Springtime at Illinois: The 1927 Roller Skating Craze

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Siren cover, April 1927

In March 1927, UI students took campus by storm–  on their roller skates!  The roller skating fad was “unbelievable,” Merle Boren ’34 remembered.  He and his family moved to Champaign that month to operate a student boarding house on the corner of Springfield and Sixth streets.  “Every weekend there were various places on the campus … the public street that would be lined off for races or exhibitions, always involving the students on their roller skates.  Hard to imagine!”1

Roller skates were not a new phenomenon — students in the early 20’s had given them a try.  And, the fad took hold nationally as dirt streets gave way to asphalt, making it easier for skating to happen anywhere.2   The spring of 1927 was special though– the craze swept campus, as men and women alike strapped wheels to their shoes.  The Daily Illini reported on March 12:

“The roller skating fad has increased in popularity until now it is quite common to see men and women skating from their homes to classes.  Roller skates were making a strong bid as the successors to the student car as students overcame their self-consciousness and took to the new locomotive machines.” 3

However, skates could be a nuisance:

“But alas, the roller skate has been placed in the class of the motor car that blocked campus traffic and endangered students’ lives.  Prof. James M. White, supervising architect, yesterday forbade roller skating on all campus walks until after 4 o’clock in the afternoon “to relieve congestion.”  This lowers the utility of the roller skate to a margin since it cannot be used in going from class to class during the day.” 4

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Daily Illini advertisement, March 19, 1927

Businesses took advantage of the new pass time, although it wasn’t profitable for all:  “Shoe repair men are shaking their heads sadly.  This roller skating fad surely saves the leather… and hardware men are declaring a dividend.”5

“I don’t even remember whether it was continued into the spring of ’28 or not,” Boren mused.   “But, it certainly was something in the spring of 1927.”6

 

 

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Daily Illini advertisement, March 19, 1927

 

 

 

 

 

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Carroll Evans ’27 Senior photo, Illio, 1928

Carroll Evans ’27 “posted” photos in his scrapbook of the skaters on the street.

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Roller skaters in motion, 1927 Evans Scrapbook, RS 41/20/106

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From Daily Illini Front Page, March 20, 1927: “Above is a scene from the skaters’ parade along Daniel street, which has now become a daily affair. Scores of students went through their tricks yesterday along the thoroughfare between Sixth and Second streets, and the picture shows the crowd at the corner of Daniel and Sixth streets.”

[1] Merle Boren Oral History, May 21, 2001, Alumni Oral History Project, RS 35/3/49.
[2] Knight, Gladys L.  Pop Culture Places: An Encyclopedia of Places in American Popular Culture. (Greenwood, 2014), p.754.
[3] Daily Illini, March 12, 1927
[4] Ibid.
[5] Daily Illini, March 16, 1927
[6] Merle Boren Oral History, May 21, 2001, Alumni Oral History Project, RS 35/3/49.

 

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