The History of the Zamboni Although ice hockey was originated in the early 1800’s, the first Zamboni did not hit the ice until 1949. For well over a century, the sheet of ice was resurfaced by tediously shoveling off the snow and pouring water back over the ice. The technique left the ice in a miserable, almost unskatable state by today’s standards. Not only was it a poor surface to skate on, resurfacing a sheet of ice took nearly over an hour and a half to complete. Frank Zamboni’s invention of the Zamboni not only brought convenience to the rink, it revolutionized the speed of the game. Frank J.
Zamboni was born in Eureka, Utah, in 1901 and grew up on a farm in Idaho, where he helped with the family farm and worked as a mechanic in a local garage. In 1920, Frank moved to the City of Paramount, California with his brother, Lawrence. After saving his money to study electricity in Chicago, Frank and Lawrence decided to open an ice/refrigeration plant in 1927, giving it the trademark name, Zamboni Bros. Electric Co. As electric refrigerators became more common nearly a decade later, the demand for ice-box services diminished leaving the Zamboni brothers with an opportunity to put the ice machines to new use.
In 1939, Frank, Lawrence, and their cousin, Pete built one of the largest rinks in the country, Iceland, but Frank became so fed up with the lengthy ice-resurfacing procedure that he attempted to build and ice resurfacer of his own, pulled by a tractor in March of 1943. With a fail at his first attempt, Frank’s persistence urged him to try again after World War II, where he was left with a military surplus of cheap parts. Using the parts, Frank reconstructed his prototype but failed again when the self-propelled resurfacer with two-wheel drive was found to have no traction on the ice.
After much trial and error though, Frank got his first ice-resurfacer, the Model A, working and applied for a patent, which he received four years later. Now with his patent, he was able to form Frank J. Zamboni & Co. His first customer was world renowned figure skater, Sonja Henie. Sonja loved Frank’s new invention so much that he started receiving orders in no time from all around the world. Overtime, the demand for Frank’s “Zambonis” became such a high demand that he opened two ice-resurfacing factories. Frank came up with new models year after year.
Starting from the model A to the present Zambonis, Frank produced over 28 different models ranging from gas to zero emissions to electric. “Each of the first dozen or so machines Frank built was an improvement on its predecessor. My dad had been changing every machine up until 1954,” explained Frank’s son, Richard. The Zamboni, costing between $10,000 and $200,000, depending on the model, takes on average ten minutes to complete a sheet of ice. There are four steps in the process of making perfect ice: shaving, collecting, washing and renewing.
The fifty seven pound, specially-made blade shaves a thin layer off the top of the ice. If the blade goes too deep, it creates an uneven surface and you could risk hitting concrete. If not deep enough, it does nothing. The snow that is created by scraping the top layer of the ice is then pick up by large skew conveyors, sending it up the back of the Zamboni. From here, the snow is then picked up by a large conveyor belt and carried up into the snow tank. After each resurfacing, the snow is dumped out of the Zamboni.
Water jets at the back end of the machine spray water heated up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit to flush out the ice and replace the later that was just scraped off as well as fill in the grooves left by skates. As a vacuum sucks up the extra water left from the jets, a final layer of heated water is sprayed onto the ice. At this time, a large towel trailing the machine evenly distributes the water over the ice, leaving it smooth and ready to skate on. The Zamboni has come a long way since Frank Zamboni first started experimenting with it in his backyard in 1947.
Starting as fridge scraps, to war scraps, to the Model B jeep chassis, the Zamboni machine has been designated the official ice resurfacer of the NHL today. Each Zamboni ice resurfacer is constructed, painted, and completed in about three weeks with no assembly lines by 30-35 employees. Big time companies use the surface of the Zambonis as a canvas for advertising. In spite of being pulled out of school in the 9th grade, Frank Zamboni received an honorary doctorate in engineering from Clarkston University in 1987. Frank Zamboni invented the