1896 Ritter Skates (Road Skate Co)

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Manufactured by the Road Skate Co

(Now sold)

Skating is an art to which all ladies should attain. It is especially feminine in its character, graceful, elegant, requiring little apparent force, and yet affording good exercise. Ladies soon learn to skate. I have had the honor of initiating several ladies to the art, and have been surprised by the felicity with which they learn it. Whetherfrom some innate quality of the feminine sex, I know not, but it is invariably the case, that if a boy and a girl, or a gentleman and lady, of equal ages, and having enjoyed equal advantages, are put upon skates for the first time in their lives, the lady always manages to skate independently sooner than the gentleman.

– The Eclectic Magazine, Agnew, John Holmes & Bidwell, Walter Hillyard. Feb 1863. NY.


The Belgian Joseph Merlin is credited with inventing the first roller skates in 1760; wearing his new skates at a party in London, he crashed into an expensive mirror. The early skates had iron wheels (see 1876 illustration above). The Woodward skate was invented in London in 1859, with vulcanized rubber wheels (below) which were better on wooden rink floors.

Road skates did not really catch on at the time as, by the late 1890s, the skating craze started to die out. While ice skating and normal roller skating were favoured by women, when road skating subsequently became popular it was predominantly a male sport.




Every year throughout the late 19th century and early years of the 20th century, more amazing ‘novelties’ on wheels made their debut. Engineering companies throughout the industrial world were cashing in on a remarkable consumer boom in pioneer forms of transport, and both professional and amateur inventors were cobbling together primitive ‘vehicles’ of all sorts to satisfy public demand.


I suppose that with bicycles the latest craze in the mid-1890s, roller skates that were actually a pair of miniature bicycles would have been a logical progression. The advert below, entitled ‘Road Skating,’ is from the Illustrated London News, 1896.

1896_2 copy


271 Oxford St. London W

The skates were sold by the Road Skate Co of Oxford Street, and the company also issued a booklet – free of charge – on ‘Road Skating’ which purports to give ‘every information on the subject.’

‘Road Skates’ were the ancestors of roller skates. They were invented by Mr. Ritter, a Swiss, who was foreman at the original Napier Works at Vine Street, Lambeth, London, where (later) the first Napier motor-cars were made. The Ritter skates were popular around 1897/ 1898, and several well-known cyclists, notably M. S. Napier, Walter Munn, and A. Hoffman, formed a club and skated on the road every week-end. When last heard of (1929) Mr. Ritter was in business as an engineer in Paris under the name of Ritter and Smith, 35 Rue Batignolles. (These premises are now occupied by a hair salon ‘Caroline Coiffure’).

The skates weigh 40 lbs each and each skate is secured to the boot by clips on the principle of the ‘Acme’ ice skate. The wheels run on ball bearings and, as you can see below, feature a braking system reminiscent of that of the velocipede. The brake is applied to the rear wheel by pulling the cord which follows the wooden strut up to within a few inches of the skater’s knee.


It’s actually quite a nifty design, with the rear clips folding forward to make it easier to carry them.


Each skate carries Ritter’s patent stamp.

And the skates also tell you which is the right and which is the left.

Ritter Road Skates were also marketed around the world, as these articles from New Zealand newspapers illustrate.

The rather more advanced pair of skates shown below are from 1905.



To see a short film of the motorized skates in the picture above,

click on the link below (Use the BACK button on your browser to return here)


* Ice Skating: A Pleasure for All, by Victoria Rumble