Who invented the ice skate?

The ice skate is definitely prehistoric in origin, dating back to the first, second, third or even fourth millenium BCE. As such, it is impossible to identify a single inventor, but archeological evidence points toward Northern Europe and, in particular, the Scandinavian Peninsula, as the birthplace of skates and skating.

Early ice skates were fashioned from animal bones, often from horses or cattle, pierced with holes and tethered to the feet with leather straps. They did not have a blade, so they relied on residual fat on the bones to reduce friction; skaters propelled themselves along by pushing on the ice with a stick while keeping their legs almost straight, for balance.

Bone ice stakes remained largely unchanged for millenia. Indeed, in the preface to his ‘Vita Sancti Thomae’, or ‘Life of St. Thomas’, which was written in 1173-74, William FitzStephen wrote, ‘…if the moors in Finsbury and Moorfield freeze over, children from London play. Some of the children have attached bones to their ankles, and carry well-worn sticks.’

The forerunner of the modern ice skate evolved in the Netherlands during the Late Middle Ages. A wooden footplate and a double-edged iron, or steel, blade replaced bone and allowed skaters to propel themselves using their legs, thereby creating the now-familiar, smooth skating movement.

Later significant stages in the evolution of the modern ice skate were the introduction of the all-steel skate, by Philadelphia businessman Edward Bushnell, in 1850 and the development of the two-plate, all-metal blade, by the so-called ‘Father of Figure Skating’, New York ballet dancer turned figure skater Jackson Haines, in 1856. The first ‘closed toe’ blade made from a single piece of steel, thereby allowing skates to become stronger, but lighter, was invented by Minnesota sporting goods retailer John Strauss in 1914.

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