During the last half of the nineteenth century, America became obsessed with wheeled recreation. A rage for cycling swept the country, and, after the roller skate was modified with metal wheels and ball bearings in 1875, “skating upon rollers” became the nation’s passion. Warehouses were converted to rinks, and men, women, and children flocked to them to glide ‘round and ‘round on the smooth wooden floors. “Rinking,” it was called, and it became such a popular Sunday pursuit that church attendance dropped off. Men of the cloth naturally condemned it.
In 1885 the rinking craze peaked, and so too did the outcry against it. “Elopements, betrayals, bigamous marriages, and other social transgressions were traced to the association of the innocent with the vicious upon the skating floor,” declared The New York Times on May 18, describing the fate of skaters in the West the previous year. “The rink is too often a place in which good-looking scoundrels do a great deal of harm.” One citizen proposed to make it illegal for both sexes to occupy rinks at the same time. Not to be left out, doctors warned that “skating upon rollers is injurious to young and undeveloped persons of the weaker sex.” The Times concluded: “A disappearance of the mania for roller skating would not make the judicious grieve.”