The name Zamboni is one of the most famous names in hockey. However, Zamboni isn’t the last name of the man to score the most hat-tricks (Gretzky), or the all time leading scorer (… Gretzky), or had the most assists ever (yeah so… Wayne Gretzky was really good at hockey). Instead, it’s the brand name of that big boxy machine that cleans the ice between periods. Just as Xerox is used to refer to making a copy of something or Kleenex is used interchangeably with “tissues”, Zamboni became so popular that it is now the default name for any and all ice-resurfacers, even if they’re not a Zamboni.

The unlikely story of how the Zamboni came to be starts with Frank Zamboni, the son of Italian immigrants, growing up in Southern California. After opening a business with his brother installing large refrigeration units, they expanded their business by building a plant to make blocks of ice to keep produce from spoiling while traveling by train across the country. As refrigeration technology developed, and demand for blocks of ice waned, the brothers looked for other ways to apply their ice making expertise.

Pre-Zamboni Ice Team - Adsum
Before the invention of Zamboni's, it took a team of 3-4 people to refurbish the ice.

The USA’s growing interest in ice-skating was the perfect fit and resulted in the entrepreneurial brothers and their cousin opening Iceland Skating Rink in their hometown of Paramount, CA in 1939. At this time, maintaining an ice surface was a laborious and time intensive job. Walking behind a scraper being pulled by a tractor, 3-4 workers would scoop up the shavings, spray the ice with water, and then squeegee the surface; a process that took more than an hour. As the proverb goes “necessity is the mother of invention” and Frank needed a quicker and better way to clean his ice. In 1942 Frank bought a tractor and began to tinker. After 3 prototypes and 7 years he was finally able to get a good sheet of ice consistently and the “Model A Zamboni Ice Resurfacer” was born. There have been a lot of internal upgrades since the Model A, but the iconic look of that original machine has remained largely unchanged.

Tim Hortons Zamboni - Adsum
Taking a Zamboni through a Tim Horton's drive-thru is about as Canadian as you can get.

The Boston Bruins became the first NHL team to use a Zamboni in 1954 and since then they have become ubiquitous in the league. When they began to make appearances they instantly became an unintended form of entertainment. Some owners began to voice concern for the machine as concession stands suffered while people opted to stay in the stands and watch the Zamboni. Even Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts, made Charlie Brown remark that there are three things in life people like to stare at; a crackling fire, a flowing stream, and a Zamboni clearing the ice.