Zamboni, Frank Joseph, Jr.

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Frank Joseph Zamboni Jr.




The Zamboni is one of the most identifiable pieces of equipment used in the sporting world. The mobile and mechanized ice resurfacing machine is a fixture at virtually every artificial ice surface in North America.

While the Zamboni is closely associated with ice hockey and the resurfacing of the rink between the periods of a professional game, the machine was created out of powerful commercial need to keep artificial ice functional in the southern California climate.

Frank Zamboni and ice making became associated with one another in 1921, when the 20 year old Frank entered the refrigeration business in Paramount, California, supplying ice for the then state of the art domestic ice box, soon to be supplanted by the more modern refrigerator.

Frank used his experience gained in the ice manufacturing business to open the Iceland Skating Rink in Paramount. At that time, artificial ice rinks were resurfaced by the manual labor of a team of men who scraped and then hosed down the surface by hand. Frank determined that there must be a more efficient way to resurface the ice.

Between 1942 and 1948, Frank built three primitive ice resurfacing machines using a variety of homemade and scrap automotive parts. In 1949, he succeeded in constructing a functional machine that was the forerunner to the modern Zamboni. People magazine described the device as a hideous, Rube Goldberg contraption with a wooden bin, a maze of pulleys, and crude four-wheel drive. Aesthetics aside, the Zamboni could clean ice well enough to resurface the Iceland rink in fifteen minutes.

The function of the Zamboni was simple. The purpose in ice resurfacing was to smooth out the ridges and divots created in the ice surface by skaters. The Zamboni machinery consists of a sharp blade, designed to shave the ice to a consistent and uniform surface; once shaved, the ice scrapings are scooped into a vat located within the Zamboni to be melted for reuse. The machine then sprays a fine layer of hot water over the ice. The surface then melts and is refrozen, creating a smooth skating surface through one pass of the Zamboni.

Other than securing a patent for his creation, Zamboni made no effort to market the device until 1950, when skating star Sonja Henie rented Iceland as a practice rink for her touring ice show. Henie was so impressed with the new machine that she paid Frank $5,000 to build her one. A short time later, the Ice Capades figure skating show put in an order for a machine, and Zamboni suddenly found himself in the business of manufacturing ice machines.

The machine manufacturing company business exploded into an international business concern when the U.S. Olympic Committee placed an order for four custom built machines for the 1960 Winter Olympics held at Squaw Valley, California. During the Olympic telecasts, the newly christened Zamboni was seen chugging its way across the world's television screens.

The Zamboni has proven to be a highly durable ice resurfacer—a 1955 Zamboni is still in use at a New Hampshire skating rink. Although there are commercial competitors, the Zamboni is regarded as the best ice resurfacing technology in the world. The Zamboni has achieved the status of a sport legend, all the more remarkable given that the Zamboni is a supporting actor in the world of ice sports, and not a prime actor. Ice hockey teams in particular have elevated the Zamboni; contests are often staged where the winner is given a Zamboni ride.

The Zamboni, a product of the determination of Frank Zamboni to bring efficiency to his ice skating business, is now a sports icon.

see also Figure skating; Ice hockey rinks.