Made in Croatia

Croatian Pioneers and Inventors: Croats Who Changed the World

By 10 February 2021
Croatian pioneers Andrija Stampar, Nikola Tesla and Ivan Mestrovic
Croatian pioneers Andrija Stampar, Nikola Tesla and Ivan Mestrovic © Grad Zagreb / Napoleon Sarony / Archive of Ivan Mestrovic Museum, adapted

February 10, 2021 –For a relatively small country, Croatia punches above its weight in terms of global impact. Croatian pioneers, inventors and artists have changed the lives of millions and the world in which they live. Here are just a few of them

For a relatively small country, Croatia punches above its weight in terms of global impact. And, no, this time we're not talking about football or olive oil. Croatian pioneers, inventors and artists have changed the lives of millions and the world in which they live. Now, a new exhibition is about to open in Zagreb which collects Croatian pioneers together in just tribute.

'Croatia to the World' is the title of the exhibition and it looks at not only Croatian pioneers and inventors but also prominent scientists, artists, writers and researchers. The exhibition, which is jointly organised by the Croatian media title Večernji list, opens on February 12 in Zagreb's Meštrović Pavilion, otherwise known as the House of Croatian Artists. 1500 exhibits demonstrate the ingenuity and achievements of Croatian pioneers, with each accompanied by text that tells you about the individuals and the significance of their work.

Ranging from household names to the unjustly overlooked, here are some of the Croatian pioneers from the exhibition who have changed the world.

Croatian pioneers who changed the world

Ruđer Bošković

rudjer-boskovic.jpgRuđer Bošković (1711 – 1787) © Zagreb City Libraries

It's difficult to imagine the mind Dubrovnik-born polymath Ruđer Bošković was blessed with. He was a physicist, astronomer, mathematician, engineer, writer, philosopher, diplomat, poet, theologian and also became a Jesuit priest. Perhaps today remembered best for his visionary predictions in the realms of physics - including the idea of the relativity of space and time and the constant speed of light - and his lasting discoveries in the field of astronomy, the most trivial of which is perhaps the easiest to explain (he discovered the absence of atmosphere on the Moon) in his time, he was famed across Europe for much more besides. The world-famous Ruđer Bošković Institute in Zagreb, Croatia's largest institute of natural sciences and technology, now stands as a permanent testament to him and his achievements.

Josip Belušić

1584015909josip_belusic.jpgJosip Belušić (1847 - 1905) © Public domain

An Istrian-born inventor, Josip Belušić's best-known creation is the speedometer, which instantaneously informs the speed of the vehicle in which you're travelling. His invention was installed in every motorised vehicle manufactured thereafter, including motorbikes, boats and cars.

Faust Vrančić

FaustVRANCIC123.jpgFaust Vrančić (circa 1551 – 1617) © Miroslav Krleža Institute of Lexicography

Born into a well-connected family, it is not possible to attribute Faust Vrančić's breadth of vision solely to a privileged youth and education. His documented imaginings and inventions extended to water, wind and solar energy, mill workings, agricultural machinery, the building of bridges and a forerunner of the parachute which, while later than Leonardo da Vinci's sketchings, is believed to have been the first to have actually been built and tested. A memorial centre on the protected island of Prvić, near his birthplace of Šibenik, is a great place to learn more about him.

Ivan Blaž Lupis Vukić

Luppis-Johannrijek.jpgIvan Blaž Lupis Vukić (1813 – 1875) © Prirodoslovna i grafička škola Rijeka

The great Croatian city of Rijeka had a big part to play in the era of modern Naval warfare, not least for Croatian pioneers developing the torpedo there. Ivan Blaž Lupis Vukić headed a commission to develop the first prototypes of the self-propelled torpedo, perfecting early designs with the help of English engineer Robert Whitehead (from Bolton, near Manchester - the writer of this article went to school with his descendants - Ed).

