When Were Hockey Skates Invented? [Answered!]

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While the invention of the ice cream scoop is generally credited with creating the modern day ice cream parlor, the humble hockey skate has actually been around for far longer. According to legend, the ancient Chinese were the first people to sport hockey skates, and it quickly became a favorite winter sport throughout Europe. In the mid-17th century, people in Canada began playing hockey, and by the close of the century, the sport had become immensely popular in both America and Europe. However, prior to 1875, hockey skates were actually considered to be women’s garments and were only worn by those wishing to emulate Lady Godiva (in English folklore, Godiva is credited with riding a tiger while wearing a set of men’s leather boots and trousers).

Traditional Chinese Hockey Skates

Prior to the 17th century, Chinese men and boys would play a game called tuoji which was quite similar to hockey. The major difference was that the ball was struck with a stick and the object was to score as many goals as possible.

From the 17th to the mid-19th century, Chinese men and boys continued playing a version of what would become hockey. These games were quite similar to those played in Europe and Canada in the previous century, however, sticks were used more like golf clubs and pucks were made of wood or bones instead of metal. Additionally, the rules of the game were different as well; in the 17th century, for example, there were no offside rules and goals were only awarded if the puck was physically on the ground when it hit the backboard.

With the rise of the modern ice hockey leagues in the late 19th century, Chinese hockey gradually evolved into what is known today as ‘traditional Chinese hockey’. This version of the game is still popular in China and many Chinese American sports clubs across the country continue to play the game as a symbol of their cultural heritage. The International Hockey Federation (FIH) still lists traditional Chinese hockey as an “alternative” sport, which is curious because this form of hockey has largely been replaced by ice hockey in both China and across the globe.

Early Northern European Hockey Skates

As the story goes, after Chinese hockey players began emigrating to North America and playing in American hockey leagues, they brought their game with them and introduced it to English speaking countries. It was during this time that hockey skates started becoming more streamlined and took on a bladelike appearance. This was most likely because ice hockey was first played in Canada and America, and the shorter the skates were, the more room there was for the legs to move.

A particularly iconic style of hockey skate was manufactured by the English company BSA. Their skates are credited with having a cult following due to their distinctive long-tailed design, which was created to withstand the rigors of hard hockey play. BSA’s long-range goal was for their skates to become as prevalent as squash rackets were in the early 20th century. However, despite the popularity of the product, BSA was unable to maintain a large scale production for the simple reason that the technology for manufacturing plastic components wasn’t as advanced in the early 1900s as it is today.

Rise Of The Roller Derby

It was during this time that roller derby, an offshoot of hockey, evolved as well. This was most likely because, in Canada and the United States, many of the same people who played hockey also happened to work in coal mines and factories, and were thus able to spend more time at home. When they did get out of their homes, they loved to skate and would often get together to form informal roller skating leagues. This type of activity would inspire the creation of a more permanent league, one that would become the famous “New York derby.” The first roller derby game was played on April 23rd, 1910, and was an instant hit, drawing a crowd of 3,000 people.

What is fascinating about roller derby is that it existed in a very different environment compared to traditional hockey or ice hockey. While the other sports evolved in close proximity to one another, roller derby was developed independently and at a later date. This is evidenced by the fact that the rules for both roller derby and ice hockey are similar, yet they still manage to remain unique games.

Even more curious is that, while other sports might have adapted from the professional leagues that eventually formed around them, roller derby retained its independence, and continued to evolve and flourish as a result.

Hockey Takes Off In Europe

Throughout the early part of the 20th century, interest in hockey virtually exploded in Europe. This was the result of a combination of factors, but mainly because of the increasing popularity of leisure sports following the conclusion of World War I. Additionally, as Canada and the United States gradually phased out the traditional game, Europeans began looking for alternatives, and discovered that hockey was a very efficient form of winter exercise.

In the first decades of the 20th century, many European countries, particularly Germany, established professional hockey leagues. It was during this time that hockey truly took off as a sport in Europe, with Finland recording its first win over Sweden in Helsingfors on January 26th, 1919. Since then, both men and women have played sports professionally in Europe, and it’s now considered to be the fifth most popular sport in the continent.

It wasn’t just Germany that established professional hockey during this period, but other European countries as well. However, Canada was not without representation, with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens both playing an important role in the sport’s development. As time passed, more European countries followed suit, with Italy, France, and the United Kingdom all establishing professional leagues by the 1930s. Since then, the popularity of hockey has continued to grow across Europe.

Modern Day Professional Hockey

While hockey has largely replaced military activity as the primary source of exercise in Europe, it still maintains its role as a popular winter sport, due in large part to the fact that it continues to grow in popularity every year. This has spurred the creation of numerous professional hockey leagues and franchises, with teams across the globe competing in a tournament-style setting for the Stanley Cup. It is, therefore, not surprising that hockey has become a symbol of prosperity and internationalism, representing a time when the world came together to celebrate sport.

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