John Joseph Merlin: Father of Inline Skating

Merlin was an Imaginative Inventor

circa 1770: Flemish mechanic and inventor Jean Joseph Merlin (1735-1803) from Huy in modern Belgium. In addition to this single horse-drawn carriage, he is credited with the invention of roller skating in 1760, by adapting ice-skates for land use. Original Artwork: Drawn and engraved by G P H.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The first documented inventor of an inline skate, John Joseph Merlin was born on September 17, 1735, in the city of Huys, Belgium. As a young man, he worked in Paris where he made museum-quality clocks, watches, musical instruments and other delicate mathematical instruments.

Inlines Were Not His Only Invention

Merlin was a musician, a mechanical genius and an inventor who opened “Merlin’s Mechanical Museum” when he moved to London in 1760 at age 25. His museum, located in Hanover Square, was entertaining and became a popular place to visit as well as a showroom for his mechanical and musical inventions. Guests could play with a gambling machine, see perpetual motion clocks and mobile bird cages, listen to music boxes and even try the wheeled chair for a few shillings.

In that same year, he created the first roller known skates, which consisted of a small row of metal inline wheels. It is believed that Merlin wore his skates as part of the publicity stunts he often used to promote his inventions and the museum. Stopping and maneuvering were a problem that Merlin couldn’t resolve with skating skill or inventions, so he exhibited and demonstrated his roller skates but did not patent them. For the next century, other skate designs would continue to follow this inline wheel alignment.

Some of Merlin’s Other Inventions

  • Manoeuvrable sedan-type wheelchair for people with gout
  • Dutch oven
  • Perpetual motion machine that ran on atmospheric pressure changes
  • Weighing machines
  • Harpsichord with pianoforte action
  • Barrel organ
  • Compound harpsichord
    Historical information courtesy of
    The National Museum of Roller Skating
    4730 South Street
    Lincoln, Nebraska 68506