Antun Lučić

Anthony_F._Lucas1.jpgAntun Lučić (1855 – 1921) © Public domain

Born in Split but raised further up the Adriatic coast in Trieste, after completing his studies in engineering, Antun Lučić must have imagined he might forever apply these skills on the Adriatic ships he subsequently sailed on as a member of the Austro-Hungarian navy. But, his destiny lay elsewhere. Something persuaded him to stay on for longer while he was visiting his uncle near Detroit, Michigan. The Great Lakes which lay just ten kilometres to his north are so vast, perhaps they reminded him of the Adriatic and he felt at home? He scored a job in a local sawmill, but he couldn't suppress his engineer's instinct and set about improving their saw machinery. It was perhaps his success in doing so that persuaded him to return to more engineering-based endeavours. He went to work as a mechanical engineer in the mining industry, in which he stayed for 13 years. He ended up working for a salt mining company. By this time he'd learned the relationship between salt deposits, sulphur, natural gas, and oil deposits so, when he visited the Sour Spring Mound, south of Beaumont, Texas in 1899, instinct told him that something worth drilling for lay beneath this distinct topography. He was right. It took a fair amount of begging and borrowing to attain the funds required to drill to the necessary 347 metres but, on 10 January 1901, mud and water erupted from the drill hole, followed by a stream of crude oil that reached 46 metres into the air. The eruption lasted nine days, flowing between 70,000 and 100,000 barrels per day, before finally being brought under control. The significance of his work cannot be overstated. As well as the many innovations he constructed specifically for this kind of drilling and capping, Lučić is considered to be the founder of modern petroleum reservoir engineering. He helped revolutionize world fuel use, transformed the economy of southeast Texas, made the automobile a viable, widespread transport option and made the city of Houston the centre of an American oil industry, which thereafter surpassed Russia as the world's leading producer. Lučić subsequently served as the lifelong chairman of the American Committee for Oil and Gas.

Saint Jerome

1754px-Italian_Emilian_-_St_Jerome_in_Penitence_-_Google_Art_Project.jpgSaint Jerome In Penitence © Dulwich Picture Library. Saint Jerome lived circa 342/347 – 420

Born on the borders of the Roman provinces of Dalmatia and Pannonia, Jerome of Stridon was a priest and writer who is best known for his translation of most of the Bible from Hebrew into Latin. It took him some 20 years to complete and he went to live in the region once known as Judea (today's Israel) in order to fully learn the language. Beyond any religious reference, his work still shapes the laws, customs and culture of the European continent today - much of its construction has its foundations in his Bible translation and commentary.

Nikola Tesla

AnyConv.com__N.Tesla_1.jpgNikola Tesla (1856 – 1943) © Public domain

Arguably the most famous of all Croatian pioneers, Tesla was an inventor and hugely innovative engineer who applied his visionary mind to the fields of early x-rays, wireless power supply, electromagnetic radiation, radio waves and much, much more. However, he is best known for pioneering the alternating current (AC) electricity supply system by which electricity is safely distributed to every home, street and business to this day. Over 130 streets are named after him in Croatia.

Herman Potočnik Noordung

Herman_Potocnik_Noordung.jpgHerman Potočnik (1892 – 1929) © Public domain

Often eclipsed in modern memory by the achievements of the American space programme, the first astronaut in space was actually Russian Yuri Gagarin . He completed one orbit of Earth on 12 April 1961. Yet his achievements perhaps help eclipse that of a Pula-born Croatian pioneer who was concerned with space travel some three decades earlier. Way back in 1928, Herman Potočnik Noordung published his sole book, Das Problem der Befahrung des Weltraums - der Roketen-Motor (The Problem of Space Travel - The Rocket Motor) in which, over 188 pages and 100 handmade illustrations, Potočnik set out a plan for a breakthrough into space and the establishment of a permanent human presence there. He conceived a detailed design for a space station, regarded by Russian and American historians of space flight to be the first architecture in space, described the potential use of orbiting spacecraft for detailed observation of the ground and how the special conditions of space could be useful for scientific experiments.

Andrija Štampar

AndrijaStampar1.jpgAndrija Štampar (1888 – 1958) © Štampar

Nothing short of a genius, Andrija Štampar was a selfless proponent and pioneer of public health. He ignored class, conventions and ruling regimes in order to benefit the health of millions of everyday people, all over the world, and insisted that anyone holding the position of doctor should do the same. He was imprisoned more than once for his efforts but, undeterred, pursued a path of education and reform, helped to form the World Health Organisation and saved millions of lives.

Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić

Ivana_brlic_mazuranic_II.jpgIvana Brlić-Mažuranić (1874 – 1938) © Public domain

Both born and married into families within the upper echelons of Croatian society, Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić is regarded as Croatia's greatest writer for children. Though written over a century ago, her books like 'The Brave Adventures of Lapitch' (Čudnovate zgode šegrta Hlapića) and 'Croatian Tales of Long Ago' (Priče iz davnine) still remain popular. In the latter, she invented fantastical fairytales that referenced ancient folklore, earning her comparisons to Hans Christian Andersen. She was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature no less than four times and was the first female to enter what is today the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts.

Benedikt Kotruljević

Benedikt_Koturljevic.jpgStatue of Benedikt Kotruljević in Zagreb © Suradnik13. He lived 1416 – 1469

The double-entry bookkeeping system described first by 15th-century merchant, economist, scientist, diplomat and humanist Benedikt Kotruljević remains integral to modern accounting.

