John Miner: Skating Marvel

1899 patent drawing for J. Miner Skate Runners

1899 patent drawing for J. Miner Skate Runners

With the 2014 Winter Olympics having come to a close, the entire world stands amazed at the athleticism and ingenuity of modern sports. One of the most popular of winter sports—speed skating—has a direct tie to a rather unsuspecting Detroiter with an amusing and intriguing history.
John Miner was born in Montreal, Canada, in 1831; his family moved to Detroit soon after in 1834. Young John became a carpenter’s apprentice and by the age of fourteen he went to work on Great Lakes cargo ships. At age 20 he combined these two skills and began building his own boats—his first being the sloop Sweeper. Miner would continue to design, build, own, and command more than a dozen vessels throughout his life, including a bark that would bear his name.
Miner’s reputation as a true gentleman has been well noted throughout the historic record. A man of fair business dealings in every sense, he was known for his infrequent use of alcohol, tobacco, and other social vices. In the more than 50 years of sailing on the Great Lakes, Miner had never lost a crew member due to an accident.

John Miner’s stilt-skates in the collection of the Detroit Historical Society

John Miner’s stilt-skates in the collection of the Detroit Historical Society

While building and sailing ships was a lucrative occupation for Miner, his true passion in life rested in the winter recreational sport of ice skating. Miner was known to spend as much time as possible on the ice as soon as the winter cold froze area ponds and lakes. He was apparently quite a marvel at speed, acrobatics, and agility. Miner submitted a patent in 1897 for an innovative skate runner designed to greatly increase speed. Having won numerous prizes and medals, his biggest self-accomplishment was a solo performance before England’s Queen Victoria. One of Miner’s more fanciful and entertaining feats was the use of his “stilt-skates” which elevated him an astonishing two feet off the ice while performing unbelievable maneuvers.
John Miner’s entrepreneurial spirit, hard work ethic, gentlemanly persona, and innovative mindset make him one of the lesser known, yet highly regarded, Detroiters represented in the collections of the Detroit Historical Society.

John Miner performing on his famous stilt-skates

John Miner performing on his famous stilt-skates

Coat worn by John Miner during skating performances

Coat worn by John Miner during skating performances

13 thoughts on “John Miner: Skating Marvel

  1. That’s my great great grandpa. I have the very same photo of him on skates sitting on my living room bookshelf.

  2. Hello! John Miner was my great grandfather. The image of him on the stilt skates resides in my home as well. I have a pair of his skates on my mantle. Very proud!

      • I actually mis-spoke. He was my great great grandfather. I am John Lawrence Miners son. His father was John Joseph and his father was Frank who’s father was John who this article is about.

      • You are related to my husband Gary Miner. His father was Melvin and his grandfather was John Stanley in Michigan

  3. Hi Michael. I guess there are a lot more of us Miner descendants than I knew. I’m descended from Capt. John through Frank J. Miner. His daughter Julia Miner (married name Brown) was my grandmother.

  4. Just finding out about this very colorful person, John Miner because of finding recent information about my great grandfather Moses Miner being his brother. It would seem that my Grandfather John Miner and Dad John William Miner were probably named after him. Do any of you have anymore information about his bother Moses who we only know from this article:
    Are his elevated skates in the Detroit Historical Museum?
    Barbara Clinansmith

    • I don’t have a record for Moses. Could his birth name have been Ismael?
      Yes, the stilt skates and other items are in the Detroit Historical museum. They are periodically on display. Last time was about 14 Years ago that I’m aware of.

      • Thank you for the reply we will have to check Ismael. Where did you come up with that name as a possibility? This is just such a mystery since no one in our family had ever mentioned anyone before my grandfather John Miner.

  5. hi barbara, my name is Janet Joan Richardson(married surname is DelVecchio). My mother’s name is jacqueline joyce Miner and John L. Baptiste’ Menard’ or changed to Miner (English translation verses the French Canadian) is my great great grandfather. Michael Miner (above) is my first cousin..his father Larry Miner and my mom Jackie Miner-Richardson are brother and sister. I have been actively researching our family history for nearly forty years now. Most likely the data on Ismael Miner quoted above by my cousin Michael came from copies of our geneology that I gave him when his father died or he may have got the information from his sister, Patti Miner-Swetka who also is involved on
    Ancestry. com…she has a tree on that site and so does my twin sister Julie Jean Richardson-Castro. If you would like access to either one of these family trees (which would include all the vital stats and data on the Miner/Menard’ line you may contact patti on facebook and my sister Julie at; 4355748416 or write to ; JULIE CASTRO 116 SOUTH PIONEER CIRCLE BROOKSIDE, UTAH 84782. YOU ALSO MAY CALL ME AT 5867774521 OR CONTACT ME ON FACEBOOK UNDER JANET DELVECCHIO..OR WRITE TO ME AT 24565 RIDGECROFT AVENUE EASTPOINTE MICHIGAN 48021
    JANET 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s