Although he doesn't participate in the sports himself, Frank Zamboni, 81, may have done more than anybody else to make ice hockey, figure skating, and speed skating popular. He is the inventor of the Zamboni Ice Resurfacing Machine.
A native of Eureka, Utah, Zamboni had been operating the Iceland Skating Rink in Paramount, Calif., for three years before he began experimenting with different ways to clean off the rink's snow and slush. At that time, ice clearing was done manually -- a process that took three men up to an hour and a half.
In 1942 he rigged up a tractor and sled to clean his rink and then spent the next seven years refining his invention. "If an idea doesn't work out the first time," says Zamboni, a self-proclaimed perfectionist, "you just keep on trying."
Perseverance paid off; in the early 1950s, figure-skating star Sonja Henie saw a prototype of the machine and requested one of her own to take on a world tour. Since then the Zamboni has gone on to achieve worldwide popularity in 33 countries.
Zamboni's ice resurfacer has been used in the Olympics since 1960, preparing the ice on which 106 speed-skating records were set in the 1980 Winter Olympics. "Ice skating could never have gotten to where it is now unless a machine of this kind had been developed," he says.
Zamboni, who has 3 children, 14 grandchildren, and 7 great-grandchildren, may be the only nonskater named to the Ice Skating Hall of Fame. "I tried skating," he states. "It wasn't fun. You can't play when you have to work."
The manufacturing plant in Paramount sells between 70 and 90 Zambonis a year at prices ranging from $5,000 to $40,000. Annual sales are over $1 million. Zamboni, chairmanof the board, isn't placing all his faith in winter sports, though; the company also makes machines that roll down and dry Astro-Turf.