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The fourth Zamboni every built -- they simply called it "No. 4" -- sits enshrined in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in Eveleth, Minnesota, along with its creator and inventor, Frank Zamboni. It stands, fully restored, as a symbol of the integral part this ice-resurfacing machine has played in professional hockey, as well as ice-skating shows and in ice rinks around the country.
Indeed, Zamboni, himself, who died in 1988, is also enshrined in the Ice Skating Institute Hall of Fame and has been honored with about two dozen awards and honorary degrees. "He was always amazed about how (the Zamboni) became associated with the game of hockey, with ice, with whatever," said Zamboni's son Richard in a video marking the 2009 induction ceremony. "He would have been surprised and pleased about being inducted into the (ice hockey) hall of fame."
But, how did a simple, "tractor-like machine used on an ice-skating rink to smooth the ice" -- as the Associated Press describes it -- come to be held in such high esteem in the ice hockey and ice skating worlds both in the U.S. and globally? Well, it started with ice.
In 1920, Zamboni -- then just 19 -- moved from Utah to Southern California with his brother, Lawrence. The two brothers soon began selling block ice, which local dairy "wholesalers used to pack their product that was transported by rail across the country," according to the Zamboni company's informative and lively website. "But as refrigeration technology improved, demand for block ice began to shrink" and the Zamboni brothers began to look for another business opportunity.
They found it in ice skating, which was skyrocketing in popularity in the late 1930s. "So in 1939 Frank, Lawrence, and a cousin built Iceland Skating Rink in Paramount," a city about 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles, notes the company's website. It was, at the time it opened in 1940 with 20,000 square feet of ice, the largest ice skating rink in the world and could accommodate up to 800 ice skaters at one time.
Business was good, but to smooth the ice, it took four or five workers -- and a small tractor -- at least an hour to scrape the ice, remove the shavings and spray a fresh coat of water onto the rink -- and it took another hour for the water to freeze. That got Frank Zamboni to thinking: "I finally decided I'd start working on something that would do it faster," Zamboni said in a 1985 interview. Nine years later, in 1949, the first Zamboni, called the Model A, was introduced.
A Tractor Body
The Zamboni was, essentially, an ice-cleaning machine placed on top of a tractor body, hence the AP's description (though modern Zamboni's are no longer built over tractor bodies). Zamboni modified the tractor adding a blade that shaved the ice smooth, a device that swept up the shavings into a tank and an apparatus that rinsed the ice and left a very thin top layer of water that would freeze within a minute.
Former Olympic ice-skating champion Sonja Henie saw the first Zamboni in action when she was practicing at Iceland for an upcoming tour. "She said, 'I've got to have one of those things," recalled Richard Zamboni. Henie toured the world with her ice show, carting along a Zamboni wherever she performed. From there, the machine's popularity began to soar. The NHL's Boston Bruins bought one and put it to work in 1954, followed by a number of other NHL teams.
Squaw Valley Olympics
But, what really helped the ice-resurfacing machine shoot to fame where iconic images of a Zamboni efficiently cleaning ice and leaving a smooth, clear surface at the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California.
"Since then, the name Zamboni has become synonymous with the ice-resurfacing machine," notes the hockey hall of fame induction video. The company says that about 10,000 of the machines have been delivered worldwide -- each one traveling about 2,000 ice-resurfacing miles a year. It's quite a legacy for two brothers who began selling blocks of ice.
Indeed, notes the company website: "Frank often pointed out to rink owners a comment indicative of his own lifelong mission: 'The principal product you have to sell is the ice itself'.”