Charlie Brown once said there are three things in life that people like to stare at: a flowing stream, a crackling fire and a Zamboni clearing the ice.
Frank Joseph Zamboni, Jr. was born in Eureka, Utah, January 16, 1901. He grew up near Pocatello, Idaho and moved to Los Angeles with his parents, who were Italian immigrants, in 1920. Seven years later, Frank opened an ice-making plant with his younger brother, Lawrence, making block ice. The business melted with the advent of the electric refrigerator in the late 1930s, so the brothers decided to use their excess refrigeration equipment and open an outdoor skating rink in Paramount in 1940. The Iceland rink was very popular in south Los Angeles and, in 1949, Frank Zamboni—a high school dropout—invented a machine that transformed the job of resurfacing the ice from a five-man, 90-minute task to a one-man, 15-minute job. The Model A Ice Resurfacer No. 1 featured a war-surplus Jeep engine, two Dodge front ends and a wooden bin to catch the ice shavings. Mr. Zamboni, who had been working on the machine for nine years, applied for a patent, which was granted in 1953. After seeing the machine in operation at Iceland, Olympic figure skating champion Sonja Henie ordered two units—the second and third ever produced—for her ice shows. Shortly thereafter, the Chicago Black Hawks placed an order. Zamboni, seeking to give his new company credibility, wanted to call it Paramount Engineering. The name was taken, so he set up Frank J. Zamboni & Co. in Paramount to build and sell the machines.
The machine shaves ice off the surface, collects the shavings, washes the ice and spreads a thin coat of fresh water onto the surface. During a 15-minute hockey intermission, a Zamboni picks up 1,500 pounds of shavings and puts down 1,200 pounds of water. Each unit is custom-made and not built until the order arrives. A Zamboni costs about $ 75,000 and takes six months to build and deliver. Original versions used gasoline-powered engines that created undesirable exhaust fumes, so the first electric motor was built for the 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Olympics [Daily Dose, January 25]. About 100 Zamboni machines are built at the Paramount facility each year. All are tested at Iceland—still owned and operated by the family—before being delivered. The original Model A sits in the far corner of the rink. “The one from 65 years ago would still make a halfway decent sheet of ice, just not as good as the new ones,” states Richard F. Zamboni, son of the founder and current Chief Executive Officer. In 1967, the company opened a second factory, in Wayne Gretzky’s home town of Brantford, Ontario, which employs 30 workers and produces 100 units each year. Zamboni guarantees “a perfect sheet of ice” and has one competitor, Resurface Corporation, making them the Boeing and Airbus of the ice resurfacing industry.
The Zamboni is prevalent throughout popular culture. Hockey fans cheer its perfection and jeer at missed spots. Carla, the wise-cracking barmaid on the popular 1980s TV show Cheers, lost her hockey playing husband, Eddie LeBec, after he was run over and killed by a Zamboni. The Woodstock character in Peanuts comic strips could often be seen driving a Zamboni on his frozen birdbath, while the Zamboni driver for the Detroit Red Wings gives autographs. The Chicago Blackhawks owners were not entirely pleased after purchasing their first Zamboni in the 1940s, discovering that fans would prefer to watch the Zamboni clear the ice at intermission rather than go out to the concession stands. The company has sold over 10,000 units since 1949. In April 2012, Frank J. Zamboni & Co. delivered its’ 10,000th machine to the Montreal Canadiens for use at the Bell Centre. Frank Zamboni has been issued 15 U.S Patents, five of which are related to ice resurfacing. Mr. Zamboni, who died in 1988, is a member of the World Figure Skating, U.S. Hockey, U.S. Speed Skating and National Inventors Halls of Fame.
On March 11, 1930, Frank Zamboni was issued a U.S. Patent for the Electrical Reactance Coil. On March 13, 1956, he was issued a U.S. Patent for the Refrigerated Milk Storage Tank and Pasteurizer.