We always talk about driving on ice, but only one vehicle is explicitly designed to enhance icy conditions. The Zamboni is known practically worldwide, but how much do people know about the machine itself? We have everything you could ever want to know about the 70-year leader of ice resurfacers.
Where did the Zamboni name come from?
Frank Zamboni was the inventor of the very first ice resurfacing machine in 1949. Initially, Zamboni wanted to name his company Paramount Engineering Company, but the name was already used, so he went with his family name.
How was the Zamboni created?
Frank, born to Italian immigrants in 1901, developed his mechanical skills by working on his family’s Idaho farm. In 1920, he and his younger brother, Lawrence, joined their older brother, George, in Southern California to work in his auto repair business. After only a short time working on cars, Lawrence and Frank opened their own electrical service business. They catered to the local dairy industry by installing many refrigerator units to cool their milk. As the cooling demand expanded to the produce industry, the brothers built a plant that made the block ice used to transport products across the country. Unfortunately, after the development of refrigerators, block ice wasn’t needed as much. Using their expertise for ice, they capitalized on the growing popularity of ice skating. Frank and a cousin built one of Southern California’s first ice skating rinks, Iceland Skating Rink in Paramount, in 1940. After installing a domed roof, their next challenge was maintaining the ice quality. Initially, the process took more than an hour. A tractor would pull a scraper along the ice, then about three or four workers would scoop the shaving away, spray the surface with water, squeegee the dirty water, and finally apply more water so that it would freeze. There was room for improvement. After many failed experiments, Frank came up with his first Zamboni prototype in 1949 and successfully patented his design in 1953.
How does a Zamboni work?
The Zamboni essentially does the scraping, scooping, spraying, and squeegeeing in one go across the ice. First, the machine’s sharp blade shaves a thin layer of ice from the surface. Next, a rotating horizontal auger collects those shavings and pushes them through to a large bin called the snow collection tank. Water is then released from the back of the machine to clean the ice before a squeegee collects it to be vacuumed, filtered, and finally returned to the wash-water tank. Finally, clean water is sprayed from the back of the machine and smoothed over with a towel, revealing great quality ice.
When did the Zamboni become popular?
The Zamboni had a breakthrough in Olympic skating star Sonja Henie’s traveling ice show practiced at Paramount Iceland in 1950. She saw the 1949 model in action and was so impressed that she asked Frank to build one for her upcoming Chicago performance. Frank knew the deadline would be tough to meet, but he got it done. He towed a dismantled resurfacer in a U-Haul trailer to Chicago and reassembled it for the world to see. From there, he sold the original and three additional models. As more orders came in, Frank founded the Frank J. Zamboni & Co. The Boston Bruins became the first NHL team to use a Zamboni in 1954. Six Zambonis cleared the ice for various games in the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California.
How did the public react to the machine?
Arthur Wirtz, the owner of Chicago Stadium and presenter for Sonja Henie’s skating tour, was concerned about the machine. “People will stay in the stands and watch it and not go down to the concession stands,” he said. It seems that he was right. Charlie Brown from The Peanuts said that a Zamboni clearing the ice is one of the three things in life that people like to stare at, the first two being a crackling fire and a flowing stream. It is safe to say that the public loved Zambonis, which is clear why they became so popular.
If you want to know more about the history of ice resurfacers and how they have evolved through the years, visit the Zamboni website!