From the Archives: Chicago’s Roller-Skating History

When I hear the word "Saturday," I often think of the music group Chicago’s 1972 song, Saturday in the Park. Now there’s something else competing with that catchy tune: the coming-of-age comedy television series, Saturdays. In the series, Saturdays is the name of a fictional roller rink located on the South Side of Chicago. Currently, as I write this, there are two roller-skating rinks located in the Auburn Gresham and Chatham neighborhoods. 

Chicago's Skating History

Tom Russo’s book Chicago Rink Rats refers to Chicago as the epicenter for roller rinks. Once upon a time, there was Planet Roller Rink at 7536 Racine Avenue, The Hub at 4510 N. Harlem Avenue, Rainbow Roller Rink at 4836 N. Clark and Madison Garden Rink at 2560 Madison Street, just to name a few.

The Chicago Park District historically has offered many variations for skating events, such as ice skating, roller blading and even roller derby, and you can’t do any of those things without skates.

In the early 20th century, in the West Garfield Park Community, brothers Ralph and Walter Ware founded The Chicago Roller Skate Company. Later, their brother Robert would join their team. In the beginning, they created three-wheel skates and later opted for the four-wheel "Model-A."

Skating History Resources at CPL

And CPL's Special Collections offers another view into Chicago's roller-skating history. In the Special Collections Trade Catalog Collection, you can view the company's catalogs to learn more about the different styles and types of skates available in the past.

Flipping through The Chicago Roller Skate Company's catalogue, I was curious to see if Special Collections had additional information on roller skates and rinks of the past. I decided to check our city directories first to see if I could find a listing for roller skates.

Next, I checked the Chicago Historical Tribune, which is part of CPL's online resources for cardholders, and honestly had to stop myself from reading and wondering more and more about roller-skating, roller rinks and their locations. After I stepped away from the browser, I searched Special Collections Neighborhood History Collections to see if we had photographs of people roller-skating. The images I've shared are some of my discoveries.

If you would like to see any of the items shared in this post or learn more about the library's special collections, feel free to make an appointment. We’d also love to hear some of your roller-skating memories.