Boomers Had Double Runner Ice Skates

If you were a boomer raised in northern climates, chances are good that at some point you learned how to ice skate. It was an era when ice skating was a popular outdoor winter activity. People skated wherever there was frozen water: rivers, lakes, ponds, and homemade backyard rinks. Mister B has recalled, in earlier posts, skating on ice that formed in natural depressions in the landscape of a nearby neighborhood park. Yet before boys could graduate to the black and brown hockey skates, and girls got their first pair of white figure skates, the kids had to learn how to skate.

Unlike roller skates, which provided some sense of balance with four wheels under each shoe, ice skates had a single blade. Young boomers would have to learn balance and build ankle strength to become proficient. The learning tool to assist that process turned out to be centuries old; skates that use multiple blades, much in the same manner that training wheels are attached to a child’s first bicycle.

Ice skating appears to have come about as a transportation necessity in Scandinavia more than 4,000 years ago. Earliest known skates that have been discovered were made of animal leg bones, with holes drilled in them so that leather straps could be secured over the foot. However, the resulting contraptions did not glide over ice the way we might expect and were more akin to cross-country skis, requiring poles to move distances. Over time, bone was replaced by metal, and, in the 14th century, the Dutch began sharpening the metal blades in order to cut into the ice, and thereby allow the skater to glide. The recognizable push and glide motion they adopted was termed the “Dutch Roll,” a term still in use today. While it may not be known when the first multiple-blade skates were created for tiny feet, these types of children’s learning skates have been around for centuries.

Mister Boomer recalls he and his siblings had the double-bladed skates when they were first introduced to ice skating. Mister B also remembers that his sister, the youngest in the family, had a pair of the four-blade metal skates. Much like roller skates, these contained small blades at the front and back of each skate, which were strapped over existing shoes or boots. This provided a certain level of stability on the slippery surface.

At some point near the end of the 1950s, Mister B remembers it seemed difficult to move very quickly while using the double-bladed skates. Each boot had a three-sided metal runner attached to the bottom. The flat edge of the metal runs were designed to assist in balance and stability, and not for speed. Also, slushy ice could build up inside the runner, which was necessary to remove before taking the skates off for the walk home, with skates laced together and slung over a shoulder. In Mister Boomer’s neighborhood, ice skates fell into the “must” category of Christmas gifts, along with socks, long johns and snow sleds; at some point, every boomer was going to be given a pair of skates. And so it was with Mister Boomer. One year, Santa replaced his double-bladed skates with the “grown-up” hockey-style skate. However, Mister Boomer had weak ankles and did not become an adequate ice skater until he began indoor roller skating in his pre-teens.

Gender-specific skates were an interesting side note to our ice skating history. The boomer years may have contributed to the more traditional slant of: boys = hockey skates, girls = figure skates. For the boys, future Hall of Fame hockey players like Bobby Orr, Stan Mikita and Gordie Howe became early idols to emulate. For the girls, an up-and-comer in the world of figure skating was fellow boomer, Peggy Fleming. She captivated young boomers, and their parents, with her grace and ease.

Peggy’s family supported her ice skating dream and moved the family, more than once, to assist in her training and development. Her mother designed and sewed all her skating outfits. Then, in 1961, a plane crash on its way to the World Championship in Brussels, killed 34 members of the U.S. skating team. Among those who died in the crash was Bill Kipp, Peggy’s skating coach. The U.S. team had to be rebuilt, and boomers and their parents watched as Peggy Fleming moved up the ranks and won her first U.S. championship in 1965, as broadcast on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Peggy was just 16 years old, and a relatable idol to boomers, especially boomer girls. A year later, she won the first of her three world titles. In 1968, she was on the U.S. Olympic team that competed in Grenoble, France. It was the first Olympics to be broadcast in color, and Peggy Fleming took home the gold medal, the only gold that the U.S. won that year.

