The History of Chicago Skates:
The Chicago Roller Skate Company was founded in 1905 by brothers Ralph and Walter Ware. In the early years, they produced a three-wheel skate which they tried to sell to the local roller rinks… it did not go well! The brothers reconvened and dumped their three-wheel skate in favor of the four-wheel 1907 “Model-A,” which came with a steel footplate, ball bearings, and a much more welcoming response from the rink runners. In 1909, Robert Ware joined his brothers bringing his marketing and shipping experience to the newly successful skate enterprise.
The Chicago Roller Skate Company soon became known for their sports and racing skates, but since outdoor skating was still a rarity, the company regularly produced metal wheels with smooth maple wood rollers, to match the gym flooring of the city’s various casual skate halls and roller rinks.
After a hiatus during World War I in which the Chicago Roller Skate plant switched to manufacturing propeller bolts for the military, skate-making resumed in 1918, and a year later, a new $75,000, 40,000 sq. ft. plant was built at 4408 West Lake Street in West Garfield Park. While this factory would be modernized and expanded in 1939, the location would essentially remain the company’s headquarters for the remainder of its days in Chicago.
[Inside the Chicago Roller Skate plant on Lake Street, 1920s]
Kids were still the company’s primary target demographic in the 1930s, but there was a widening world out there. Plenty of adults were skating by now, and many were treating it as a serious sport. The first big “Roller Derby” events were organized around this time and started drawing sellout crowds to major venues like the Chicago Coliseum. For a city that had long been obsessed with ice skating in the cold winter months, roller skating offered a way to carry the same type of liberating recreation into the summer—especially as the Chicago Roller Skate Co. started producing steel wheels with rubberized tires for safer outdoor skating.
Across the country, roller skating clubs were formed and countless rinks were opened to accommodate the growing sensation. The Ware Brothers came to lean on feedback from these venues in their own promotional materials, often publishing mailers like the 1936 advertisement for Chicago Flying Scout Roller Skates below…
[1936 advertisement for Chicago Flying Scout Roller Skates]
The momentum of the ’30s was brought to a full stop in the ’40s by World War II. After the war, there were still some restrictions on materials for a while, but Chicago Roller Skate was mostly back to full power within a few years, albeit without one of the founding brothers, Ralph Ware, who died in 1945.
According to a 1952 feature story by venerable reporter Kermit Holt of the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Roller Skate Co. had 200 employees churning out 3,250 pairs of skates per day—broken down into 1,500 pairs of outdoor/sidewalk skates, 1,000 rink skates, and 750 “shoe skate outfits.” With four wheels on each skate, that comes out to 26,000 wheels every day, in various diameters—some still made from the classic maple, others from steel, rubber, wood composition, fiber, plastic, or aluminum.
As the Chicago Roller Skate Company approached its 50th anniversary, under the second generation of managers Robert Ware Jr., Gordon K. Ware (son of Walter) and sales head Joe Shevelson, they had become the largest manufacturer of roller skates in the country and leading ambassadors of the skating pastime that an estimated 20 million Americans participated in. Through their own careful marketing, they’d helped construct a vision of roller skating as a healthy, wholesome, family activity enjoyed equally by teens and their parents. It was nearly a flawless execution of manufacturing + distribution + promotion.
The Chicago Roller Skate Company continues to push progression throughout the 60’s as it becomes the first skateboard parts supplier in America, selling axle-holding trucks and wheels from its roller skates to a Hollywood surf shop called Val Surf in 1962. And in 1966, Gordon Ware personally designed and patented one of the first hockey-style / in-line roller skates. Unfortunately, the concept was deemed too far ahead of its time and was swiftly discontinued.
[Left: A Walter Ware skate design patent from 1919. Right: His son Gordon Ware’s innovative in-line roller skate design, patented in 1966; about 30 years before the Rollerblade’s heyday]
As disco revives the roller-skating rinks in the 1970’s, Chicago Roller Skate Company introduces high performance urethane wheels specifically designed for enhanced dance and rhythmic rink skating. The company sees its most profitable years to date, selling a record number of its traditional skates: two-in-the-front, two-in-the-back!
In the early 1980’s, after receiving licensing rights from the Wares, Scott Olson’s product, the Rollerblade, would see great success and take outdoor skating to a new extreme spawning the birth of mainstream Inline Skating.
National Sporting Goods acquires Chicago Roller Skate Company in the early 1990’s. Under new leadership, they reengineer and rerelease the Chicago Skates Classic Rink CRS400 Series Skates and the Chicago Skates Deluxe Rink CRS800 Series with enhanced performance in the same traditional sleek look and style. At the turn of the century, Chicago Skates introduces a full line in youth and adult inline skates to expand their skate offerings.
In 2010, to help young children learn to inline skate, Chicago Skates develops a 2 in 1 Adjustable Inline Training Skate Combo Set where the young child can start skating with two training wheels, like a traditional quad skate, in the back and two inline wheels in the front. As the child grows and gains confidence and balance, the two back wheels move inline to become a standard 4 wheel inline skate.
As the company continues to grow, Chicago Skates continues to serve the skating community. Most recently partnering with Reggie “Premier” Brown to create “The Lifestyle” Skate to be released in Fall of 2022!