This Date in NHL History: Zamboni Keeping NHL Games Running Smooth Since 1955

Vince ComunaleContributor IMarch 13, 2012

The zamboni made its NHL debut in Montreal on March 10, 1955.
The zamboni made its NHL debut in Montreal on March 10, 1955.Marc Serota/Getty Images

Play in the NHL began to get a lot smoother on the ice this week in 1955. On March 10, 1955 the Zamboni made its debut in Montreal.

Before the Zamboni was invented, ice surfaces had to be manually shoveled and could take a crew of three men more than an hour to complete.

The Zamboni is named for its founder, Frank Zamboni. Frank, a high school dropout, and his brother had built an ice rink in Paramount, California in 1940, but they weren’t satisfied with the labor-intensive task of manually resurfacing the ice.

Armed with his background in cooling and refrigeration, Zamboni went to work on a prototype for an ice resurfacing machine.

After years of work, he came up with the Model A Zamboni in 1949. It took a while for the idea to catch on for use in hockey games.

In fact, the first Zamboni was sold for $5,000 in 1950 to the Pasadena Winter Garden. Subsequent ones were sold to figure skaters and the Ice Capades.

The machine is definitely built for its functionality, not the speed at which it gets the job done.

The Zamboni tops out at a maximum speed of 9.7 mph and goes from 0-1/4 mile in 93.5 seconds. The machines have improved significantly since the Model A, but the basic premise of how they work has remained the same.

The zambonis used in the 2006 Olympics ran on electricity.
The zambonis used in the 2006 Olympics ran on electricity.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The machine’s sharp blade shaves a thin layer off the top of the ice while jets of clean water are simultaneously spraying the dirt and debris out of the remaining groves left in the ice.

Lastly, warm water that is being dispersed from the back of the machine is spread evenly on the ice by a “towel” that drags along the ice surface from the back of the Zamboni.

The technology within the machines as well as the technology to produce them has increased significantly over time. 

For instance, the 15 Zamboni machines used at the 2006 Torino, Italy Olympics ran on electricity.

The number is rather significant, considering that from 1950 to 1954 there were only 15 Zambonis produced.

Today, the Zamboni company produces 200 to 250 machines annually.

While Frank Zamboni is most well-known for his ice resurfacing machine, he’s also responsible for some other inventions that assist with people on ice (so to speak).

You see, Zamboni also invented the “black widow,” a machine used to fill in dirt on top of cemetery vaults and also the “vault carrier,” which lifts and carries heavy cement burial vaults.

Most fans of NHL hockey, understandably, take the ice resurfacing process for granted.

However, if you take a step back and think about it, what would NHL games be like without the Zamboni?

It really is a remarkable technology that has kept NHL games running smooth since this week in 1955.