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Slavoljub Penkala

How he became a beloved Croatian

His genius inventions changed the world, with his products still widely used today. From the pen sitting on your desk to a hot-water bottle and laundry detergent, Slavoljub Penkala was a master of engineering and chemistry on a mission to make the world he lived in as practical as possible. His inventions and patents that come from mechanics, chemistry, and aviation make him one of the greatest engineers of all time. 

Slavoljub was born as Eduard in 1871 in Liptovsky St. Mikulas, close to Bratislava, Slovakia. Upon graduating from a primary school in his hometown, he moved to Bielitz to start secondary school, after which he decided to apply to the Faculty of Medicine in Vienna. Due to sensitivity during an autopsy, he changed his major to chemical engineering and graduated from Royal Saxon Polytechnic Institute in 1898. 

As he continued his studies and took a PhD in organic chemistry, he met his future wife during a violin class, Emily Stoffregen, a pianist and musical academy student. For a short period, he worked in Košice but decided to move to Zagreb in 1900. He fully identified with his new Croatian national identity, and he picked a new name – Slavoljub. 

He attained a technical supervisor position, controlling the whole industrial sector under the Hungarian administration. 

He was known for speaking multiple languages; Polish, Slovakian, German, Hungarian and Croatian. Most of his free time he spent playing music, hunting, and cycling. With Emily, he had four children, daughter Tea and sons Eduard, Ivan, and Krunoslav.

Inventions that made our everyday life more practical

Slavoljub invented roughly 80 products in the mechanical, chemical, and aviation fields. Many of them are widely used today but unfortunately not recognised by the public as his inventions. His goal was always to invent or upgrade items that would make life easier. 

One of the first inventions back in 1903 was a hot-water bottle, today known as a thermal bottle, patented in Budapest. 

Simultaneously, he worked on upgrading the automatic pencil, which was patented under his family name. This is considered a revolutionary product that started a new era of modern stationery. 

This led to further innovation that changed writing forever, as in 1907, he was able to patent the first fountain pen with solid ink. He also invented a nib for fountain pens to make sure it is held vertically in a pocket. 

With Edmund Moster, Penkala started a company Penkala – Moster, to kick-off his production and the lab work. 

The company evolved into a joint-stock company with a factory that was one of the biggest in stationery production, hiring 300 workers and a branch in Berlin. 

Slavoljub invented a paste to cast gramophone records and has upgraded the record player needle and a microphone. He also founded Edison-Bell-Penkala Records, which made one of the first public and electric recordings by recording live Christmas songs at the Zagreb Cathedral. The company is very well known today as Croatia Records.

A list of his inventions goes further and includes a mechanical rotating toothbrush, batteries, automatic train brakes, fluid flow measuring system, powder against bugs and pests Krepax, powder laundry detergent, liquid laundry bluing, radioactive medicine for rheumatism, and many more. 

He thoroughly researched the principles of rotating turbines and made the first sketches of hovercraft and helicopters. He has also studied aerodynamics’ laws, which led him towards the construction of the first aeroplane in Croatia. 

Slavoljub Penkala was fascinated by the butterfly Neptis Lucilla, which inspired him to construct his own aeroplane. 

The aircraft was patented in 1909 and is considered to be the first one in Eastern Europe. Income generated from selling pens financed the whole project as Penkala started building his aircraft elements in his backyard. 

His idea was to create an aeroplane based on the way butterflies and birds fly where the tail and steering are connected with steel wires giving an aeroplane five various possible maneuvering positions: horizontal flight, diving, lifting, and leaning left-right. 

His design was famous for not having any vertical surfaces making it more stable in windy conditions and with two seats as he wanted to teach his mechanics how to fly. 

The most famous of his mechanics and pilots was Dragutin Novak. He was working with local manufacturers to build the plane, and finally, he had his first official flight in June 1910. He flew over a distance of 60-100m at an altitude of 2-3m. 

He developed upgraded versions of his aeroplane and actively took part in aircraft meetings across Europe until 1922, when during a business trip, he got pneumonia and sadly passed away. 

His death came as a shock to the whole community as he was loved and popular, especially in Zagreb. Today many of his products are still widely used, and his popular pen is still being produced in a stationary factory TOZ Penkala in Zagreb. 

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