Today, the Large One Cent Coin remembers the patent of J. L. Plimpton that changed the roller skating industry on January 6, 1863.
Other inventors patented roller skates prior to 1863, however their customers became disenchanted because of the difficulty of curved motion.
James L. Plimpton changed the industry by inventing skates that would move in a curve based on the shifting weight of the user.
An excerpt from the Scientific American of March 11, 1876 explained the roller skating industry and Mr. Plimpton’s efforts and success.
Some Annals of a Successful Invention
If we may judge from Punch’s frequent cartoons, and from the attention paid to the subject in the English journals, all England is undergoing a skating mania, which out rivals the velocipede furore of six years ago.
It is not gliding over the ice on glistening steel blades which has captured the British fancy, for frozen lakes and rivers in England are of rare occurrence, and it is now several years since any regular skating club has had its winter carnival.
Asphalt floors have replaced the ice; and over their smooth surface John Bull cuts “spread eagles” and “figure eights,” and otherwise disports himself on that ingenious Yankee invention, the roller skate.
There is an interesting history connected with that device and its inventor, which may here be reviewed.
It is a record of how an enterprising man has managed, and is managing, an invention so as to make it yield a fortune, how he has fought and triumphed in protecting his right; and, at the same time, it conveys suggestive thoughts as to the value of popular devices, not merely at home but abroad, emphasizing in brief our oft-repeated assertion that the inventor’s field is not restricted to any one country, but is as wide as the world itself.
It was about eighteen years ago when a then-termed “parlor” skate furore broke out in this vicinity.
Halls in various parts of the city were fitted up with smooth floors, and one part of the public flocked thither and hired the skates at so much per hour, while another portion paid for the privilege of viewing the others learn how to manage the new invention.
Education in that direction, though vastly amusing to lookers-on, was just the reverse to the learners; for however good skaters on ice the latter might be, they soon found out that managing roller skates was a very different affair, that gliding straight ahead was easy enough, but to attempt to guide oneself by turning the foot was to invite sudden and painful precipitation to the floor.
Perhaps for this reason public interest in the first forms of parlor skate soon waned.
Meanwhile, however, Mr. J. L. Plimpton, of this city, perceiving the difficulty, set to work to remedy it by devising a skate which would keep the floor without reference to the angle of the body or the sharpness of the curve turned.
With remarkable perseverance he labored on for several years, expending some $25,000 in fruitless efforts. Finally, however, he produced a device which a learned English judge has recently pronounced “almost as ingenious as the wonderful adaptation of bones to be found in a horse pastern and fetlock.”
In the center of the sole of the skate, he fixed a spherical spring of india rubber, yielding to the slightest inclination of the foot, a mere change of motion by well known mechanical means causing the axles of the roller wheels to converge.
This invention was patented in this country, through the Scientific American Patent Agency, in January, 1863, and subsequently in England, in 1866.
His device perfected, Mr. Plimpton began its introduction in certainly an ingenious and novel way.
He first fitted up a hall adapted to his purposes in this city, and for a long time practiced himself, and taught invited friends to use his skates.
Afterwards he took with him a few of his best drilled pupils to other cities.
In lieu of hiring a room and trusting by general advertising to draw a promiscuous throng, he would, after preparing his establishment in any town, issue neatly printed cards of invitation to the most influential people in the place.
These would usually accept from curiosity, and, finding a genial, pleasant gentleman ready to tell them something new without apparently aiming at their pockets, would become interested, try the skates, and in a very short time “set a fashion” which would speedily be followed by the remaining townsfolk.
No long period would elapse before the skating rink would be doing a thriving business, and enterprising investors would speedily seek a share in so profitable a concern.
Then Mr. Plimpton would dispose of the lease of his hall and fixtures, with the right to use the invention within certain counties and States.
His next step would be to locate in another town, and repeat the operation of introducing the invention; and thus he continued until he had sold rights for ten States to one firm, besides territory in all parts of the Union.
Since 1867 he has realized $50,000 for State rights alone, and this sum is nothing beside the profits of the lucky purchasers, who generally followed the inventor’s novel plan of introduction, as already described.
One man bought the right in the State of California for $4,000, and resold it for $36,000; and the purchaser of the right for San Francisco, it is stated, made $45,000 in one year at the rink in that city.
It would take far too much space to recapitulate all the instances of this kind, therefore we may turn to the inventor’s efforts toward the introduction of his skate in England.
Mr. Plimpton had already an agent in Great Britain, whose success had been very great; so the inventor concluded to join him.
The presence and tact of Mr. Plimpton resulted in measures which kindled the present furore abroad.
Rinks have been established all over England and France.
In a single rink in London $500,000 is said to be invested, and in Brighton $40,000 has been refused for the establishment by its owner. Paris has a magnificent rink in full operation.
The skates are manufactured in Brooklyn, where a new and large factory is shortly to be erected for this special purpose.
We are informed that $60,000 worth of the skates have been made during the past six months, and that the average weekly shipment to Liverpool is now 2,000 pairs.
The Large One Cent Coin shows with an image of the drawings submitted by J. L. Plimpton for his patented roller skate design of January 6, 1863.