The Golden Age of Roller Skating: 1937 – 1959 *
In the late 1930s, with the difficult years of the Depression behind them, families could now afford to look outside of the home for new forms of entertainment. They ultimately turned their eyes to a sport that would become a national craze: roller skating!
Although roller skating had been around since the 1800s, hundreds of rinks had closed during the Depression and many of those that remained became hangouts for rowdies and ruffians – not exactly the first destination of choice for family entertainment.
The unsavory reputation of skating rinks began to change in 1937 with the formation of the Roller Skating Rink Operators Association (RSROA). Formed by 17 rink owners determined to make roller skating wholesome again, the RSROA set out on a mission to bring the family back to the rink. With the establishment of dress codes and protocols for behavior, patrons were drawn to the newly refined elegance of the rink.
Bumps and Falls, an incredibly interesting newsletter published by the Mineola Skating Rink, announced the rink’s dress rules in an October 12, 1944 issue: “Winter dress rules will go into effect about October 1st. They are as follows: Gentlemen must wear jackets or sweaters while skating. Sweaters must have sleeves. Collar and tie must be worn, unless the skater is wearing a neat sport shirt, subject to the approval of the management. So called “polo” shirts are not to be confused with sport shirts, for they are never permitted. Ladies skating dresses must be no shorter than two inches above the knees. Under no circumstances will ladies be permitted to skate in slacks, pajamas, or trousers of any kind.”
In addition to adopting the guidelines of the RSROA, roller rinks across the country offered patrons every enticement to spend an evening on the floor. Skaters came in droves to hear the music of Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, Cab Calloway, and Frank Sinatra. They could enjoy performances by the Skating Vanities and skate dance pioneers Earl and Inez Van Horn. They could even enter beauty contests, attend masquerade balls, and learn to polka and waltz on wheels.
During WWII, roller rinks were also important community centers and active supporters of War Bond drives and the troops overseas. As an indication of how important roller skating was to the war effort, we came across a military detention training pass from 1942 that confirmed the soldier in question had regained his privileges including the hostess house, recruit dances, and…roller skating!
As interest in skating continued to grow throughout the 1940s, new rinks were built at a rapid pace and rink operators looked for innovative ways to promote their business. This competition for customers led to the introduction of one of Vintage Roadside’s collecting passions: the roller skating sticker.
What better way for skaters to arrive at the rink in style than carrying their skates in a smart metal case? These roller skate cases were a must have fashion accessory that also had convenient space on the outside for advertising. Rinks with a sharp eye for promotion began producing colorful stickers that were perfect for display on the cases. Loyal customers were proud to show off the stickers and before long were collecting and trading as many as they could get their hands on.
In 1948, 22 collectors formed the Universal Roller Skating Sticker Exchange and organized conventions that were held at a different rink each year for the next 40 years. During the heyday of the URSSE, collectors traveled to conventions across the country, formed lifelong friendships, and shared their passion for the unique art of the skate sticker.
Amazing in their variety, skate stickers range in design from the artistic to the silly, the pin-up to the demure. Most importantly, they offer us a glimpse back to a time when roller skating reigned supreme and rinks jumped to the sound of big band swing.
Check out the Vintage Roadside gift shop and our selection of items with images from our favorite skating memorabilia!
(*) Lou Brooks in his wonderful book, Skate Crazy, defines the golden age of roller skating as 1937 – 1959: from the founding of the Roller Skating Rink Operators Association to “just after they stopped putting tail fins on cars but before the Beatles arrived.”