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Frank Zamboni
Frank Zamboni.jpg
Frank Joseph Zamboni, Jr.

(1901-01-16)January 16, 1901
DiedJuly 27, 1988(1988-07-27) (aged 87)
Known forInvention of ice resurfacer and founder of Zamboni Company

Frank Joseph Zamboni, Jr. (/zæmˈbni/, Italian: [dzamˈboːni]; January 16, 1901 – July 27, 1988) was an American inventor and engineer, whose most famous invention is the modern ice resurfacer, with his surname being registered as a trademark for these resurfacers.[1][2][3]

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It was approximately four thousand years ago in Finland when people first strapped on skates to glide across the ice. This wasn’t for entertainment purposes, though. Finland is full of lakes and cutting across the ice saved time on daily journeys. By 1 AD, ice skating existed across Northern Europe. Metal skates were first created by the Dutch in 1250 and this led to the proliferation of leisure skating. Rinks were built across Europe, but the first commercial rink in North America was probably built in Montreal during the mid-19th century. The first one in the US was Madison Square Garden ice rink, constructed in 1879. Of course, keeping the ice frozen, smooth and safe has always been something of a struggle. To get around this issue, brothers Joe and Lester Patrick designed a mechanism for indoor rinks that utilized brine water to refrigerate a concrete base, as thin coats of water was slowly poured over to create layers of ice. To resurface the ice when it melted and chipped, the remaining bits of the old ice had to be removed or smoothed and then this process was essentially repeated. But it took a long time and required a large crew to complete the several-times-a-day task. Quite simply, there had to be a better way. It was the turn of the 20th century when Frank Zamboni was born to recent immigrant parents in a small town south of Salt Lake City, Utah. When Zamboni was a baby, his family bought a farm not too far way in Idaho. That’s where he got his first experiences in mechanical engineering. Frank Zamboni, his brothers and father spent long hours tinkering and fixing broken farm equipment. Frank also worked a local garage, repairing old pickup trucks. “While my father never got past the ninth grade in formal schooling, he always had an inquisitive mind in solving problems,” Frank’s son Richard Zamboni later told Popular Mechanics, “Whether it was electrical, mechanical, or business-related, he had the unique ability to get to the heart of issues.” When Frank was 19, the family moved to Clearwater, California – a town 15 miles south of Los Angeles and in the harbor district – because Frank’s older brother owned a successful garage there. Frank helped at the garage and took a second job as a blacksmith’s apprentice. Within a year, the family had saved enough money to send Frank to Chicago’s Coyne Trade School to study electrical engineering. When he returned in 1922, Frank and his brothers opened an electrical company that they would eventually name “Zamboni Bros. Co.” They specialized in installing refrigeration units for the local Dutch-owned dairies that dominated the small town of Clearwater and its neighbor Paramount. Locally, Frank Zamboni became known as a mechanical and electrical wizard. In 1928, he registered for his first patent, a thing called “Adjustable Reactor Resistance“. In fact, over his lifetime Frank Zamboni would be awarded 15 patents, including one for the Astro Zamboni Machine, which was designed to suck up water from AstroTurf at a rate of about 400 gallons per minute. In the late 1920s, the brothers used their refrigeration know-how to open an ice-making plant that kept local fruits and vegetables fresh and cold as they were being shipped across the country via train. However, already by then, freon was being successfully used in commercial refrigeration. By the 1930s, refrigerators became something anyone could have in their home. Within only a few years of the Zamboni Brothers starting their ice-making plant, it was obsolete. So, in January 1940 and using their ice-making skills, they opened a 20,000 square foot ice skating rink across the street from their former business. It was called Iceland and it was one of the largest ice rinks in the country. So, why would the Zamboni brothers build a humongous ice skating rink in a Southern California town that was miles away from Los Angeles? Because of the local Dutch population, for whom skating had become a part of everyday life starting in the 13th century (in particular, speed skating). The rink was an immediate hit, attracting 150,000 people a year. But they had problems – mostly due to the omnipresent Southern California sun. Although the brothers quickly added a roof and Frank had installed a new and improved version of what the Patrick brothers did in Canada, the ice did not stay frozen for long and often melted. Thus, it required constant attention from a large crew that needed more than an hour to manually resurface the ice. The process was inefficient and time-consuming. So, Frank Zamboni – the most skilled engineer of a family full of them – got to work. It took more than seven years, parts pulled from all over and several failed models, but by 1949, Zamboni had a working prototype for an “ice resurfacer.” He started with two Dodge truck front ends, which he used for both the front and back. He put in a transmission, a front steering axle that provided four wheel drive and a Jeep engine – all from war surplus junkyards. Zamboni then tacked on a tractor seat, a chalice from an oil derrick and the landing gear of a Douglas A-26 bomber. Finally, he added elements to the souped-up ice-traveling tractor that shaved and resurfaced the ice – razor blades, a paddle and chain system, a wood box to catch the savings, another tank with hot water and a towel to spread the water on the ice. In the summer of 1949, with the ever present California sun glowing hot, he debuted his “Model A Zamboni Ice Resurfacer.” It was top-heavy, bizarrely complicated to control, and loud. But it worked, requiring only one operator and about ten minutes to create a smooth new sheet of ice. (This first unit was used at Iceland for several years and is now on display at the still-existing ice rink as a piece of American history.) Soon after, Zamboni patented his ice resurfacer, formed a partnership with his brothers that he called “Frank J. Zamboni & Co” and went to work on Model B. Tinkering and improving the machine, he made his first sale – to nearby Pasadena Winter Gardens- for $5,000. The next one (and third one) he built for Norwegian Olympian (and movie star) Sonja Henie, who had seen the Zamboni in action while she practiced for her “Hollywood on Ice” show at Iceland. (On that note, it’s unclear when the name of the machine shifted from “ice resurfacer” to the name of the inventor, but legend has it that Henie was the one who asked Frank to give her one of those “Zambonis.”) Whatever the case, the fourth Zamboni was sold to the Ice Capades. That one is now on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame. The Zamboni made its NHL debut in 1952 during a Boston Bruins game, forever cementing the relationship between the machine and the sport. Over six decades later, the Zamboni is a cultural icon, inspiring fandom beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. After all, it was merely built to make a cold, wet job easier. “I don’t understand it,” the baffled inventor told the Los Angeles Times in 1988, “I was just trying to find a better way of doing something.”



