The First Artificial Skating Rinks Looked Pretty But Smelled Terrible

The first artificial ice skating rink opened in London in June of 1844, after a few months in a temporary location at Covent Gardens. Strangely, that was before the technology was available to freeze water for the skating surface. The Glaciarium was decorated to resemble a winter wonderland, refreshing in the summer heat. It would have been easier to create the illusion if they had air conditioning.  

But, as Tim Jepson and Larry Porges write ​in the National Geographic London Book of Lists, it smelled noxious.  “At the time, ice couldn’t be manufactured and kept frozen in sufficient quantities to create a proper rink. The appalling smell of the substitute, a mixture of pig fat and salts, would be the project’s undoing,” they write.

Skating on a surface of lard in the summer had to be extremely unpleasant. The Glaciarium only lasted a few months before it closed down. But the technology to build a real rink came about some years later, and Londoners were skating on ice by 1876. Read how that came about at Smithsonian.

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