roller derby history

Roller Derby History | the 1970s – 1990s Revivals

Your presence here clearly indicates that you are a roller derby fan, and now you are curious about roller derby history. Well, I have a piece of good news for you because you are in the right spot. 

This article will take an in-depth look at roller derby history and cover its aspects. 

Origins ( Roller Derby History )

There are primarily seven elements in origin. Let us take an in-depth look at them one by one. 

Endurance Races 

In 1884, Endurance Races was formed in the USA.  In Geneseo, Victor W. Clough stated 100 miles in just 10 hours in the first endurance races.  

In 1884, Endurance Races organized the six-day long * Go-as-you-please * tournament with 34 skaters in New York, and the winning amount was over 500$. 

Early twentieth-century roller skate racing was still alive, particularly endurance events. A rival organization to the International Skating Union, the International Skating Union of America, was established in 1907.

The term “derby,” which translates as “race” or “multi-race event,” first appeared in print in 1922.

Seltzer’s Walkathons

1929 was the year when Leo Seltzer organized the first dancing marathon. Seltzer started his first dance marathons, which he termed “walkathons” since entrants frequently ended up just walking and shuffling about for the length of the events.

Transcontinental Roller Derby

In 1935 due to walkathons, the trend had shifted, and roller skating rose again. 


According to Leo Seltzer, 93% of American has done roller skating once in their lives. 

In 1935 Leo Selterz organized another event, Transcontinental Roller Derby, in which twenty-five teams ( Male & Female ) has participated. This event is one month long, and all the teams have to skate for straight 3000-miles from LA to New York in just 11:30 hours. 

Disaster in roller derby history

On March 24, 1937, a tire burst on a leased bus carrying multiple members of a traveling company, killing all but one of the passengers.

As the bus was traveling for another show, it was involved in a collision near Salem, Illinois. One or two of the 23 passengers managed to flee the engulfing inferno.

This heinous event almost bankrupted Seltzer.

Roller Derby History during World War 2

It was broadcast on radio till 1939. Transcontinental roller derby was at its peak at that time. During 1940 it has organized matches in 50 different cities with more than 5 Million audiences watching them. 

During World War 2, many people related to derby served in the national services, audiences declined because there was only one team left. Seltzer successfully started expanding the sport after the war ended in 1945.


New York television broadcasts of roller derby debuted on November 29, 1948, at 8:30 p.m. EST. The teams from New York and Brooklyn competed in the first televised matches of the season. In June 1949, Seltzer was engaged for a five-day engagement at Madison Square Garden, where he performed in front of a whole crowd of 55,000 spectators.

In 1949-1950, Leo Seltzer opened a franchise league consisting of 6 teams and formed NRDL.

NRDL  plays off in MSD for a week. 

When the channel agreement ended in 1949, ABC acquired broadcasting rights. The deal with the new channel remained in force due to conflict in scheduling.

Legitimacy of Roller Derby History 

While the players wanted to skate “phony,” Seltzer was concerned that the audience would rapidly tire of the spectacle of massive crashes.

He initiated a campaign to form junior RDL for children. Seltzer wished to see more teams participating across the globe. Leo successfully convinced skaters to a “no railing” regulation.

Seltzer enforced the rule to her chagrin to penalize star skater Midge “Toughie” Brasuhn for intentionally hitting another skater.

According to Seltzer, it was even possible for Roller Derby teachers to bet on the outcome of fights by the early 1950s, which was still a further indication of the sport’s legitimacy.

Jam on – Jam off

Jam on – Jam off is one of the most crucial moments in Leo Seltzer’s life. The real roller derby history begins from 1950 to 1970. Many things have happened during this time, and that is we have divided these 30 years into three separate parts for the sake of your better understanding of roller derby history. 

Jam on – Jam off during the 1950s

After canceling his agreement with the previous channel in the late 1950s, Leo asked for a sponsorship arrangement with GM to support the transmission of derby on their new track next year, televised on NBC.

It was said that the deal failed because General Motors, outraged by an NCAA rule that banned them so, now they don’t want to do it. 

Independent channels start broadcasting roller derby. However, since national television stations have discontinued airing, the number of people who watch the games has dropped significantly. Madison Square Garden has lost interest in hosting a match due to declining attendance.

Due to the Korean War, Seltzer has relocated from New York to Los Angeles. Then Leo Seltzer announced the formation of a squad to compete in the Rose Bowl game. The owner gave the team the moniker LA Braves. The Los Angeles Braves have become the first international team to go on a tour of European countries.

When Leo’s son Jerry grew disillusioned with the sport’s off-air troubles, he handed the baton down to him.

Jam on – Jam off during the 1960s

During 1960, KTVU started recording games for transmission on videotape, which was both artistically and technologically superior to the prior technique of recording and broadcasting.

Oregon television station to advertise a new dealership in the area and help revitalize roller derby in the region. The purpose was to raise some attention. 

When Jerry Seltzer many written requests from individuals demanding that Roller Derby come to Portland, he was surprised. He consented, and the Derby appeared in front of a crowd of 9,000 people, to his delight.