Andrija Mohorovičić

AndrijaMihlvc.jpegAndrija Mohorovičić (1857 – 1936) © Davorka Herak and Marijan Herak

No less than the founder of modern seismology, Andrija Mohorovičić was the first person to establish that the geologically alive Earth is covered with large plates whose movement and collision are the cause of earthquakes. He determined the thickness of the Earth's crust and predicted the effects of earthquakes on buildings, as well as working within the areas of meteorology and climatology. He founded the Meteorological Observatory in Zagreb, which remains internationally significant in seismic measurements.

Ivo Andrić

AnyConv.com__1739px-S._Kragujevic_Andric_na_vest_o_N._nagradi_1961.jpgIvo Andrić and his wife in 1961, upon hearing he had been awarded the Nobel Prize of Literature © Stevan Kragujević

In his best works 'Travnička kronika' and 'Na Drini ćuprija', Ivo Andrić (1892 – 1975) offered staggering depictions of the lives of his multi-ethnic countrymen in Bosnia under Ottoman rule. No stranger himself to the volatile changing of regimes in the Balkans, he wrote them while confined to an apartment in Nazi-occupied Belgrade, which today exists a museum in his honour. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961, having been chosen over the likes of J. R. R. Tolkien, John Steinbeck and E. M. Forster. He donated the entire prize money to the purchase of books for libraries in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Julije Klović

Julije_Klovic_2.jpgPortrait of Julije Klović by El Greco © Public domain. He lived 1498 – 1578

The making of a great book was a much more laboured and careful undertaking in the 16th century, their pages adorned not only with text but vivid ornamental decorations, known as illuminations. Julije Klović's were the greatest of them all. He was the foremost illuminator of the Italian High Renaissance, and arguably the last very notable artist to work within this long tradition. His now priceless works exist in some of the world's most prestigious museums, although an impressive number were brought to Zagreb in 2012 for an exhibition at the famous Klovićevi Dvori gallery, which is named after him.

Marko Marulić

Marko_Marulic_Zagreb.jpgStatue of Marko Marulić in Zagreb © Suradnik13

Born into an aristocratic Dalmatian family, Marko Marulić (1450 – 1524) is today revered in Croatia as the father of the Croatian renaissance, one of the first writers to describe his language as Croatian and something of a national poet. His achievements do actually extend beyond the national obsession – his Christianity-informed writings on humanist and ethical matters were largely produced in Latin and subsequently translated into many languages. His use of the word 'psychology' is the oldest known in literature.

Ivan Meštrović

600-biografija-753-Kopirajmestro.pngIvan Meštrović (1883 – 1962) © Archive of the Ivan Meštrović Museum

The pre-eminent sculptor of his era, you genuinely need to be in the actual presence of Drnis-born Meštrović's major works to understand them. They do not live solitary existences. Instead, they inhabit the space around them, creating indelible memories of time and place. In doing so, his globally famous works help define the cities of Split, Chicago, Belgrade and Zagreb. Incredible!

Marco Polo

Marco_Polo_Mosaic_from_Palazzo_Tursi.jpgMosaic of Marco Polo displayed in the Palazzo Doria-Tursi, Genoa © Public domain. He lived 1254 – 1324

In the age of television and the internet, it's difficult to imagine parts of the world being completely unknown. But, at the time of Korčula-born Marco Polo's travels and subsequent writings, that's exactly what China and the Far East were to the inhabitants of Europe. His book, 'The Travels of Marco Polo' shockingly revealed these lands and their people to a fascinated European populace. Collated over 24 years of life and exploration in the East, the details of his travels helped join these two continents together and the book became the third most translated in the world, after the Bible and the Qur'an.

Gjuro Armeno Baglivi

1525px-Portret_van_Giorgio_Baglivi_op_34-jarige_leeftijd_Georgius_Baglius_aetat._34_titel_op_object_RP-P-1909-5657.jpgPortrait of Gjuro Armeno Baglivi © Public domain

Gjuro Armeno Baglivi (1668 – 1707) was a scientist and physician who helped drag physicians' knowledge of the workings of the human body (and treatment of illness) away from ridiculous, near-baseless assumptions that had existed from the times of Ancient Greece right up until the 17th century. His correct identification that the inner organs were more crucial to functioning health, rather than the nature of the fluids they produced, lead to an early era of human biological understanding that was the first to be based on a scientific observation comparable to that of today.

