Croatia has produced some pretty significant inventions – several of which you likely even use every day. Here are just a few.
The mechanical pencil and fountain pen
Slavoljub Eduard Penkala invented the mechanical pencil in 1906 and the solid-ink fountain pen in 1907. Soon after, he founded the Penkala-Moster Company with his colleague, Edmund Moster, and their pen and pencil factory became one of the largest in the world. The company still exists today as TOZ Penkala in Zagreb.
Penkala was actually born in modern-day Slovakia to Dutch and Polish parents. He moved to Zagreb in 1900 and felt such a connection with his new home that he took the Croatian name Slavoljub to signify his loyalty to Croatia. By the time he died in 1922 at just 50 years old, he had over 80 inventions under his belt.
Perhaps the most well-known of Croatia’s “inventions” is the cravat, or necktie. Croatian soldiers had begun tying identifying scarves around their necks by the early 1600s, and other nations soon took note. When Croatian mercenaries began to serve in France, their neckties caught the eye of Louis XIV, who himself adopted the style. The word “cravat” is thought to have come from a French pronunciation of “Hrvat” – Croat.
After the French embraced the accessory, it quickly spread across Europe. Eventually, the Windsor knot, the most popular method of tying a necktie, was developed in England. In Croatia, Cravat Day falls on October 18 and commemorates this sartorial bit of cultural heritage.
It’s hard to choose just one of Nikola Tesla’s hundreds of inventions, but the Croatian-born inventor is perhaps most famous for developing alternating current, the system that powers our homes and businesses even today. It also sparked the feud between Tesla and Thomas Edison, whose direct current system was more dangerous, though Edison claimed otherwise. To make his case, Edison occasionally electrocuted animals to “prove” the dangers of AC. In response, Tesla sent alternating current through his own body at low voltages, using it as an electrical conductor to light bulbs and proving the system’s safety.
Tesla is also credited with having invented fluorescent bulbs, X-rays, radio, lasers, and the electric motor. He also dreamed up several more fanciful inventions, like a thought camera that could photographically capture thoughts, and a pocket-sized earthquake machine. Want to know more? Check out three things you probably didn’t know about Tesla.
In 1616, Faust Vrancic, a bishop and inventor from Sibenik, published Machinae Novinae, a book of drawings for 56 different machines. One of these depicted a man floating beside a brick tower, suspended from a large square of fabric. The device keeping the so-called Homo Volans, “Flying Man,” aloft would become known as a parachute.
Vrancic actually adapted his parachute from rudimentary plans for a similar device conceived by Leonardo da Vinci, but he, at least according to legend, was the first to build and test the invention by jumping from a tower in Venice in 1617. Other drawings in Machinae Novinea include water mills, suspension bridges, and wind turbines.