Zamboni was born in 1901 in Eureka, Utah, to Italian immigrants. His parents soon bought a farm in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho near Pocatello, Idaho, where he grew up. In 1920, he moved with his parents to the harbor district of Los Angeles, where his older brother George was operating an auto repair shop. After Frank attended a trade school in Chicago, he and his younger brother Lawrence opened an electrical supply business in 1922 in the Los Angeles suburb of Hynes (now part of Paramount). The following year he married and eventually had three children, a son and two daughters.[4] In 1927, he and Lawrence added an ice-making plant and entered the block ice business. They continued their ice business in 1939, but saw little future in that business with the advent of electrically operated refrigeration units. They decided to use their excess refrigeration equipment to open an ice rink nearby.

In 1940, the brothers, along with a cousin, Pete Zamboni, opened the Iceland rink, which proved very popular, in no small part because Frank had devised a way to eliminate rippling caused by the pipes that were laid down to keep the rink frozen. (The rink still operates and is still owned by the Zamboni family.) He obtained a patent for that innovation in 1946. Then, in 1949, he invented a machine that transformed the job of resurfacing an ice rink from a five-man, 90-minute task to a one-man, 15-minute job.[4] The initial machine included a hydraulic cylinder from an A-20 attack plane, a chassis from an oil derrick, a Jeep engine, a wooden bin to catch the shavings, and a series of pulleys.[5][6] His son, Richard, said, "It took him nine years. One of the reasons he stuck with it was that everyone told him he was crazy."[6] Zamboni did not expect to make more but, after seeing the machine, Sonja Henie immediately ordered two, and then the Chicago Blackhawks placed an order.[6][7] Zamboni applied for a patent in 1949 – obtained in 1953 – and 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.[5] In the early 1950s, Zamboni built them on top of Jeep CJ-3Bs, then on stripped Jeep chassis from 1956 through 1964.[8] Demand for the machine proved great enough that his company added a second plant in Brantford, Ontario and a branch office in Switzerland. Though the term Zamboni was (and remains) trademarked by his company, the name is sometimes generically used for any brand of ice resurfacing machine.

Zamboni's famous invention was the ice resurfacer; he created it in 1949.
Zamboni's famous invention was the ice resurfacer; he created it in 1949.

In the 1970s, he invented machines to remove water from outdoor artificial turf surfaces, remove paint stripes from the same surfaces, and roll up and lay down artificial turf in domed stadiums. His final invention, in 1983, was an automatic edger to remove ice buildup from the edges of rinks.

