Hockey Central

Early Artificial Ice

The Development of Refrigeration Allowed the Game to Spread

Many scientists and technical people were involved in the development of mechanical refrigeration — the initial step towards the creation of artificial ice rinks. The first man-made refrigeration was produced by the evaporation of ethyl ether into a partial vacuum and is credited to William Cullen of the University of Glasgow in 1748. In 1834, Jacob Perkins obtained a British patent on a volatile-liquid, closed-cycle system using a compressor. He built one successful machine but did not pursue his invention.

In 1844, Dr. John Gorrie in Apalachicola, Florida, developed a machine to provide ice and air conditioning for his hospital. He was granted a patent in 1850 on a closed-cycle air refrigerating machine which made ice. Another American, Alexander Twinning of Cleveland, produced the first commercial ice in 1856 by means of a vapor-compression machine. James Harrison in Australia became interested in refrigeration and, after surveying the machines of Gorrie and Twinning, developed the first vapor-compression machine for use in the brewing industry and for freezing meat for shipment to England. Harrison's machine, which was produced for several decades, employed ethyl ether as the refrigerant.

During the 1850s, Ferdinand Carre of France developed a second type of refrigeration machine. In his system, the refrigerant (normally a vapor) is absorbed in a suitable liquid. This solution is heated, driving off the refrigerant as a vapor, which then is condensed. Evaporation of the liquid produces the desired cooling. The refrigerant vapor is absorbed again in the liquid, thus completing the cycle. In 1859, Carre introduced ammonia as the refrigerant with ammonia-water as an absorbent. The successful combination was used throughout the world.

The basic principles on which refrigeration machines operate were developed prior to the end of the 19th century. Subsequent inventions involved only modifications and improvements in the machines and processes. The biggest changes were improving the compressors and finding a substitute for ammonia. Post-World War 1 found the discovery of halogenated hydrocarbons such as Freon 11, 12 and 22 which proved to be safer and superior to ammonia as a refrigerant.

Artificial ice rinks first appeared in the 1870s. William New ton constructed a building in New York suitable for skating in 1870. Using the invention of Matthew Bujac of New York, he produced ice by circulating ammonia gas, ether, and carbonic acid through tubes placed below the surface of the water. A mechanically refrigerated ice surface was constructed by Professor Gamgee of Chelsea, in Charing Cross, London, England in 1876. The 100-square foot surface was built with copper pipes, and through these a mixture of glycerine and water was circulated after it had been chilled by ether. The pipes were covered with water.

In 1876 the Rusholm rink in Manchester, England used the Gamgee process successfully in a larger rink than the one at Chelsea. the rink ran for one year, being used by figure and public skaters. A few years later in 1879, a large rink was built in Southport, England. This 70' x 170' rink (12,000 square feet) operated continuously for 10 years until it closed in 1889 due to financial problems. Economics aside, as a piece of engineering, the ice sheet in Southport was the first successful large ice surface.

Thomas L. Rankin installed a mechanically frozen ice surface in 1879 in New York's Madison Square Garden. The installation had an ice surface of 6,000 square feet, about one-third the size of a modern hockey rink. The opening of Rankin's rink featured a gala ice carnival, a popular event at the time. During the late 1880s and early 1890s, several rinks were constructed in European cities like London, Paris, Nice, Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich. The Paris, London and Munich rinks were circular.

In conjunction with the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, a large (54' x 208') mechanically refrigerated ice rink that used brine was installed in a beautiful Mohammedan-styled building built by the Hercules Iron Works. This, the first full-size rink in the country, was never used; a fire occurred in the building as it was being finished and it was completely destroyed. San Francisco, hosting the annual Northern California Far, built a rink in 1893-94 with an ice surface of 60' x 160'. A Hercules machine for cooling the brine was part of the equipment. On December 14, 1894, the Ice Pirates at Lexington and 107th Street in New York was opened with a large ice surface of 20,000 square feet.

Less than two weeks after the opening of the Ice Palace in New York, the North Avenue Rink in Baltimore was opened its doors by staging a hockey game — believed to be the first hockey game in North America played on artificial ice — between Johns Hopkins University and the Baltimore Athletic Club. The Baltimore Sun edition of December 26 considered the refrigeration system to be newsworthy: "Over three and one-half miles of 1½-inch pipe are laid throughout the floor. This is covered with four inches of water which was frozen solid to 100 tons of ice in 37 hours. The refrigeration system is by means of compressed liquid ammonia allowed to expand in pipes running through a brine tank. The cold brine is then pumped through the pipes in the rink by force of a 60-ton engine. The water is thus frozen to a solid mass of clear ice."

Pittsburgh's Schenley Park Casino rink was constructed in 1895. A full-size rink that employed direct expansion for the first time, the rink was a popular home for amateur hockey in the late 1890s. After a few years of operation the rink was closed, later reopening as the Duquesne Gardens. The reopened rink changed to the brine system. The famous St. Nicholas Arena, built by and for the elite of New York, was opened in March 1896. The ice surface measured 80' x 180' and the brine for the refrigeration was cooled by two 40-ton ammonia refrigerating machines. College and amateur hockey games were played in the building until it was destroyed by fire in 1918. In October 1896, the Brooklyn Ice Palace on Claremont Avenue opened, giving New York three artificial ice rinks. Maintained by two Buffalo compressors, the ice surface measured 85' x 155'. What was reported to be the largest sheet of artificial ice in the world opened in January 1896, in the Convention Hall in Washington, D.C. The rink's surface measured 155' x 205'.

By 1899, St. Louis and Philadelphia had built artificial ice rinks. The St. Louis rink operated next to a commercial ice plant and used its ice-making equipment. St. Louis organized a four-team local hockey league and held a four-team tournament in conjunction with the 1904 World's Fair. Teams involved included those from Minnesota, Michigan and St. Louis. Cleveland's first rink, known as the Elysium, was built in 1908 and was the first to place the pipes in concrete. The Elysium operated continuously until 1943. Albany, New York constructed an artificial ice rink in 1906, but it was short-lived.

The Boston Arena, built in 1909, had an ice surface of 90' x 242'. The rink played an important part in the development of hockey and figure skating in the Boston area. The building was destroyed by fire in 1918 and rebuilt within a few years. In 1909, a large rink also was constructed in Chicago at the Marchfield Avenue Station.

Between 1911 and 1918, rinks with artificial ice were built in New Haven, Syracuse, San Francisco, San Diego, St. Louis, Portland, Seattle and Spokane. The latter three cities, at one time or another, along with Vancouver, Victoria and New Westminster, were members of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, a major-league circuit from 1912 through 1924. In the early 1920s, rinks were built in Philadelphia and Milwaukee. Both of these installations had pipes embedded in concrete which in turn was covered with terrazzo paving. The Arena in Philadelphia had a system of heating brine which enabled the floor to be warmed up quickly so the ice could be removed.

Minnesota, a state known for hockey and skaters, did not have artificial ice until the Minneapolis Arena and Duluth Amphitheater were built in 1924. Despite the popularity of hockey in Upper Michigan,, there was no artificial ice installation in "Copper Country" until after World War II. Many of the early rinks encountered financial problems and operated for only a few years.

Construction of mechanically refrigerated rinks in the colder Canadian climate trailed behind that in the United States. It was not until 1911 that an artificial ice rink had been built in the Dominion. The Patrick brothers, Lester and Frank, built rinks in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia, in 1911. In 1912, artificial ice was installed in Toronto, a first in Eastern Canada. By 1920, only four artificial ice rinks were running in all of Canada.