How Figure Skating Started

Written By: Riedell | June 5, 2018

Figure skating is one of the most popular winter sports, but only a surprising few know its origin. We love to watch skaters as they twirl and fly through the air, but was it always this way? When did figure skating become a sport and who the heck came up with the idea to put blades on boots and walk around on frozen water? Today we’re answering all of these questions and more.

The Evolution of Figure Skates

Figure skates are a lot older than you think. The oldest pair of recovered skates dates all the way back to 3000 B.C. These rare finds were recovered at the bottom of a lake in Switzerland. The skates, made from the leg bones of large animals, had holes drilled at the end of each “blade” with leather straps strung through so that they could be attached to a shoe or boot. Which makes sense, considering that the Dutch word for skate is “schenkel” which translates to “leg bone.”

bone figure skates

But this tale is a little more complicated than that. While the oldest pair of ice skates ever recovered was found in Switzerland, a National Geographic News study found that it’s more likely that the people of Finland were the first to have use for ice skates. Co-author Federico Formenti of the University of Oxford in England went on to state that “People developed this ingenious locomotion tool in order to travel more quickly and by using not as much energy as if they had walked around all the lakes.”

Ice skates continued to evolve throughout the years. In 1848, E.V. Bushnell invented an all-steel clamp-style blade for skates. These blades could be added to any pair of boots or shoes; the wearer only had to merely step into them. Next, in 1865, Jackson Haines developed the two-plate, all-metal blade that was attached directly to his boots. Haines then became famous for his dance moves, jumps, spins, and performances. And not only did he innovate how blades connected with boots; Haines also invented the toe pick in the 1870s.

John E Strauss blade

Fast forward to 1914 and Minnesota native John E. Strauss made the first closed-toe blade, meaning that the blade was made from one single piece of steel which made skates lighter and stronger. Blades and boots continued to evolve over the years to include custom blades and boots. The new boots gave skaters the support they needed with the comfort and warmth they wanted, as well as new style availabilities that skaters could use to complete their competition looks. Fast forward to 2011 and Riedell launches our very own line of Eclipse Blades™, now allowing skaters to configure complete sets of figure skates all under the Riedell name.

Evolution of Figure Skating as a Sport

We’ve covered how figure skates were made, but how did the sport begin? How did a mode of transportation turn into one of our most beloved sports? We sort of already touched on this topic, but Bushnell and Haines played a large part in the evolution of figure skating from a pastime amusement to a sport. Bushnell brought steel-bladed skates to the game, allowing for complex tricks and turns. And then Haines, a well-respected ballet master living in Vienna in the 1860s, brought elements of ballet and dance to Bushnell’s powerful maneuvers, giving figure skating its unique combination of power and grace that is still present today.

The first known skating club was actually established way before either Bushnell or Haines entered the game. The first known skating club was established in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1742. Crazy right? After that, the first strictly figure skating club, aptly named The Skating Club, was founded in London in 1830.

After Bushnell or Haines revolutionized the sport, it was incorporated in the 1908 Olympic games. The first U.S. championships were held in 1914. The event included programs for men, women, and pairs. The United States Figure Skating Association (USFSA) was later founded in 1921 in large part due to the efforts of Louis Rubenstein, who was a former student of Haines. It is Rubenstein that we have to thank for today’s formalized competitions and tests, as well as the Amateur Skating Association of Canada (Skate Canada) and the National Amateur Skating Association of the United States which combined with the International Skating Union of America (which was founded in 1914) to make the USFSA is 1921.

Figure skating got its first two boosts in the 20th century by Dick Button and Sonja Henie. Both brought the sport to the attention of wider American audiences and served to thrust the sport into the spotlight. Triple and quadruple jumps became important in the 80s and 90s, and the sport continues to advance to this day.

Riedell is proud to have a diverse and accomplished team of skaters, including Joannie Rochette, Johnny Weir, Kurt Browning, and Rachael Flatt. Each of these skaters has shown a mastery of their craft and a true passion for the sport. We expect to see great things from them as well as the rest of the skaters here in the U.S. and abroad. We look forward to seeing what everyone brings to the table at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Figure Skating Fun Facts:

  • The first artificial ice rink didn’t come along until 1876 in Chelsea, London, England.
  • Frank Zamboni made the first, you guessed it, zamboni, in 1949.
  • Figure skating is the oldest winter game to be held at the Olympics

For The Love Of Skating

At Riedell, we love figure skating. Since 1945 we’ve been doing everything we can to better and advance the sport. From our boots to blades, we’ve spent years designing the best gear to support skaters. At Riedell, every boot has been exquisitely crafted for comfort and fit that’s distinguished Riedell Skates for more than four generations. Stronger, lighter, and with more model options- the perfect skate for you and your sport is right here. Athletic, artistic, awe-inspiring; Riedell.