The speed skater circa 1905 stood out as an other-worldly figure, his gear and garb outlandish to those around him. Here is Hugh Palliser, a gifted amateur skater, manifesting the transformation that a trending obsession with speed brought on. His clothing, his hat, his skates, his stance: all set him off from skaters out only for recreation.
His simple tunic, tight woolen leggings, and practical beanie register how science was changing the centuries-old sport of skating. Hugely popular as a late-nineteenth-century pastime, skating was developing a more serious side, as passionate competitors like Palliser pondered how to apply the new principles of efficiency to the business of getting across the ice.
The speed skater shunned the bulky street clothes his contemporaries were wearing. For the sake of speed, he donned a minimalist outfit one step away from wearing nothing. Equipment manufacturers like Spalding were producing new kinds of skates, with blades engineered with speed in mind. American skaters had begun looking beyond their nation’s boundaries, racing against Europeans and Canadians, and forming a cosmopolitan fraternity that fostered a flow of innovation.
Palliser skated for the Euclid School in Brooklyn, NY, then one of the nation’s top speed-skating teams. His teammates included national champion Morris Wood, Allen Taylor, and ‘Gus’ Stolz. All four appeared as poster-boys for their sport in Spalding Athletic Library’s 1904 How To Become a Skater, which introduced a new generation to the gospel of speed.