Joseph Merlin was a Belgian inventor, accomplished musician, and mechanical genius. When he moved to London in 1760 he opened “Merlin’s Mechanical Museum” which proved a very popular attraction.
In the same year he invented the roller (in-line) skate which consisted of a small row of metal in-line wheels. Roller skates were not patented until 1860. This may be, in part, due to the tragic circumstance which befell the inventor when demonstrating his novelty footwear at a party in London. Stopping and manoeuvring were a problem the inventor could not resolve and in 1803 he accidentally ran into a mirror incurring fatal injuries.
All roller skates made between 1760 and 1863 were in-line skates most often made with metal or wooden wheels, later these were replaced by rubber wheels.
American, James Plimpton from Massachusetts in 1863 patented the "rocking" skate or four wheeled skate which remained popular until the recent reintroduction of in-line skates.
Roller skating was first a rage in the late 19th century then again in the mid-20th century and more recently in the late 70's and early 80's. Roller disco's, roller parks and roller derbies were all the rage. There has been at least one major Hollywood film (Rollerball) and a very successful stage musical "Starlight Express" featuring skates.
In- line skating is a very popular pastime in North America and elsewhere. The number of injuries caused by in-skate has increased expotentially with the most common fall injuries relating to beginners, not wearing safety gear. However, 20% were expert skaters with 75 % of the injured were skating for exercise alone. Most injuries involved the wrist which included broken bones and fractures. Frequently, injury was associated with an outstretched arm attempting to stop a fall. Studies have shown wearing wrist guards and elbow pads are very effective in protecting in-line skaters against injuries. In-line skaters should also wear knee pads and helmets whenever skating and avoid glass doors.
The National Museum of Roller Skating