Originally founded in the early 1960s in LA by a former player who doesn’t want to go there in SF. Roller Games is an improved version of roller skating. 

The organization comprised multiple different leagues, including NRD, which was later changed to the NRL due to the Seltzer organization’s aggressive trademark protection of the term “Roller Derby.” The NRL is a professional league that competes in the United States.

The popularity of roller derby television reached its zenith in 1969, with around 15 million people tuning in each week.

Jam on – Jam off during the 1970s

In September, the L A Thunderbirds of Roller Games (N S D) and the Midwest Pioneers of Roller Derby (I R D L ) met in an interleague match at Comiskey Park in Chicago drew a total of 19,507 spectators, setting a new world record. On September 15, 1972, the Los Angeles Thunderbirds of Roller Games (National Skating Derby) and the Midwest Pioneers of Roller Derby (International Roller Derby League) met in an interleague match at Comiskey.

The event broke the previous attendance record for a roller derby event by a significant margin. With 50,118 people, Comiskey Park is an outdoor stadium in Chicago, Illinois.

It was the first time when Bombers transferred from the Bay Area to the Southwest. However, New customers would not be able to qualify the terms of the seltzer’s family. 

Jerry Seltzer chose to dissolve the Roller Derby league in 1973, citing high administrative costs and other factors as reasons for doing so.

Revivals from the 1970s – 1990s in Roller Derby History

Multiple attempts have been made from the 1970s to – 1990s to revive the roller derby.

International Roller Skating League ( IRSL )

Even though most of the vast majority of IRSL games were taking palace in America, A few games were also started in the west. In addition, numerous Roller Derby skaters took part in the IRSL, and several of the team names were similar to those used in the sport of Roller Derby.

When Dave Lipschultz, a former San Francisco television host, became one of the league’s owners in 1979, he changed the league’s structure. He also included the Northeast Braves and the Southern Jolters in his list of teams since ESPN continues to own the broadcast rights.

Roller Games 

Originally shown on television in 1989, Roller Games was started by two different people named David. S and Michael. M, to provide a theatrical depiction of roller derby to all American people. The show was canceled after one season.

An alligator pit, a figure-eight circuit with severely banked turns, and a mix of skaters from the Roller Games league and younger competitors were attractions.

Despite receiving a national rating of over 5 for its prime-time debut, it lasted just thirteen weeks and ranked highest from all previous seasons. 

Roller Jam 

From 1999 to 2001, Pageboy Entertainment teamed up with CBS. They organize another televised reincarnation of the event.

At that time, Jerry Seltzer was appointed as the “commissioner” of the Roller Jam.

Roller Jam Areena channel broadcast these games live.  A television channel specializing in the sport, thanks to cooperation with Universal Studio and the company. Each squad consisted of seven males and seven females who worked together.

The legalization of in-line skates, which the WSL mandated for younger players in an attempt to broaden the appeal of the society to younger players who were more familiar with the in-line game and who could skate with greater precision than they could with traditional quad skates, which allowed faster skaters to participate, was one of the major rule differences between previous leagues.

Because in-lines, in contrast to quads, in-lines had limited lateral mobility, so it was difficult for skaters to block their opponents effectively though most.

Modern Roller Derby

In the early 2000s, a group of women came together to create a partnership to construct the world’s first flat track dedicated just to roller derby. Texas Roller Girls are their new name. 

They started organizing derby events only for girls, and in just a few nights, their events became successful, featuring multiple teams at a time. 

Their events started featuring on newspapers and TVs in just a few months. The league completely operates on a non-profit purpose. This means that all the participants who have enrolled themselves in the league will do it for the league’s management and endorsement purpose. 

Modern Roller Derby has attracted all the participants from all around the globe, especially girls, due to their sterile environment. In addition to that, current roller derby girls teams come with a wild name that identifies and differentiates them from others. 

Do you want to know what the most popular roller derby names are? If yes, you don’t need to worry about it because we have a separate article. You can also check it out by just clicking here

Nowadays, roller derby has become so popular among youth that there are 150+ leagues worldwide. Furthermore, there are more than 2400 registered teams of roller derby. 

Roller Derby History ( Summary )

It was in 1884 that the history of roller derby started, and it was only a few years later, mainly thanks to the efforts of Steltzer, that it became competitively played in the nations listed below.

  1. USA
  2. UAE
  3. UK
  4. Canada
  5. Japan
  6. France

In 1939, a man skated 3000-miles in less than 11:30  hours on the first competitive tournament. The track goes directly from LA to New York. In 1940 due to a major crash, that incident took the roller derby, in fact, the whole roller skating at the verge of bankruptcy. 

Stelzer has made several contracts with the TV channels to display roller derby worldwide. But, unfortunately, none one the contract will run more than 2 years. 

As a result, Jim Stelzer, the son of the founder of Roller Derby, has made several efforts to bring the sport back to its former glory.. He has organized numerous leagues and formed new teams, which helped the derby breathe again and become popular among the youth. 

From 1999 to 2001, multiple channels have bought the exclusive rights to broadcast the live stream of roller derby, and that is why in a collaboration between numerous channels and the Stelzer family, roller derby is still alive.