Way Back When... 1850s

The 2018 Winter Olympics have just begun and figure skating is always one of the marquee events. In the U.S., ice skating became a popular leisure activity in the mid-1800s when better designed skates became available and Americans developed an increased interest in outdoor activities. Skaters could be found on frozen bodies of water all over Connecticut, from ponds to rivers and even town reservoirs.

Ice skating was one of the first outdoor activities deemed appropriate for ladies, whose skirts could be shortened slightly to reduce the risk of tripping (though they were encouraged to wear a longer skirt to and from the pond to avoid showing their ankles). Men teaching female friends and relatives to skate were encouraged to do so on the quiet, secluded ponds so no one would see the ladies’ awkwardness and distress while learning the new skill.

The first ice skates were merely a separate blade that attached to any solidly made shoe or boot with a series of buckles and clamps. Skates that were used throughout the 1800s. In the 1900s the skate and boot were combined into one unit. With more secure and well-designed skates, figure skating and ice hockey became increasingly popular, and skating became a professional sport. It actually became the first winter sport to be part of the Olympics, 110 years ago in 1908!

The Fairfield Museum’s Winter Wonderland exhibition features a pair of ice skates from 1860. The “Blondin” ice skates were patented by the Douglas Rogers Company and were named after a French circus performer known for his rope walking across Niagara Falls in 1859. The skates’ iron runner is attached at the heel and ball of the foot to a wooden sole and curves in front to attach to the toe of the boot. View the vintage skates and more at the exhibition, which runs through February 19. And enjoy the 2018 Winter Olympic Games!

About the Fairfield Museum & History Center: The Fairfield Museum & History Center and Museum Shop, located at 370 Beach Road, is open seven days a week, 10am-4pm. Members of the Museum and children under 5 are admitted free. For more information, call 203-259-1598 or visit Fairfieldhistory.org. The Fairfield Museum relies on funding from individuals, corporations and foundations. The Museum is especially grateful for leadership support from the State of Connecticut, Town of Fairfield and Fairfield County’s Community Foundation.