The History (and Science!) of Ice Skating, in Five Facts
Who invented ice skating? What's the ideal temperature for rink ice? When is a Zamboni not a Zamboni? These kinds of questions have been weighing on our minds as we prepare ourselves for the Winter Games, so we set out to find the answers. Some of them, it turns out, are even cooler (excuse the pun) than we thought. Check out these ice skating facts to keep in your pocket for your next trivia night:
1. When making ice, hot water is better than cold water.
Common sense says that cold water will freeze faster that hot water, but that doesn't mean it will freeze better. In fact, the ideal temperature for ice-making water—at least in the rink—is between 140°F and 160°F. The hotter the water, the less oxygen it contains, thus making it easier for the molecules to bind together and freeze. (This is also the principle artisanal ice-makers use to achieve perfect clarity in their cubes.)
2. Rink ice should never be too cold.
Once frozen, rink ice has its own ideal temperature—a sweet spot hovering between 24°F and 26°F. Some rink owners erroneously believe that the colder the ice, the easier it is to skate on, but ice kept lower than 20 degrees actually has a tendency to become brittle and chip.
3. The Zamboni is the Kleenex of ice resurfacers.
Although most ice resurfacers are referred to as Zambonis, the name Zamboni technically only covers one trademarked brand. That would be the company founded by Frank J. Zamboni, who invented the first ice resurfacer in 1947. Prior to this, ice was traditionally resurfaced by a tractor dragging a scraper behind it, and the results were as rough as you might imagine. The Zamboni Company is still in business today, and though all of its Zambonis are ice resurfacers, not all ice resurfacers are Zambonis.
4. Ice skating became popular because it's a co-ed sport.
Several ice-skating ponds sprang up around New York City in the early 19th century, but these catered almost exclusively to the upper class. Central Park changed that when its first skating pond opened in the winter of 1858. Since the surrounding restaurants already served New Yorkers of all incomes and backgrounds, the pond did the same, transforming the frozen water into a frozen melting pot that reflected the diversity of the city itself.
Another important note about the history of ice skating is that the pond was also one of the first skating areas open to both men and women. Because young couples could circle the pond unsupervised—and maybe sneak a kiss here and there—ice skating quickly rose in popularity in America.
5. The first ice skates were built not for sport, but for survival.
When it comes to ice skating facts, you might have heard somewhere that the first ice skates were made from leather straps and animal bone. This is true, but the ancient Scandinavians who crafted them were not interested in leisure. They were in search of a more efficient means of traveling in the winter, and they figured that gliding across ice—even at the relatively slow pace of 5 miles an hour—was faster and conserved more body energy than trudging through the snow. Archaeologists speculate that Finland may have been the birthplace of ice skates, due to the country's abundance of long, thin lakes that often had to be crossed during hunting trips.
This article was originally written in 2015 by Dan Caffrey. It has since been updated.
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