Source: Donald M. Clark Unpublished Notes**
Many scientists and technical personalities were involved, directly and indirectly, in the development of mechanical refrigeration. The first man-made refrigeration, produced by the evaporation of ethyl ether into a partial vacuum, 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 by means of which ice was made. Another American, Alexander Twinning of Cleveland in 1856 produced the first commercial ice 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 1850’s Ferdinand Carre in 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 is then condensed. The evaporation of the liquid produces the desired cooling. The refrigerant vapor is again absorbed 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 their compressors and finding a substitute for ammonia. Post-World War I found the discovery of halogenated hydrocarbons such as Freon #11, 12, and 22 which proved to be safer and superior to ammonia as the refrigerant.
Early artificial ice rinks
William Newton, in 1870 constructed a building in New York suitable for skating. 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 at Chelsea, in Charing Cross, London, England in 1876. The small surface, 100 square feet, was built with copper pipes being laid down, and through these a mixture of glycerin and water was circulated after having been chilled by ether. The pipes were then covered with water.
In 1876 the Rusholm rink in Manchester, England used the Gamgee process successfully in a larger rank 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 surface rink was built in Southport, England. This rink 70’ x 170’ (12,000 square feet) operated continuously for 10 years until it closed in 1889 due to financial problems. The Southport rink was the first large-size rink to operate successfully.
Thomas L. Rankin in 1879 installed a mechanically frozen ice service in the first Madison Square Garden in New York. 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 was featured by a gala ice carnival, a popular event at the time.
During the late 1880’s and early 1890’s, several rinks were constructed in Europe such as those in London, Paris, Nice, Berlin, Frankfort and Munich. The Paris, London and Munich installations were circular in shape. In conjunction with an 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago a mechanically refrigerated ice rink, 54’ x 208’, using brine was installed in a beautiful Mohammedan architectural styled building built by the Hercules Iron Works. This, the first full-size rink in the country, was never placed into use; as a fire occurred in the building as it was being finished and it was completely destroyed.
San Francisco, in connection with the Northern California fair, built a rink in 1893-94 with an ice surface all the 60’ x 160’. A Hercules machine for cooling the brine was part of the equipment. On December 14, 1894, the Ice Palace at Lexington and 107th Street in New York was opened with a large ice surface of 20,000 square feet. This was the first of three artificial ice rinks that were operating in New York City during the mid-1890’s. Less than two weeks after the opening of the Ice Palace in New York the North Avenue rink in Baltimore was opened with a hockey game, believed to be the first hockey game in North America played on artificial ice, between John Hopkins University and the Baltimore Athletic Club. The Baltimore Sun edition of December 26 reported on the refrigeration system as follows: “Over three and on-half miles of 1 ½ inch pipe are laid throughout the floor. This is covered with 4 inches of water which was frozen solid to 100 tons of ice in thirty-seven 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 Schenly 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 1890’s. After a few years of operation the rink was closed and was re-opened later as the Duquesne Gardens. The re-opened rink changed to the brine system.
For a famous St. Nicholas Arena, built by and for the elite society of New York, was opened in March, 1896. The ice surface measured 80’ x 180’ and the brine for the refrigerating was cooled by two 40-ton ammonia refrigerating machines. College and amateur hockey games were played in the building until its destruction 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 reputed 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 their 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, the Elysium, was built in 1908 and was the first to place the pipes in concrete. The Elysium operated continuously until 1942. Albany, New York constructed an artificial ice rink in 1906, which 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 re-built within a few years. A large rink was constructed in Chicago at the Marshfield Avenue Station in 1909. 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 member of the Pacific Coast Hockey league, a major league circuit from 1912 through 1922.
In the early 1920’s rinks were built in Philadelphia and Milwaukee. Both of these installations had the pipes embedded in concrete, which was covered with terrazzo. The Arena in Philadelphia had a system of heating up the brine which enabled the floor to be warmed up quickly so the ice could be quickly 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. There was no artificial ice installation in Michigan's 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 Canada trailed behind that in the United States. It was not until 1911 that an artificial rink had been built in the Dominion. The Patrick brothers built rinks in Vancouver and Victoria, located in British Columbia, in 1911. In 1912 Toronto installed artificial ice, the first in Eastern Canada. By 1920, only four artificial ice rinks were running in all of Canada.