Roller skating in Seattle first occurs on October 21, 1871.

  • By Greg Lange
  • Posted 8/09/1999
  • Essay 1613

On October 21, 1871, a Mr. Kennedy (probably John Kennedy, age 46) opens a roller skating rink at the Pavilion, located in Seattle at the southeast corner of Front Street (later 1st Avenue) and Cherry Street, using improved Plimpton roller skates. About 100 people attend, including about 70 men and 20 or 30 women.  A certain gentleman "goes down in an unseemly pile."

James Leonard Plimpton of Boston, Massachusetts invented his roller skates in 1863. Plimpton skates allowed the skater to make turns. In 1866, Plimpton opened a roller skating rink in Boston and the interest in skating spread across the continent.

In Seattle, about 100 persons attended the opening of Kennedy's rink, including some 70 men and 20 or 30 women. This was the first time Plimpton skates were used in Seattle. The floor was crowded with skatists -- most of whom were novices in the exercise. The roller skating continued until 9 p.m. at which time dancing began.

Going Down in an "Unseemly Pile"

Young and old tried out the skates, with mixed results. Following is a description of a resident who went roller skating on November 15, 1871:

"One of our townsmen, who was just flattering himself with the idea of having acquired some proficiency as a skatist while making a round on the rollers, at the Pavilion got himself into an ungainly 'posish,' when the skate he was for the instant turning upon in a twinkling left him in the lurch. In gravitating to the floor, which he did with inconceivable rapidity, and that, too, without the least restraint over the grotesque contortions and genuflections [sic] of his limbs he went down in an unseemly pile, sustaining considerable injury. After recovering somewhat from the shock occasioned, as was supposed, by several broken bones, he crawled to a seat, unstrapped [sic] his skates, and through the kind assistance of a couple of friends, accompanied by the doctor, succeeded in getting home. We have had his demoralized and busted-up ankle joint prominently before us and in our tender keeping ever since, and expect to have for a month or two longer before it gets in good traveling or skating condition again (Weekly Intelligencer, November 20, 1871, p 3).

The injured skater was none other than S. L. Maxwell (age 37), editor of the Weekly Intelligencer.

Roller skating attracted large numbers to the Pavilion until about the end of November 1871. In December 1871, John Pinnell acquired the rights to the patented skates and announced that he would open a roller skating rink near Bay View Saloon and Brothel in the next few days.


Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Ed., s.v. "Roller Skates"; Joseph Nathan Kane, Famous First Facts: A Record of First Happenings, Discoveries, and Inventions in American History (New York: The H. W. Wilson Company, 1981), 553; The Weekly Intelligencer, October 23, 1871, p. 3; Ibid., November 6, 1871, p. 3; Ibid., November 20, 1871, p. 3; Ibid., December 11, 1871, p. 3.

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