The first roller skates appeared in Holland in the early 1700`s but were not manufactured until after 1760. The year before, an inventive Belgian instrument maker named Joseph Merlin designed a pair of skates, each with two in-line wheels that he hoped would function like ice skates. Trying to make a spectacular entrance at a party, he skated in while playing his violin, tried to stop, failed, and crashed into a tall mirror.
Despite his lack of practice and the obvious difficulty of turning and stopping on roller skates without a braking mechanism, Merlin’s prototype demonstration had made an impact. Merlin went on to make and sell his skates in London.
Though the technology improved in the next century, roller-skating was still much harder to master than ice-skating because of the unforgiving front-to-back alignment of the wheels. Thus performances involving roller skates were highly appreciated. Such was the case when German composer Giacomo Meyerbeer debuted his opera Le Prophète in 1849; an ice-skating scene was performed on roller skates. Word of the spectacle spread, and people flocked to the opera just to witness that scene. Ballets and other performances began featuring the technically difficult art of skating on dry land.
Roller-skating began to take off as a popular pastime in the late 1800s with technology that allowed skaters to mimic the curved strokes of ice-skating. By the 1860s, wheels were positioned side by side. Cushioned wheels allowed for some swivel and thus better turning, and in 1884 ball-bearing wheels proved the best solution for control on turns. Surfaces for roller-skating rinks varied over the years, the best surface being the close-grained wood of the American sugar maple. Eventually in-line skates, or Rollerblades, further advanced skating.