He died of cardiac arrest at Long Beach Memorial Hospital in July 1988 at the age of 87,[4] about two months after his wife's death. He also had lung cancer.[9] The Zamboni company has sold more than 10,000 units of its signature machine, the Zamboni Ice Resurfacer, commonly known as a "Zamboni." The 10,000th machine was delivered to the Montreal Canadiens in April 2012 for use at the Bell Centre.[10] The company is still owned and operated by the Zamboni family, including Frank's son and grandson. His remains are buried at All Souls Cemetery in Long Beach.

Zamboni was inducted into the Ice Skating Institute's Hall of Fame in 1965, and he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Engineering from Clarkson University in 1988. Frank was posthumously inducted into the NEISMA Hall of Fame in 1988, the United States Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2000, the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2006, the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2007, the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009,[11] and into the United States Speed Skating Hall of Fame in 2013.[12]

The Frank J. Zamboni School, in Paramount, is named after him.[13]


Early patents:
Country - U.S. #1,655,034 Title: Adjustable Reaction Resistance (Electrical) Date Issued: Jan 3, 1928
Country - U.S. #1,710,149 Title: Reactance Coil (Electrical) Date Issued: Mar 11, 1930
Country - U.S. #1,804,852 Title: Circuit Controlling Reactance Coil (Electrical) Date Issued: May 12, 1931
Country - U.S. #2,411,919 Title: Ice Rink Floor Date Issued: Dec 3, 1946
Country - U.S. #2,594,603 Title: Refrigerated Liquid Storage Tank Date Issued: Apr 29, 1952
Country - U.S. #2,738,170 Title: Refrigerated Milk Storage Tank and Pasteurizer Date Issued: Mar 13, 1956

Ice resurfacers:
Country - U.S. #2,642,679 Title: Ice Resurfacer Date Issued: Jun 23, 1953
Country - U.S. #2,763,939 Title: Ice Resurfacer Date Issued: Sep 25, 1953
Country - U.S. #3,044,193 Title: Ice Resurfacer Date Issued: Jul 17, 1962
Country - U.S. #3,622,205 Title: Down Pressure Date Issued: Nov 23, 1971

Ice resurfacer-related products:
Country - U.S. #4,372,617 Title: Ice Edger Date Issued: Feb 8, 1983

Machine for Astro-Turf:
Country - U.S. #3,736,619 Title: Turf Water Remover Date Issued: Jun 5, 1973
Country - U.S. #3,835,500 Title: Turf Water Remover Date Issued: Sep 17, 1974
Country - U.S. #4,069,540 Title: Turf Paint Remover Date Issued: Jan 24, 1978
Country - U.S. #4,084,763 Title: Turf Handling Machine Date Issued: Apr 18, 1978


  1. ^ "NIAF ItalianAmericans: Frank J. Zamboni". Archived from the original on June 4, 2012. Retrieved January 16, 2013.
  2. ^ "Frank J. Zamboni". Retrieved January 16, 2013.
  3. ^ "Frank J. Zamboni & Co., Inc. History". Funding Universe.
  4. ^ a b c Folkart, Burt A. (July 29, 1988). "OBITUARIES : Frank Zamboni; the Man Behind That Odd Machine". Los Angeles Times.
  5. ^ a b Bonk, Thomas (June 14, 1999). "One Cool Contraption". Los Angeles Times.
  6. ^ a b c Harvey, Steve (June 16, 1988). "The One-of-a-Kind Zamboni : Name Put a Thrill in Ice Rink's Big Chill". Los Angeles Times.
  7. ^ Yoshino, Kimi (September 21, 2004). "Zamboni Drivers Have Coolest Jobs Around". Los Angeles Times.
  8. ^ "Jeeps on Ice (The Jeep CJ-3B Page)". January 12, 2006. Archived from the original on January 19, 2013. Retrieved January 16, 2013.
  9. ^ Scafetta, Jr., Joseph (February 2001). "The Man Behind The Machine" (PDF). Fra Noi. Zamboni.
  10. ^ "Zamboni Company to Deliver Machine #10,000". Frank J. Zamboni & Co. Inc. April 12, 2012. Retrieved April 18, 2012.
  11. ^ Francer, Cory (July 29, 2009). "2009 Class". USA Today. Retrieved January 16, 2013.
  12. ^ "WFSHOF — Frank Zamboni Biography". Archived from the original on January 19, 2013. Retrieved January 16, 2013.
  13. ^ "California School Directory, School: Frank J. Zamboni". January 7, 1996. Retrieved January 16, 2013.

External links

This page was last edited on 20 September 2019, at 22:09
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