Ice skating, in one form or another, has existed for thousands of years. Evidence suggests that as long ago as 1000 B.C. Scandinavians were fashioning crude blades from the shank or rib bones of elk, oxen, and reindeer and strapping them onto boots. A game played on ice between teams has been recorded as early as the second century A.D. In the Netherlands, both men and women skated on the canals during the Middle Ages. Scottish history recounts tales of armies crossing frozen marshes on skates to attack enemy territories. Ice skating became so popular in Scotland that the first skating club was established in Edinburgh in 1742. In 1848, E.W. Bushnell invented the first all- iron ice skate that could be clipped onto a boot.
During the 1800s, the popularity of ice skating skyrocketed. Skating clubs opened in London, Vienna, and New York. Rinks were built in Toronto, Canada, and in Davos, Switzerland. In 1876, the first artificially frozen ice rink, called the Glaciarium, opened in London. During the 19th century, the sport of speed skating was introduced and classical dance theory was applied to create the sport of figure skating.
There are three basic types of ice skates: hockey skates, figure skates, and speed skates. Speed skates are designed for optimum swiftness in one direction, with the skater moving right foot over left. The speed skate features a straight blade up to 18 inches (46 cm) long and 0.03-0.06 inch (0.08-0.15 cm) wide. The blade is reinforced with hollow steel tubing. The boot is constructed of very light, thin leather.
Hockey skates are constructed to allow the skater to move both right foot over left and left foot over right. The blade, usually 0.06 inch (0.15 cm) wide, is also reinforced with hollow tubing. The boot is short, measuring 4-5 inches (10-13 cm) from the sole, and reinforced with plastic caps and extra layers of leather at the toe. This protects the skaters' feet from the blades of other skates. The original hockey skate was made of leather with a plasticized sole, a safety tip at the rear, and a hard toe. A ballistic-proof nylon was then introduced that provided even greater protection against cutting. The newest innovation features a plastic molded boot with plastic stanchions and plastic tubing. A heavily padded, removable liner helps to control the fit.
Figure skates are fitted with a 0.125-inch (0.32 cm) steel blade designed for spinning. The blade is hollow on the bottom so that only the outer edges touch the ice. A series of sharp angles at the front of the blade called toe picks facilitate landing from toe jumps. The figure skate has a high boot, measuring 7-8 inches (18-20 cm) from the sole to the top, completely covering the ankle.
Ice skates are constructed of leather, nylon, plastic, steel, and various other synthetic materials. In most cases, the raw materials are purchased from outside vendors. The ice-skate manufacturer inspects the leather hides closely to insure that the skins have been cleaned and tanned to the company's specifications. Kangaroo leather is one of the popular skins used for figure skates.
Blades are generally made of tempered steel and coated with a high-quality chrome. Some blade manufacturers may add titanium to the metal. The ice-skate manufacturer contracts with outside manufacturers to supply them with blades in various styles and sizes. Competitive skaters (as opposed to recreational ones) usually have their blades mounted by a specialist.
The cements, stitching threads, and other synthetic materials are also purchased from outside vendors and stocked at the skate manufacturing plant.
Neither the Olympic Committee nor the U.S. Ice Skating Federation has requirements regarding the manufacture of ice skates. However, the manufacturers pay close attention to the needs and suggestions of professional skaters and coaches.
First an insole is tacked onto the last. Then the boot is pulled tight, by hand, over the bottom of the last. The worker must make sure that all wrinkles are eliminated, working from the arch to the heel then from the arch to the toe. Tacks or cement adhere the arch, heel, and toe to the insole.
The manufacturing process includes several inspection points. At each position, the inspector checks the alignment of the various pieces. Seams and eyelets are checked for straightness and evenness. Structural and visual imperfections such as loose threads and wrinkles are weeded out.
Most ice skate manufacturers have professional skaters on staff who are involved in the design and testing of the product.
Jonland, Einar and Jim Fitzgerald. Inside Ice Skating. Contemporary Books, 1978.
Faiad, Andrea. "The Making of a Boot the Riedell Way." Skating, March 1995, pp. 40-41.
— Mary F. McNulty