What Is It?


If you were a child during the 1950s to 1970s, you probably had one of these. If you were born after that, you may wonder what it is.

The answer is a roller skate key.  James Leonard Plimpton invented the modern “quad skate”  in 1863. He converted his furniture store to a roller rink to encourage people to try this new leisure activity.  The four wooden wheels of his skate were attached to a wood plate which was held on to the foot by a leather strap across the instep and another around the heel and ankle.  These skates from 1878 are similar. Later the wood plate was replaced by a metal one.

19th century wood roller skates

Shortly thereafter  E.H. Barney invented a metal clamp that gripped one’s shoe instead of a leather strap.  Gradually this design evolved so that both the length and the width were adaptable.  The skate key was used to make these adjustments and tighten the skate against the stiff sides of the leather shoes that kids wore then. The clamps replaced the front strap but the ankle strap remained. The design was a boon for parents with growing children or children who shared skates.  Although most children wore this style, people who competed in roller skating sports or performances favored a boot style.

Changes came in the form of the addition of a top stop on the front in the 1940s, the use of lighter weight plastic wheels  in the 1960s and in-line skates in the 1980s. In addition, most skates today are attached directly to a shoe of boot, instead of clamping one. 

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