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  • Caroline Martin

Ice Skates Circa 1900


Within the archives of the Corning-Painted Post Historical Society is a great number of shoes. One pair, quite unlike any other, are adjustable metal ice skates with leather straps.


Ice skating has been around for thousands of years, possibly originating in Finland 4000 years ago. At that time, the blades were made of wood and the skates were used as a form of travel to easily pass the large frozen lakes in that region.


Ice skates with metal blades were invented by the Dutch in the 13th century and spent the next few hundred years gaining popularity all around Europe. The first official ice skating club was founded in Scotland in the 1700's and soon another was created in London as a competitor. As the two clubs gained in popularity, ice skates soon made their way to the American colonies.


It became very popular in cities, most notably New York City, but took longer to catch on in other places. The Corning-Painted Post region was exceedingly rural until the late 1800's, when it industrialized rapidly. Because of this most adults worked long hours from sun up to sun down either on a farm or in a factory with no time for leisure activities.



Most of the time children would have been the only ones who could go ice skating. This is

why adjustable ice skates (pictured above) were more popular than other forms in this region. These skates were not worn like skates today; they would have been strapped under a boot, not worn as a shoe itself. A family could buy one pair of ice skates that all of the children could share and the skate could be adjusted to fit around the various shoe sizes.


Of course there are inherent safety risks with these activities, both because of the construction of the skates and places the children would have been skating. With no ice skating rinks available, the children would have been skating on lakes and rivers. If they were not careful they could fall through the ice and get trapped underneath. The skates themselves could easily become loose or slide apart in the middle due to their adjustable nature, which could lead to broken feet or ankles.



None of these facts dissuaded children from using them however, and as they continued to

grow in popularity, young men and women began taking up the sport as well. It was very popular among young couples as it was considered an activity that unmarried men and

women could do together unchaperoned. As some women grew more adept at skating, safer forms of figure skates (pictured right) were developed to help young skaters who wanted to do more difficult stunts. Ice skates have continued to advance, but after this point the outwards design remains mostly unchanged.


If you would like to learn more, materials in the archive at the Corning-Painted Post Historical Society can be made available by appointment. If you wish to see or donate to our archival collections please call 607-937-5281.

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