If you love to ice skate, or if you enjoy watching winter sports like hockey, figure skating or speed skating, you know that an ice rink resurfacing machine, also known as a Zamboni machine, is used to keep the ice safe and smooth. But do you know who invented it? National Inventors Hall of Fame® Inductee Frank Zamboni invented ice rink resurfacing machines to make the smoothing of ice rinks fast and efficient.
An Expert on Ice
Zamboni was born in 1901 to Italian immigrant parents in Eureka, Utah. When he was just a year old, his family moved to a farm in Idaho. In 1920, Zamboni went with his parents and siblings to California, where his older brother George had an auto repair business. Frank and his younger brother Lawrence began working in George’s garage and after a year, Frank attended trade school in Chicago, where he learned the electric business.
When Frank returned to California, it wasn’t long before the Zamboni brothers’ entrepreneurial spirit led Frank and Lawrence to open a business offering electrical services.
As the need for cooling services grew among the dairy and produce industries, the Zamboni brothers expanded their enterprise to make and sell block ice to businesses needing to keep products cool as they were transported. Though the block ice industry began to decline with the rise of mobile refrigeration, the Zambonis found another way to use their ice-making experience.
In 1940, they created an indoor ice rink in Paramount, California. The facility, which they named Iceland, proved successful and is still in operation today. There on the ice, Frank Zamboni found a new challenge to take on.
An Inventive Entrepreneur
When skaters enjoyed gliding around the rink at Iceland, as at any ice rink, their skates created grooves in the surface of the ice. Over time, these grooves would make the rink unusable, so the ice needed to be resurfaced regularly.
The time and manual labor required to resurface the ice was substantial. A crew of five people needed to work for an hour and a half, scraping the surface of the ice, sweeping away the ice shavings, washing down the surface, mopping it clean, and then spraying a final coat of water before the rink could be ready for skaters again. To make the process faster and more efficient, in 1949, Zamboni developed a prototype of an ice rink resurfacing machine that could accomplish the job in just 15 minutes.
This invention, which came to be known as the Zamboni machine, was patented in 1953 and entered mass production just a year later. With its use in the 1960 Winter Olympics, the Zamboni machine became internationally known.
The machine works by first scraping the surface of the ice and collecting the resulting snow. It cleans the ice, flushing any debris from the grooves with warm water, and then smooths the ice as the water freezes, creating the perfect, skate-ready surface.
Since 1950, the Zamboni Co. has continued innovating and manufacturing ice resurfacing and edging machines that are used at ice rinks throughout the world. The Zamboni machine has become so recognizable, it has even inspired a ride-on toy for children, complete with a snow-collection tank and an authentic Zamboni horn sound.
Meet More Hall of Famers
To learn about more inspiring creators, innovators and entrepreneurs, we invite you to visit our website.
The photograph above was provided by the Frank J. Zamboni & Co. Inc.