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FRANK J. ZAMBONI (1901-1988)
Ice resurfacing machine
In 1949, Frank Zamboni invented the machine used today in skating rinks all over the world to clean and polish the ice surface on the spot.
Born in 1901, Zamboni was a natural mechanic and innovative thinker. He moved to Southern California at the age of 21, to work in auto repair at his elder brother's garage, but soon decided to enter the refrigeration business. At that time, the dairy and produce industries relied heavily on ice for storage and transport, so Zamboni and another brother built a factory to produce block ice.
Over the years, the refrigeration technology used in warehouses and boxcars made great advances, thanks to inventors like W. H. Carrier and Frederick McKinley Jones. Never one to be left in the cold, Zamboni found a new venue for his expertise. In 1939, he, his brother and a cousin built Iceland Skating Rink in Paramount, California --- at 20,000 sq. ft., one of the largest rinks in the country. Zamboni soon added a domed roof over the rink: the dome helped defend the ice surface from the California sun, but could not prevent everyday defects in the ice, namely the chipping and gouging that inevitably result from use.
To renew the ice surface, a team of three or four workers had to scrape the ice with a tractor, then shovel away the shavings, hose down and squeegee the surface, and wait for the ice to set again: the process took over an hour, each time. In 1942, Zamboni began to transform a tractor into a unified ice surface scraper and smoother, one that could resurface the ice at one pass.
After seven years of experiments, Zamboni succeeded: an adjustable blade in a frame behind the machine shaved the ice smooth; the resultant shavings were then swept up and conveyed into a large holding tank; an apparatus at the back of the resurfacer rinsed and squeegeed the ice as the machine moved ahead, leaving a layer of water shallow enough that it bonded to the ice below almost instantly. In 1949, the "Model A Zamboni Ice Resurfacer" became both patented (#2,642,679) and marketable.
Zamboni's best help in marketing his invention came from Olympic skater Sonja Henie. In 1950, she saw the Zamboni® in action while practicing at Paramount Iceland, and immediately ordered one for her national tour. Later, she took a Model B with her to Europe. It was not long before the Ice Capades, and then various recreational and sports skating rinks, were clamoring for a Zamboni® of their own.
As ice skating continued to rise in popularity in the 1950s and '60s, Zamboni kept improving his machines: his HD model (1964) set the standards for the industry that he singlehandedly created; the latest models (1978-present) feature a liquid-cooled engine or run on electric batteries.
Today's machines are still manufactured at Zamboni's original factory; their proving ground is still the nearby Paramount Iceland. Frank Zamboni died in 1988, but as his company looks ahead to its 50th anniversary (1999), the evidence of his success in invention can be seen around the world, from Olympic arenas to neighborhood ice rinks.