History of the Zamboni

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"History of the Zamboni"
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The ice rink is nothing more than frozen water shaped and molded at sub-below temperatures to uniformly produce a surface suitable for ice skating. When or how humans began their obsession with ice remains a mystery, although the earliest documented evidence shows ice skating has been around as early as 1180. The first skaters did not have the luxury of groomed surfaces or indoor amenities, instead they were left to the mercy of natures design. Most that loved ice skating had to cultivate their skills on lakes, ponds, and any other frozen body of water, dealing with crude and uneven surfaces and harsh environments. Over the years, many things about ice has changed, and some profound examples are just one result of one of the most famous machines; the "Zamboni".

On January 16th, 1901 Frank Zamboni was born in a small town of Eureka, Utah, just south of Salt Lake City. The young Zamboni brother lived most of his life on a farm, unaware that he was destined to become an icon among the likes of geniuses like Thomas Edison. Between 1921 and 1927, he moved away so he could work alongside his brother Lawrence at a garage owned by his oldest brother George. His keen sense of machinery and mechanics was put to good use, but soon he found a new calling.

Sometime in mid 1939, during the height of home refrigeration growth, Frank, Lawrence, and their cousin Pete Zamboni built a skating rink with the hopes they had found a unique business venture. Later, the project was cleverly named "Iceland," and it spawned one of many patents that began to shape how the world viewed ice arenas. The special floor design was simple, and at the time there were only four other local outdoor rinks. Iceland opened January 3, 1940 with a massive size of 100' x 200' which was built, strangely enough, across from a refrigeration plant. Frank was always looking for ways to improve Iceland, and since the surface was constantly being affected by the lack of enclosure, he felt the best measure to be taken was to erect a dome roof, which was added in May of 1940.

His never-ending quest to improve his ice did not stop there; in 1942, Frank wanted to improve the method of resurfacing the ice sheet, replacing the tedious method of manual shaving, snow removal and water application. He began experimenting in a multitude of methods to automate the process.

In 1949 Frank began using a crude self-propelled, single operator resurfacer, built using a chassis from a jeep. He was granted a patent based on his first of many machines, the "Model A," and shortly after a few other ice-rink owners became interested, including Sonja Henie who was first to order one of his machines. Soon the buzz among ice rink owners began what was soon to be a very lucrative business. Between 1950 and 1954 Frank had built 15 other machines, each was somewhat different, but yet the design was becoming more workable than the previous version, giving birth to the next generation of ice resurfacers, the "Zamboni Model A."

By 1960, the organizers of the Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley already jumped on the Zamboni band wagon using the Zamboni Model A exclusively, and with the growing increase in popularity with indoor skating rinks, business quickly began booming. The massive attention even landed Frank the title: President and charter member of the Ice Skating Institute of America.

With a more than hectic schedule, Frank still persisted with his growing business. Between 1963 and 1965, newer and improved models were being released now with the ability to self-dump the collected snow from on-board collector tanks. The HD Series even featured a newly designed chassis, eliminating the need to use the previous stripped down jeep version. With each new design came new inspiration, which led him to designing a unique auger type snow conveyor system, which greatly improved productivity. Frank's invention was not only becoming the catalyst for a profitable business, he was also making history, being inducted into the Ice Skating Hall of Fame in late 1965.

Even though his machine was already becoming one of the most sought after products, he still saw more room to improve his machine, and his next design introduced the first production hydrostatic transmission. The next machine was simply named "Model HDA." Than in 1970, for the first time, Frank stepped away from ice resurfacing and introduced machinery to remove water from artificial turf fields, paint removal, and even machines used to roll-up artificial turf in indoor arenas.

By 1978, the name "Zamboni was renowned in the sporting world, and the birth of the most commonly used machine arrived, the 550 and 500 series, which now included a new on-board brush attachment, revolutionizing ice smoothing techniques.

Frank, although he never went to college, was rightfully chosen to receive an Honorary Doctor of Engineering Degree from the Clarkson University; unfortunately, the honor was short lived since he passed the same year in July of 1988.

Frank probably had no idea what he had done back in the 1950s when he sat at the drawing board designing his wonderful machines. He didn't know that in 1997, the Detroit Red Wings would receive the six thousandth Zamboni to be built; and he didn't see his Zamboni ice resurfacing machine become a registered trademark, or become the "Official Ice Resurfacer" of the NHL.

Frank not only embodied the spirit of an inventor, he encouraged change, playing a vital part in the growth of an industry. Even with all the other companies that tried to compete, offering similar types of machines, the Zamboni is still the most widely known and chosen machine around the world.

In 2007, Frank Zamboni was finally given one last honor to carry forth his name, his induction to the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Truly there are many famous inventors that have changed the world. Frank Zamboni did just that, because where ever you might find a well groomed stretch of ice, you will always find a "Zamboni!"

More about this author: Douglas Black

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