New York City’s roller skating fad of 1884

Ice skating had already swept the city in the mid-1800s. But a few decades later, city residents took up a new recreational craze: skates on wheels.

They skated in newly built roller rinks, like the Cosmpolitan on Broadway in midtown, as well as on the street—as this 1893 illustration of girls skating on Park Avenue shows.

“Throughout the eighteen-eighties and much of the nineties roller skating was the principal pastime of citizens of every age and condition—business men went to work on skates, and skating parties were much in vogue among the fashionable,” writes Herbert Asbury in his 1929 book All Around the Town.

But it wasn’t just fun—some New Yorkers thought skates could fight crime.

“Several leading citizens and public officials seriously advocated equipping the police force with roller-skates, contending that a patrolman could then easily overtake a criminal,” Asbury states.

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2 Responses to “New York City’s roller skating fad of 1884”

  1. Maxine Says:

    Nice post! I like it. I especially interested in the pictures with ladies and children have skates on the streets. Did they really do that back in 1920s?

  2. Labor and Rollerskates | Now and Then: an American Social History Project blog Says:

    [...] it would be appropriate to explore a possible connection between the labor movement and  the rollerskating fad of 1884. Apparently the roller skate had undergone a series of rapid re-configurations in the 1870s and [...]

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