Who invented roller skates?

Question from Joe McKinley

The first recorded use of roller skates was in the 1760s, when Belgian-born John Joseph Merlin decided to demonstrate his new invention at a fancy masquerade party in London. After donning his inline skates with small metal wheels, he proceeded to glide around the room while playing the violin. 

However, having had very little practice, he soon struggled to control his speed and direction and ended up crashing into a large mirror, suffering some serious injuries in the process. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Merlin decided not to patent his creation. The first two-by-two skates were invented by American James L Plimpton in 1863, and proved much easier to steer.


Answered by Joanna Stass for Brain Dump in How It Works issue 96.

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