Jan Szczepanik

Slightly taller than Bem and just as active, Jan Szczepanik, aka 'the Polish Edison', fought his battles inside the relatively safe atmosphere of a scientific laboratory. Born of peasant stock on April 13, 1872 in the small village of Rudniki, 80km north of Katowice, the extraordinary man with the extraordinary moustache was your classic high school dropout with a brain the size of a planet. Starting his adult life as an unassuming teacher, the young Szczepanik took an interest in the problems associated with the primitive weaving technology of the day, and through a combination of lucky breaks and a recognition of his talents was able to abandon his academic life in 1896 and focus all his time and energy on his passion. The visionary pioneer of motion pictures, television, photography, wireless telegraph, early flying machines, submarines and a whole host of other things we take for granted today arrived in Tarnów in 1902 via Vienna, where he settled down with his young bride, Wanda. Managing to combine a life that involved working for several of the world’s top companies while immersing himself in his own private work and fathering no less than five children, Tarnów’s adopted genius was feted by royalty (among his many achievements, Szczepanik invented the bullet-proof jacket at the personal request of Spain’s king Alfonso XIII in 1901) and was a personal friend of Mark Twain, who visited and wrote about him in Vienna during the early days of his career. The sadly overlooked inventor fell seriously ill in 1925, and died of liver cancer in his adopted hometown on April 18, 1926.

On the 76th anniversary of Jan Szczepanik’s death on April 18, 2002, a rather charming bust of the great man was unveiled in Tarnów in the little green square at Pl. Sienkiewicza, directly north of the Old Town and close to the central post office. Curiously, a little fragment of his legendary moustache has been chipped off, leaving one to wonder whether our hero was the victim of an attack of common vandalism, or if perhaps a visiting Szczepanik devotee simply had to take a little piece of the larger than life man home as a souvenir.


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