First artificial ice rink in North America opens, at Madison Square Garden in New York

Public spectacles have been the mainstay of entertainment at least since the ancient Roman times. Roman rulers built massive arenas for stage plays (and to throw heretics to the lions). Madison Square Garden, one of the largest spaces of its kind, came from the arena tradition. In its original form it housed a velodrome — cycling was all the rage in those days — and enough capacity to seat 10,000 people. It also held the first indoor ice hockey rink.On this day, February 12, in 1879, the first artificial indoor ice rink opened within Madison Square Garden.

The rink was a marvel of innovation: over a mile of wrought-iron pipes transported liquid ammonia brine through a layered floor, cooling it to the freezing point of water. Four inches of water were then sprayed on the surface, the equivalent of several tons of ice.