I am a HUGE Chicago sports fan, really loving all the excitement and pride that goes along with it. One of my particular favorite experiences is to visit the boys on the ice, my Chicago Blackhawks. One of the best experiences in all of sports was the singing of the national anthem in the old Chicago Stadium. Bone-chilling volume coupled with red, white and blue flowing through the veins of every fan on his and her feet was something I will never forget.
Another unsung hero is something that really goes unnoticed while at the same time is a focal point of the experience, the ice-smoothing machine known as the Zamboni. I recently had the pleasure of meeting the son of its inventor and the president of the company, another cool experience for me.
Frank Zamboni ‘s entrepreneurial spirit began as he worked through several family businesses, from farming to tinkering with cars. When Frank moved to California to join his brothers George and Lawrence in the auto repair business, he noticed how big the dairy industry was there and saw the need for an electrical service business that would cater to those types of companies.
The brothers founded a refrigeration business then grew it to include the block ice business. But as their enterprise flourished, the ice block business waned. They needed to find another use for their extensive experience in the cooling industry.
That opportunity came in the sport of iceskating. The popularity of the sport was growing, but there were few rinks in Southern California, so in 1939 Frank, Lawrence, and a cousin built the 20,000-square-foot Iceland Skating Rink in Paramount, California. The rink still operates today just blocks from the Zamboni factory not only for the use of skaters, but also to test the big machines before they are shipped.
With a rink that massive, the need to level the ice became increasingly important. In March of 1942, Frank bought a tractor and started experimenting. His first attempt — a machine built into a sled towed behind a tractor — proved marginally effective, and in 1947 he began tinkering with a completely different approach: a machine that would shave the ice, remove the shavings, wash and squeegee the ice, and hold snow in an elevated tank large enough to last for an entire resurfacing job. Basically, he needed to develop an ice resurfacing machine that transformed a five-man, 90-minute job into a one-man, 15-minute task.
By the summer of 1949 he was able to get a good sheet of ice consistently, and the “Model A Zamboni Ice Resurfacer” became a working reality. In 1953, Frank had patented his invention.
Some 60 years later with more than 10,000 units sold worldwide, Frank Zamboni’s contributions to the sport of hockey and ice skating are so well-known that his name is synonymous with the sports. The old days at the sacred shrine known as The Chicago Stadium may be gone forever, but the old-school feel from the Zamboni still helps to make going to the game magical. Of course, the scantily clad ladies known as the Blackhawks Ice Crew that assist with the Zamboni also adds a bit too.