We are reader-supported. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.ย Learn more.

Roller Derby History, an exhilarating journey through time, showcases the evolution and growth of this thrilling sport.

In this deep-dive of Roller Derby History.

Discover its origins, milestones, and what makes it a beloved pastime today!

Let’s roll!

Roller Derby History Summary

  • โณ Origins and Evolution: Roller Derby emerged in the United States during the 1930s, initially as a skating marathon. Its founder, Leo Seltzer, along with sports writer Damon Runyon, crafted rules that gradually molded the sport into its contemporary form.
  • ๐Ÿš€ Rise to Prominence: Roller Derby’s post-World War II popularity surge led to widespread televised events during the 1950s and 1960s. Groundbreaking teams and fierce competitors propelled the sport further into the spotlight, capturing the hearts of fans nationwide.
  • ๐Ÿฅ‡ Noteworthy Growth and Adaptation: Recent decades have seen Roller Derby expand globally, with a resurgence of popularity driven by grassroots organizations and the establishment of governing bodies. Integrated technological advancements and an emphasis on inclusiveness and gender equality contribute to its continued appeal and growth.

Roller Derby History Timeline


Leo Seltzer, a Chicago-based entertainment promoter, introduced the world to Roller Derby in 1935 when he organized the first Transcontinental Roller Derby. Originally designed as a roller skating endurance race, the event took place at the Coliseum in Chicago. It featured 25 couples competing in a simulated race around the country on a banked wooden track. The contest rewarded endurance, teamwork, and speed.

To enhance the competitive aspect and heighten the drama, Seltzer and sports reporter Damon Runyon introduced physical contact and team collaboration elements. Thus, the initial blueprint for the thrilling sport we know today was laid out.


In the 1940s, Roller Derby found its footing as a fast-paced and thrilling spectator sport. During World War II, the sport’s popularity continued to grow, achieving a remarkable following of millions. This decade marked the advent of the Roller Derby craze, captivating audiences with its combination of high-speed racing, full-contact elements, and impassioned players competing against each other.

By this time, even as the war continued, the sport garnered a dedicated fan base and significant media coverage, further propelling it into mainstream culture. The sport’s overall excitement, coupled with the fierce competition and team rivalries, solidified its appeal to the masses.

1950s – 1960s

Roller Derby blossomed in the 1950s and 1960s, coinciding with the advent of televised events. In 1949, Roller Derby aired on local television stations in New York for the first time, attracting millions of viewers who were captivated by the sport’s dynamic display of athleticism and competition. As a result, the sport’s fan base continued to expand nationwide.

This era also witnessed significant changes on the track, with star players like Midge “Toughie” Brasuhn and announcers like Bill Griffiths Sr. captivating the public’s interest. Innovations in protective gear and emphasis on roller skate technology paved the way for stronger, more agile athletes to elevate the level of competition in the sport.


Despite an economic recession and the oil crisis, Roller Derby continued to evolve and expand during the 1970s, driven by a new generation of players who embraced the sport’s athleticism and competitive spirit. Skaters like Ann Calvello, Charlie O’Connell, and Jan Vallow kept audiences entertained with their extraordinary skills and powerful personas, further solidifying the sport’s prominence.

However, this decade also marked the beginning of a period of decline in Roller Derby popularity, leading to the original Roller Derby league’s disbandment in 1973. The sport, in its traditional form, would undergo a hiatus as skaters and enthusiasts searched for a new beginning.


In 2001, a significant resurgence of Roller Derby emerged in Austin, Texas. The emergence of the Texas Rollergirls signaled the beginning of a DIY, grassroots movement. This new wave prioritized inclusiveness, gender equality, and a stronger sense of community, giving rise to the modern-day Roller Derby movement.

Embracing the moniker of “Flat Track Roller Derby,” the burgeoning community started to rebuild around the traditional sport’s core values and injected it with fresh energy and spirit. This rebirth was instrumental in Roller Derby’s enduring global popularity and appeal.

2004 – 2010

Between 2004 and 2010, Roller Derby experienced a phenomenal global expansion. In 2004, the first-ever governing body for the sport, Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), was established, followed by the Men’s Roller Derby Association (MRDA) in 2007. These organizations, coupled with increased representation in media and popular culture, boosted the sport’s worldwide recognition.

During this period, numerous international leagues began to form, their growth fueled in part by cultural exchanges between US-based teams and fans from around the world. These newly established leagues contributed to wider global participation, strengthening Roller Derby’s position as an internationally recognized sport.

2010s – Present

Throughout the 2010s and into the present, Roller Derby continues to evolve and embrace modern technology, such as instant replay and live-streaming. Digital platforms, like WFTDA.tv, provide increased accessibility to fans and participants alike, ensuring the sport’s continued prosperity and expansion.

Roller Derby’s accessibility, community-driven approach, and emphasis on personal empowerment and inclusiveness have positioned it as a beloved sport for both spectators and participants worldwide. Its colorful, decorated history speaks to the enduring passion, dedication, and tenacity of the Roller Derby community, a group committed to keeping the sport’s spirit alive and thriving.


Who invented Roller Derby?

Leo Seltzer invented Roller Derby. Seltzer conceptualized this sport as a Chicago centennial event, blending speed, endurance, and physical strength.

How did Roller Derby become so popular?

Roller Derby gained popularity via broadcasted games on television, charismatic athletes, and its perception as a tough, fast-paced, and entertaining sport.

Where did Roller Derby originate?

Roller Derby originated in the United States, specifically Chicago, evolving from skating endurance races in the mid-1930s.

Max is a sports enthusiast who loves all kinds of ball and water sports. He founded & runs stand-up-paddling.org (#1 German Paddleboarding Blog), played competitive Badminton and Mini Golf (competed on national level in Germany), started learning โ€˜realโ€™ Golf and dabbled in dozens of other sports & activities.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments