Most of us have memories of roller skating at some point. As a kid growing up in the 1980s, I remember feeling that skating was an important skill to develop for the future. Maybe it was because my parents were so bad at it. I didn’t want to look as funny on skates as they did.
From rough-and-tumble roller derby to sleek and rhythmic roller disco or the effortless glide of drive-in waitresses, roller skating has been enjoyed by so many people in so many ways. Most recently, it became a way for people to stay active and get their endorphins going during the seemingly endless COVID-19 lockdown. But the “Golden Age” of roller skating is said to be the period leading up to and immediately after World War II.
In the 1940s, around 18 million Americans were skating regularly, rivaling bowling as the most popular form of recreation. By the end of that decade, an estimated 5,000 rinks were in operation across the United States. Roller rinks even had a feature section in Billboard magazine, sharing news from rinks around the country.
During this time, roller rink operators promoted their businesses by designing unique stickers intended for application on skate cases. Skating enthusiasts began collecting the stickers and in 1948, a group of them in New York formed the Universal Roller Skating Sticker Exchange (URSSE). An estimated 8,000 unique designs were created worldwide. International stickers were especially desirable to URSSE collectors.
Skating began to decline in popularity in the 1960s. Despite a resurgence in the 1970s from roller discos, the age of roller rink stickers had passed. The URSSE held its last convention in 1989.
At the Indiana Historical Society, I recently processed a collection of 23 stickers and decals from various roller rinks across the state. Most of the stickers have collectors’ names stamped or written on the back. Perhaps some of these designs and names will awaken memories for you of first dates, birthday parties, or old friends. I know they did for me.
The Indiana Roller Rink Stickers collection is available as P0856. If you’d like to see more, please contact our reference department at email@example.com to set up an appointment.