Figure Skating History

1860s - 1944

While people have been ice skating for centuries, figure skating in its current form originated in the mid-19th century. A Treatise on Skating(1772) by Englishman Robert Jones, is the first known account of figure skating. Competitions were then held in the "English style" of skating, which was stiff and formal and bears little resemblance to modern figure skating. American skater Jackson Haines, considered the "father of modern figure skating", introduced a new style of skating in the mid-1860s. This style, which incorporated free and expressive techniques, became known as the "international style." Although popular in Europe, Haines' style of skating was not widely adopted in the United States until long after his death.

The International Skating Union was founded in 1892. The first European Championships were held in 1891, and the first World Championships were held in 1896 and won by Gilbert Fuchs. Only men competed in these events. In 1902, a woman, Madge Syers, entered the World competition for the first time, finishing second. The ISU quickly banned women from competing against men, but established a separate competition for "ladies" in 1906. Pair skating was introduced at the 1908 World Championships, where the title was won by Anna Hübler / Heinrich Burger. Figure skating's Olympic debut came at the 1908 Summer Olympics—it was the first winter sport introduced to the Olympics.

On March 20, 1914 an international figure skating championship was held in New Haven, Connecticut. This was the ancestor of both the United States and Canadian National Championships. However, international competitions in figure skating were interrupted by World War I.

In the 1920s and 1930s, figure skating was dominated by Sonja Henie, who turned competitive success into a lucrative professional career as a movie star and touring skater. Henie also set the fashion for female skaters to wear short skirts and white boots. The top male skaters of this period included Gillis Grafström and Karl Schäfer.

1945 - 1978

Skating competitions were again interrupted for several years by World War II. After the war, with many European rinks in ruins, skaters from the United States and Canada began to dominate international competitions and to introduce technical innovations to the sport. Dick Button, 1948 and 1952 Olympic Champion, was the first skater to perform the double axel and triple loop jumps, as well as the flying camel spin.

The first World Championships in ice dancing were not held until 1952.  In its first years, ice dance was dominated by British skaters. Beginning with Jean Westwood / Lawrence Demmy, British couples won the world title every year through 1960.

 

1980 - Present