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A History of Ice Rinks

The name 'rink' is Scottish in origin and literally means 'course', this was an area where they played curling.</p>

In the early days, ice rinks were natural in composition, meaning that a frozen body of water was used to host the games, and it wasn't until much later on that cooling technology was developed to create artificial and indoor ice rinks.

Skating as a concept was a means of getting across the extensive system of canals and waterways in northern Europe and is said to have originated in Finland as long as 3000 years ago. It was only when ice became available year-round that sports such as hockey and figure skating took off.

The first artificial ice rink was made in London in 1841. It was chemically produced and was very small, 12 ft by 6 ft. It was created in the most unlikeliest of places, in a seed-room in the grounds of a nursery and it was designed as a demonstration to attract investors for a much larger ‘Glaciarium and Frozen Lake' which would soon be opened to the paying public.

This was made by two men, Henry Kirk, who had patented his 'Substitute for Ice for Skating and Sliding Purposes', and William Bradwell, who was an architect.
However, it was not a financial success and the novelty wore off. The surface was costly to produce and to maintain, not only that but the quality of the ice was not good enough.

Then in May 1876 the world witnessed the opening of the first water based artificial ice rink 'The Glaciarium' made by inventor, Professor John Gamgee. He had come across the idea while experimenting in the production of refrigeration for the preservation of meat. It raised immediate interest. The process involved flooding the floor of the rink with water to a depth or 2-3 inches over flattened copper pipes. A combination of ether, water and glycerine, was then pumped through the pipes. Chemical reactions produced intense cold in the pipes which then froze the water. He went on to open two further rinks. The first was a 3000ft square rink at the floating swimming baths on the Thames in London, and a rink in Rusholme, Manchester.

Unfortunately this system had it's problems as well and skaters were having to deal with a thick mist rising off the surface due to the cold of the ice. Despite this, one rink using his system was opened in Southport, Manchester which operated successfully for over ten years.

Some Milestones

  • 1876 - The first indoor ice rink opens in London. The ice is made through an expensive process of sending a mixture of glycerin and water through copper pipes.
  • 1879 - The first indoor ice rink in the United States opens in Madison Square Garden in New York City, NY
  • 1908 - The first Olympic figure-skating competition is held on a refrigerated indoor rink as part of the Summer Games in London.
  • 1976 - Ice dancing becomes a Winter Olympics sport.