CHICAGO (CBS) — Toward the end of the 1940s, the number one sport in America was roller skating and Chicago was at the epicenter of its popularity.

At the Elmhurst History Museum, a new exhibit features the classic American roller rink.

“I started as a senior in high school and fell in love right away,” said roller skater Jerry Koppel.

He says it felt like she was in a different world where she could forget all her problems.

“When you skated around the Elm, you thought you were in Disney World,” he recalled.

Tom Russo wrote a book on skating called “Chicago Rink Rats.” He says the 40s was the golden era.

“It was letters from the girls, cigarettes, and roller skates. They skated on aircraft carriers,” Russo said servicemen wanted while fighting overseas.

At the peak, some 5,000 roller rinks thrived in America. Now that number is down to 1,000.

“Roller skating was as pervasive back then as cell phones and social media are today,” said Russo.

Museum Curator, Dan Bartlett, pointed out a giant map that highlighted many of the beloved roller rinks.

He says he helped gather all the old skates, including some from the 1800’s.

The costumes from the 1940s are represented, along with the 60’s and 80’s. The memorabilia mostly came from west suburban residents, said Bartlett.

“Once word hit, the street people wanted to be part of the story,” stated Bartlett.

The “Chicago Rinks Rats: The Golden Age of Roller Skating” exhibit opens Friday at the Elmhurst History Museum.