It was a laborious process, requiring shovels, brooms, squeegees and pushing small handheld plows around to clean the surface. It worked—sort of—but the ice usually had an uneven finish and tended to be bumpy, which could cause the puck to bounce in unexpected ways and skaters to lose their balance.
Fortunately, Bob Skrak was working for the Ice Capades that day. He operated a new piece of equipment that smoothed the ice for the figure skaters so it was as clear as if fresh made. Bruins management immediately took notice and ordered a unit. It was delivered to the team in the fall.
That fabled piece of equipment—Zamboni Model E21, the first to be used by an NHL team—was a game-changer. It was driven around Boston Garden for years by Lelo Grasso, who would deftly tip his trademark fedora to the crowd as he circled the ice. In 1988, when the Boston Bruins ordered a new machine, it sent Model E21 back to the Zamboni manufacturing plant in Paramount, California, to be restored. It is now in the collection of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Canada.
Invented by Frank Zamboni, the eponymous ice-clearing machine celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. He applied for his first U.S. patent in 1949, for this innovative idea that totally transformed winter sports by giving chopped-up ice surfaces a fresh-frozen smoothness in a matter of minutes.
“The more people saw it, the better it sold,” says grandson Frank.
The business grew quickly after that. Canada, hockey’s birthplace, was important to the company’s success. In 1967, Zamboni opened its first manufacturing facility north of the border. Today, that facility is located in Brantford, Ontario, birthplace of “The Great One,” Wayne Gretzky, the NHL’s all-time leading scorer.
“The reason for me coming to Canada was the importance of this market,” the Zamboni president says. “It’s the biggest in the world. Hockey is foundational in this culture. As a Canadian citizen now, as well as an American, I realize how important hockey and skating are up here.”
The inventor, who died in 1988, fiddled with his designs throughout his life. He even created equipment, based on his original ice-cleaning unit, for, as a 1978 patent describes, “laying down and taking up strips of artificial turf” in baseball and football stadiums. His last patent in 1983 was for an ice-edging machine that removed buildup along the boards at arenas.
“Of the 500 to 600 ice-cleaning machines made by all manufacturers today, we produce the majority of them,” Coony says. “And they are all built by hand. Each one is custom built.”
Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/how-zamboni-changed-game-ice-rinks-180973352/#kMZiR4R5q2FRrTcW.99
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