The four-wheeled turning roller skate, or quad skate, with four wheels set in two side-by-side pairs, was first designed in 1863 in New York City by James Leonard Plimpton in an attempt to improve previous designs. The skate contained a pivoting action using a rubber cushion, and this allowed the skater to skate a curve just by leaning to one side. It was a huge success, so much so that the first public skating rink was opened in 1866 in Newport, Rhode Island with the support of Plimpton. The design of the quad skate allowed easier turns and maneuverability. The quad skate came to dominate the industry for more than a century.
Arguably, the most important advance in the realistic use of roller skates as a pleasurable pastime took place in Birmingham, England in 1876 when William Bown patented a design for the wheels of roller skates. Bown's design embodied his effort to keep the two bearing surfaces of an axle, fixed and moving, apart. Bown worked closely with Joseph Henry Hughes, who drew up the patent for a ball or roller bearing race for bicycle and carriage wheels in 1877. Hughes' patent included all the elements of an adjustable system. These two men are responsible for modern day roller skate and skateboard wheels, as well as the ball bearing race inclusion in velocipedes later to become motorbikes and automobiles.
Another improvement came in 1876, when the toe stop was first patented. This provided skaters with the ability to stop promptly upon tipping the skate onto the toe. Toe stops are still used today on most quad skates and on some types of inline skates.
Roller skates were being mass produced in America as early as the 1880s, the first of the sport's several boom periods. Micajah C. Henley of Richmond, Indiana produced thousands of skates every week during peak sales. Henley skates were the first skate with adjustable tension via a screw, the ancestor of the kingbolt mechanism on modern quad skates.
In 1884 Levant M. Richardson received a patent for the use of steel ball bearings in skate wheels so as to reduce friction. This also allowed skaters to increase speed with minimum effort. In 1898, Richardson started the Richardson Ball Bearing and Skate Company, which provided skates to most professional skate racers of the time, including Harley Davidson (no relation to the Harley-Davidson motorcycle brand). (Turner and Zaidman, 1997).
An advert for an early 20th century model which fit over regular shoes.
The design of the quad skate has remained essentially unchanged since then, and in fact remained as the dominant roller skate design until nearly the end of the 20th century.
The folk singer Melanie (Melanie Safka) wrote a song about quad skates called Brand New Key.