The term roller derby was fist coined in 1922 in a Chicago Tribune article reporting on the rise of multi-day roller skating races. Over a decade later a man named Leo Seltzer arrived on the scene and began organizing roller derby events, “cross-country” roller skating races on a banked track. After the success of his first event in Chicago he took his show on the road.
Occasionally during the races, skaters would collide while one attempted to lap another. Sportswriter Damon Runyon realized these collisions excited the crowds and encouraged Seltzer to maximize physical contact between the skaters, including whips, elbowing, and body checks. Although he originally balked at the idea, Seltzer agreed to try it out and soon discovered the fans loved it. Armed with this new concept the spectacle evolved into a sport involving teams of five, whose members would score points for each opposing team member they passed.
Roller Derby continued to thrive for the next four decades, making its first television debut on November 29, 1948. Teams from six major cities would compete in front of sold out crowds. By 1973 high overhead costs and gas shortages due to the oil crisis led to the demise of roller derby. There were occasional attempts to revive the sport through the 90′s but none were able to maintain a foothold.
In 2001 roller derby experienced yet another revival and this time it stuck. Largely all-female, flat-track, DIY leagues have sprung up across the nation and internationally. Gone are the staged bouts with fixed outcomes, today’s derby combines tough hits and showmanship with pure athleticism.