The Legend of Zamboni: Frank’s AdventureMarch 1, 2017
Once upon a time, there was a dude named Frank. Born in the town of Eureka, Utah in 1901, Frank was destined to be a brilliant inventor. He lived a good chunk of his life in southern California and at the age of 26, Frank opened an ice-making business with his younger brother Lawrence. A few years went by and the Zambonis decided that with the newly available refrigeration technology, there wasn’t much business to be had in their line of work. Even though they left the business in 1939, it seemed to have a profound effect on the brothers, as it seemed they would be dealing with ice for the rest of their lives. In 1940, the Zambonis decided to open up an ice-skating rink in present-day Paramount, California, called the Iceland rink (still family owned by the Zambonis to this day). This became an extremely successful venture, as Frank began to think of ways to make sure that his ice rink was the best in the country. Through careful thought, and efficient ice resurfacing, Frank Zamboni was about to make history.
Previous to the year 1949, resurfacing jobs were an arduous task, that simply needed to get done. Before 1910, hockey used to be played in two, thirty-minute halves, but due to the terrible conditions of the ice, the game was forced into three, twenty-minute halves so that there would be better ice available for the game. While this made the game itself move more quickly, the intermission periods were roughly an hour and half long. Five people would come in and clean up the snow, flood the rink, and scrape the ice down. More often than not, none of these people would be very good at operating their equipment. Because nobody wanted to pay five full-time workers to come in and clean the ice, they would let small children volunteer to clean the ice, and in return they would get free admission to that day’s game. Another solution the rink owners would apply is the hiring of young women. Due to the fact that women got paid only a margin of what men were paid, it was some cheap, efficient labor. However, due to the next-to-nothing pay, and lack of women wanting to resurface ice, the former solution was much more common. If you were lucky, you would be getting the same kids over and over again to clean the ice and they would get more experienced, but it doesn’t change the fact that the process was extremely inefficient. The engineering-minded Frank Zamboni decided that this needed a drastic change.
From the time of the opening of the Iceland rink in 1940 to 1949, Zamboni worked night and day to develop his first ice resurfacing machine. Combine parts from a Jeep, an A-20 attack plane, and a whole bunch of pulleys, and you get the first Zamboni ice resurfacing machine. All in one motion, the ice resurfacer would shave the ice, remove the shavings, clean up the ice and lay down a coat of water to make the ice fresh. The inner-workings of the rink would quickly freeze the water and the task of resurfacing would be shaved down to a mere twenty minutes. Word about this new invention spread like wildfire and Zamboni found himself in business with some pretty popular celebrities. Olympic Champion figure skater Sonja Henie bought two machines when she first heard of the invention, and shortly afterwards, the historic organization of the Chicago Blackhawks also placed an order. The machine saw multiple upgrades through the years, making ice resurfacing a much easier job as the years went by. Zamboni opened more and more manufacturing sites and offices across the globe, including locations in Canada and Switzerland. Zamboni and his fabulous invention changed hockey, figure skating, and even curling in an unprecedented way at the time. A job that added three extra hours to attending a hockey game now only added an extra twenty minutes per intermission period. Fun fact, that’s why the intermission periods are twenty minutes, that’s how long it took to resurface the ice. Now NHL teams have their ice resurfacing times down to under ten minutes, using a double-zamboni method. Without Frank Zamboni, we would have to sit through a few extra hours while waiting for the game to continue. The man changed history and the entire atmosphere of hockey, giving us more time to appreciate the players and the game itself. In short, I believe it is safe to say that zambonis are one of the most essential inventions across the world of sports.
Written by Rick Wronski