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January 4: Rolling Along

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North Dakota’s extreme winter weather poses some limits on recreational activities. Sledding and ice skating can lose their attraction in below zero temperatures. Consequently, North Dakotans are happy to find opportunities for indoor recreation. The foundation for one such recreation was laid on this date in 1863 when James Plimpton patented a four-wheel roller skate.

Roller skating had started earlier, back in the 1840s when they were used in theatrical performances. But those skates were rather clumsy and difficult to use. That all changed with Plimpton’s new design. The “quad skates,” as they were called, made turning easier. In 1866 he opened the first roller skating rink in New York City inside his furniture store. This was only the beginning. Roller rinks began popping across the country, and the craze really took off in the early 1900s. For example, in 1902, seven thousand people attended the opening of the Chicago Coliseum roller skating rink.

North Dakota was not about to be left out. As early as 1885 a Dakota Territory newspaper called roller skating “the most popular indoor amusement of the day.” References to roller skating became more common in North Dakota newspaper articles and ads in the early 1900s. In 1906, the Wahpeton city council passed a motion to set the cost for a roller skating rink license at twenty-five dollars.

Teachers complained that children skated so much that they were drowsy in school and slept when they should be studying. But some school board members said that children were more physically fit with increased activity. Students also hurried to get their schoolwork done so they could go skating.

Ads for roller rinks began to turn up regularly. A businessman in Beach announced he was planning to open a roller rink. In 1915 the Grand Roller Rink of Devils Lake announced that it was the finest roller rink in the northwest. The Dome was a popular roller rink in Bismarck and often featured exhibitions by professional skaters.

There are more entertainment options today. And while roller skating does not enjoy the wild popularity it once did, there are still plenty of roller rinks in the state. From Fargo to Williston, roller rinks are still in business – a cold weather option for exercise.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher

Sources:

  • On this Day. “January 4.” https://www.onthisday.com/events/january/4. Accessed 12/10/2022.
  • Skate Moore. “A Brief History of Roller Skating.” https://www.skatemoore.com/a-brief-history-of-roller-skating/ Accessed 12/10/2022.
  • Skating Fitness. “North Dakota Roller Skating Rinks.” http://www.skatingfitness.com/Roller-Locator-North-Dakota.htm Accessed 122/10/2022.
  • Wahpeton Times. “City Council.” Wahpeton ND. 8/3/1906. Page 1.
  • Bismarck Tribune. Ad for The Dome. Bismarck ND. 4/19/1929. Page 5.
  • Bismarck Tribune. “Roller Skating Fad.” Bismarck ND. 5/16/1907. Page 6.
  • Golden Valley Chronicle. “Opera House Sold.” Beach ND. 8/6/1909. Page 8.
  • The Bad Lands cow boy. “Roller Skating.” Little Missouri DT. 2/26/1885. Page 1.
  • Devils Lake Inter-Ocean. Ad for Grand Roller Rink. Devils Lake ND. 10/7/1915. Page 5.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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