David Schwarz

HE9_1061scwarz.jpg David Schwarz (1850 – 1897) © Miroslav Krleža Institute of Lexicography

Raised in Županja, Slavonia, David Schwarz was a woodcutter whose own curiosity and problem-solving instincts lead him towards engineering pursuits. Completely self-taught, he successfully set about redesigning woodcutting machinery and thereafter became interested in mechanics and technology. In a rather bold leap, he turned his interest to airships and designed a radical new ship with a rigid envelope made entirely of a relatively new building material - the lightweight metal aluminum. Realisation of the project nearly bankrupted his woodcutting business and made him a laughing stock, but the project eventually got the funding it needed and, after two unsatisfactory models had been tried, Schwarz's airship was successfully flown in Germany, although not until several months after Schwarz had sadly died. Industrialist Carl Berg, who had both funded the project and supplied the aluminum, went on to provide aluminum parts and expertise from the project in the building of Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin's similarly rigid airships.

Marcel Kiepach

marcel_kiepach_1krz.jpgMarcel Kiepach (1894 - 1915) © krizevci eu

Marcel Kiepach died a soldier on the Russian front in 1915 at the age of just 21. Though all who knew him are surely now also dead, the loss of this young Križevci-born man lingers, because you can't help but think what might have been. Kiepach was a child prodigy. As a boy of just sixteen, he patented a maritime compass that indicates north regardless of the presence of iron or magnetic forces and an improved version in 1911. He patented a dynamo for vehicle lighting that generated power from the mechanical drive of the vehicle itself, which was thereafter used on both cars and bicycles, and he also patented a power switch. Who knows what innovations this youngest of Croatian pioneers would have brought to the world had his life not been cut so short?

Ivan Vučetić

HTE_0823vuketic.jpgIvan Vučetić (1858 – 1925) © Miroslav Krleža Institute of Lexicography

Ivan Vučetić pioneered the use of forensics in law enforcement, specifically fingerprinting. He greatly expanded on previously established ideas in order to make the first positive identification of a criminal in a case, correctly identifying a murderer from a fingerprint left at the scene.

Slavoljub Eduard Penkala

hbl9032penkala.jpgSlavoljub Eduard Penkala (1871 – 1922), one of the Croatian pioneers whose work changed everyday lives © Miroslav Krleža Institute of Lexicography

Naturalised Croat Slavoljub Eduard Penkala was an inventor who, at the time of his death, held 80 patents to his name, including ones for a hot water bottle, a rail-car brake and an anode battery. However, it is for his innovations with pens and pencils for which he is best remembered. He further developed pre-existing ideas for the retractable/mechanical pencil and the first solid-ink fountain pen. One of the Croatian pioneers able to transform his innovations into a successful business, his company TOZ Penkala still operates in Zagreb today – although it's not where we originally get the word 'pen' from, the company and founder's name played a part in this name maintaining its popularised standing.

Franjo Hanaman

Dr._Just_Sándor_és_Hanaman_Ferenc.jpgFranjo Hanaman (seated) and Alexander Just © Public domain

Of all of the Croatian pioneers who changed the world, the biography of Franjo Hanaman (1878 - 1941) is frequently written as the shortest. And yet, you can see his chief innovation inside almost every room you walk into. Franjo Hanaman, from Drenovci, Slavonia, invented the world's first tungsten filament electric light-bulb. The invention was also applied in improving early diodes and triodes. Sometimes it takes just one bright idea to guarantee your place in history...

Lavoslav Ružička and Vladimir Prelog

Lavoslav_Ružićka_1939.jpgLavoslav Ružička (1887 – 1976), one of the Croatian pioneers who won a Nobel Prize  © Nobel Foundation

Vukovar-born, Osijek-educated Lavoslav Ružička was a chemist whose work had wide-reaching implications over several sectors of society. In his early career, his innovations were of benefit to the perfume industry. But, thanks to his lifelong devotion to education, he was drawn into another field. He became interested in steroids and sex hormones and secured his place as a giant in the world of pharmaceuticals with the first synthesis of testosterone. His laboratory thereafter became the world centre of organic chemistry and he was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1939. His greatest achievements in chemistry actually lay ten years further ahead, though these are nowhere near as easy to explain. He retired in 1957, turning his laboratory over to the younger Croat who for so many years he had mentored - Vladimir Prelog. So much more than a footnote within the story of Lavoslav Ružička, Vladimir Prelog's contributions to the world are also not easy to understand, nor explain as a layman, but he too received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. He did so in 1975 for his research into the stereochemistry of organic molecules and reactions.

Vladimir_Prelog_ETH-Bib_Portr_00214.jpgVladimir Prelog  (1906 – 1998) © ETH Zurich

Total Croatia News would like to remind this is only a sample of the Croatian pioneers included in the exhibition. While the number of men included in the exhibition of Croatian pioneers does greatly exceed the number of women, more women are actually included in the exhibition than are represented in this short overview – notably from the fields of opera, ballet, art and photography

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