It’s hard to say how much influence these stars on ice had on boomers’ interest in ice skating, but in Mister Boomer’s estimation, they likely hastened young boomers along in replacing their double-bladed skates as soon as possible.

How about you, boomers? Did you have four-bladed skates strapped to your boots, or did you own a pair of double-bladed skates?

Boomers Participated in the Winter Outerwear Revolution

Mister Boomer has chronicled the many changes that Baby Boomers have witnessed across their lifespan, and now here is another: winter outerwear. The winter coats and jackets boomers wore as children are, in many instances, still available today, but now redesigned with fabrics and insulators that we could not even dream of fifty years ago.

People have lived in all sorts of cold-weather climates for millennia, and as such, each created their own method of keeping warm. Most did so with a combination of animal skin and wool. A young United States, mainly inhabited by Europeans at that point, brought the outerwear of their home region to the new country. Regional differences were the norm, as Scandinavian and Irish sweaters became prevalent in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Upper Midwest, while English and German wool and shearling coats spread across much of the other cold regions of the country as well. Increased trade routes, bolstered by advances in transportation and delivery via steamboat, the Erie Canal and the cross-country railroads, coupled with power looms adopted during the Industrial Revolution, helped homogenize the types of fabrics and clothing available.

Once the Industrial Revolution was in full swing, people found that even though factory work was incredibly demanding and difficult, for the first time, freed from the rigors of managing a farm, they had leisure time. This was time they might want to spend outdoors. To meet this rising “leisure class,” outerwear garments for winter leisure appeared around the late 1890s, and were made of wool. The Woolrich Company was a pioneer in this effort. By the early 1900s, L.L. Bean was making boots for the outdoors. Eddie Bauer introduced the first commercial cold-weather parka in the 1930s.

A decade later, men and women fighting during World War II were issued outerwear primarily made of wool, which hadn’t changed much since the previous war to end all wars. At the start of the Baby Boom, coats and jackets for men, women and children were made more attractive based on the fashion of the day, but were still mainly wool, leather or suede. By the 1960s, faux fur for women was becoming an in thing as man-made fabrics entered the picture.

Mister Boomer can recall all of the outerwear he wore during his boomer years. In his family, winter outerwear was especially intended to last as many years as the garment would fit, which for Mister B, was three to five years early on in the 1950s, and replaced more like every seven to ten years in the 1960s and into the ’70s. Consequently, his timeline of outerwear closely echoed what was commonly available in those years. Mister Boomer recalls he had wool coats in the 1950s and early ’60s. Then both he and Brother Boomer got shorter suede jackets with man-made pile lining in the mid-1960s. That was replaced with a longer corduroy coat in his high school years. Mister B did not own a parka until the 1970s.

Looking back, one of the striking memories for Mister B is how cold it was, inside as well as out. In Mister Boomer’s neighborhood, people generally wore sweaters indoors all day, every day. Mister Boomer still has the knit sweater a friend gave him for his eighteenth birthday in his possession, as well as the fisherman’s knit turtleneck that was a Christmas present a couple of years before that. The story goes that the Irish band, The Clancy Bothers, were to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1961 during a particularly cold spell. The mother of the band members sent them Aran sweaters, which they wore on the stage. The sweaters became their signature look after that. It just happened at the same time that the most famous Irishman in the United States was the President: John Kennedy, who was also photographed wearing these types of knit sweaters from Ireland. The sweater, though available for years, gained a new level of popularity.

In recent times, Mister B finds them too warm to wear except on the coldest days. This makes sense when you remember that houses built as late as the 1930s had little to no insulation, and double-paned windows were yet to be invented. Today’s advances in insulation, window technology and heating systems has eliminated the necessity of daily indoor sweater wearing for most people. Modern outerwear fabrics and insulators have also reduced the need for the extra layer of warmth a sweater would provide. Nonetheless, sweaters remain one of the most popular Christmas gifts.

How about you, boomers? Did your outerwear reflect the era or the country of origin of your parents or grandparents?