stronger boot was developed by John E. Strauss (1914). Strauss invented the first closed toe blade made from one piece of steel.

It took to the thirties before custom made skating boots were available. In the glamour era it became an essential accessory to have well crafted skate boots. Ice skating went on the road with dazzling ice carnivals and cold show extravaganzas all the latest rage. Soon respected shoe makers like Louis Harlick of San Francisco was making custom skating boots. >

By chance Harlick’s San Francisco shop was next to the headquarters for a popular ice show. Skater’s got their boots repaired until Harlick took an interest in their footwear and turned manufacturing boots into a full-time business. Innovations until this time involved the blades which were commonly strapped or clamped on to street shoes or boots used for other purposes. Professional custom footwear changes all that with craftsmen able to design and build fully integrated Skating Boots. As sport and exhibition continued to develop after the war more custom footwear makers took an interested.

The 1960's was a period of innovation and imagination in skating with a style revolution in the sport. Competition boots were worn much lower and this eradicated a problem much beset skaters i.e. laces working loose. High laced boots (above the calf) had to contain muscle bulk change during skating, the alteration in girth often cause the laces to work loose. As greater understanding of expert skating was acknowledged by bootmakers, further footwear improvements followed. Boots were streamlined with extra padding added. Greater attention was paid to reinforce the ankle area and leather soles and heels were stitched and nailed to prevent separation.

Quality boots continue to be hand made from the highest quality materials. At Harlick and Co. one pair of boots takes approximately four to six weeks to make. Today skaters wear leather boots sometimes custom-fitted, reinforced with thick padding to brace the ankle and with wide tongues for control and flexibility. Figure skate's blade is about 3/16 inch (4 mm) thick. It is hollow-ground to emphasize its two edges, although the skater usually uses only one edge at a time. The front of the blade (toe pick), contains serrations, which are planted into the ice and help the skater in certain jumps. The blade also allows the skater to pivot quickly on the ice in order to perform rapid 360-degree spins. Ice dancers wear skates with shorter blades and looser padding to facilitate quick foot movement.

Interesting Links
Encyclopædia Britannica. 2006. Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service. 19 Feb. 2006 "figure skating".
Ice Skating Clipart Galore Skating History Images.

Reviewed 23/11/2016

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