Until the last quarter of the 19th century ice skating had been an activity with a very local colour. In Friesland the accent lay more by speed skating and in Holland it was more just making
fun on ice. Ice skates were ordinary objects and they were grinded after the wish of their
owners. Flat if they wanted to go straight forward and round if they wanted to roll along. This situation changed dramatically by the end of the century as a result of the increasing international contacts which were stimulated by the invention of the combustion engine. Sailing ships were provided with steam engines and auxiliary motors and the time necessary for a journey over sea became more predictably. Regular connections between the continents were established and a circuit of more or less professional ice skaters emerged.
Also at this time a general worldwide feeling grew that gymnastics was a healthy activity and all kinds of sports were introduced and popularized. Speed skating, figure skating and ice hockey were born and in contests their fans wanted to trial their strengths. National ice skating associations were founded and the International Skating Union (ISU) established. Officials travelled the world and European and World championships were organized to canalise the activities. Also outdoor and indoor ice rinks were built and the growing density of skaters on ice surfaces brought attention to special design elements and safety aspects.
All these aspects effected the design and manufacturing of ice skates. The all purpose
ice skates disappeared and dedicated speed, figure and hockey skates made their entrance.
The arrival of the combustion engine also had its effect on the manufacturing of ice skates.
The handwork of the blacksmiths was mechanized many
blacksmiths decided to buy auxiliary machinery and to convert the smithy into a metalworking workshop. The new entrepreneurs expanded their firms and specialized. Some decided to specialize in ice skates. This happened in all ice skating oriented countries. In the German area around Remscheid-Solingen near Cologne e.g., where raw iron could be extracted easily, a large metal oriented industry developed. They became suppliers to the world, also for ice skates and related half products.
Blades for ice skates no longer were forged but punched from sheet metal.
At first the three dimensional forced curls
were replaced by punched two dimensional ones. In the Netherlands these two
dimensional curls were called Wichers-de Salis curls but abroad they were known as Salchow curls. The Dutch name
is connected with the names of two officials of the young Dutch Skating Union, Mr. Buttingha Wichers and Baron de Salis, who probably picked up the idea during one of their international journeys. Salchow was a famous Swedish figure skater at that time. Later the naked curls were covered with wood for better support of the vulnerable sheet metal prow.
From regional to national models
Unfortunately this resulted in the disappearance of the charming curled ice
skates by the end of the 19th century. The Holland blacksmiths ceased making
ice skates but on the contrary the Friesland blacksmiths specialized in it.
They at first broadened their assortment with some Holland models
but soon the Holland ice skates and the Friesland ice skates
were merged and a new type of ice skate was born. These ice skates were called Friesland ice skates with wooden curls and extended runner blades.
Holland ice skates
with curled blades
Holland ice skates
with Salchow curls
and extended runner blades
Friesland ice skates
with wooden curls
and extended runner blades
At the beginning of the 20th century only three main models
left: Friesland ice skates with extended runner blades, Holland rolling
skates and Dutch wooden speed skates of the Norwegian model.
for the Dutch Roll
Dutch speed skates of the Norwegian model
Modern ice skate
with synthetic platform
This type of ice skates was manufactured and used widely in the Netherlands until the sixties of the 20th century. And even in the 21st century they are still sold for use by very young children but these ice skates come from emerging countries. Older Dutch children use ice skates with plastic platforms and straps nowadays. But as soon as they have a will of their own they ask for a pair of modern speed, hockey or figure skates as a birthday present... and get it.
Contrary to wood metal has the advantage of form firmness. Therefore already at the end of the 19th century speed skates with metal platforms
became available. Since the runner blades of speed skates are long and narrow they must be supported along the full length. After some experiments it
worked out that this could be done best by soldering the blades into
metal tubes, that are both strong and light. Tube skates were first
developed in Norway and therefore they are also known as speed skates of the
Norwegian model. However, they were very expensive at that time. And as skating in the Netherlands was a people's sport the much cheaper wooden ice skates stood up until in the sixties of the 20th century
when tube skates became the standard for both amateurs and professionals.
Speed skating reached high in the second half of the 20th century when 400 meter indoor ovals were opened in all traditional speed skating countries as to eliminate the natural factor of uncertain climatic conditions. Science gave attention to matters like physiological elements, training methods, clothing, ice
many other issues which resulted in lots of improvements like clap skates, blades of ceramic material, bending of the blades, warming them or grinding them to unbelievable narrowness. New
world records seem to exist only for challenging new generations to adjust
them again and again...