These are the Czech inventions and discoveries from which some served the whole world. Industrial machines, musical instruments and even words…
Some of these inventions changed the world, the fame of others never went beyond the borders of the Czech Republic. Some of the authors died in poverty, others gained eternal fame. I bet you know at least some of the following inventions, you probably just had no idea they were Czech.
1. Contact lenses
If your vision needs correction but you don’t like wearing glasses, you have a certain Otto Wichterle to thank for the alternative. This Moravian inventor from the town of Prostějov based the material for the contact lenses on a hydrophilic gel and gradually brought what was to become the most famous of all Czech inventions to perfection tolerated by the human eye. Untimatelly, Wichterle signed a license agreement with the US National Patent Development Corporation which then sublicensed the rights to Bausch & Lomb.
2. Ruchadlo plough
In 1827, the Veverka cousins invented ruchadlo, a special type of plough with a curved plate that not only cut the soil but also lifted and turned it upside down. The plough became commonly known as “Veverka” not only in their native Rybitví but all over Bohemia. It’s undeniable contribution to agriculture made ruchadlo an object of thievery. Since the Veverkas did not register the plough as their intelectual property, it was stolen from them and both cousins died in poverty despite of revolutionizing the work of many agricultores. You can read their story here.
Lithography was invented by Alois Senefelder, a Czech-German from Prague. He actually called the technique “stone printing”. For this achievment, Senefelder was appointed the Inspector of the new Litography Institute in Munich.
Semtex is a plastic explosive developed in the 1950ies in Czechoslovakia by the chemists Stanislav Brebera and Radim Fukátko. It is used for military as well as commercial (demolition) purposes and unfortunately, it became very popular with terrorist groups as well. In response to international agreements, Semtex has a detection taggant added to produce a distinctive vapor signature to aid detection.
If you wonder where the name comes from, it’s derived from the name of Semtín, a suburb of Pardubice where the mixture was first manufactured in 1954.
We’ve written a whole article about the Czech word robot, so read more here.
6. Blood groups
The four basic blood groups were first defined by Jan Jánský, Czech serologist, psychiatrist and neurologist. He classified the blood groups as I, II, III and IV in his study Hematological study of psychotics in 1907 but it wasn’t until 1921 when an American medical commission acknowledged Janský’s classification that his discovery received proper attention from the professional community.
7. Sugar cube
Until the mid 19th century sugar was formed and distributed in loafs. There loafs were large, hard and unpractical and people had to chop of pieces of sugar, usually with a hammer and a crowbar. Juliana Radová, the wife of Dačice refinery director Jakub Kryštof Rad hurt her finger when chopping the sugarloaf and suggested to her husband Jakub Kryštof Rad to come up with a solution. He came up with sugar cubes of 12 x 15 mm which he patented in 1843.
The sugar cube was one of the symbols of Czech EU presidency in 2009.
8. Chlumsky disinfectant solution
Maybe you’ve never heard of Solutio phenoli camphorata or the Chlumsky solution but medical professionals did. This solution of phenol and camphor with 96% ethanol is used as an antiseptic and disinfectant. The inventor – Czech doctor Vítězslav Chlumský.
9. Lightning rod
The lightning rod was designed by the Czech Premonstratensian Prokop Diviš in 1753. The monk lived in the village of Přímětice near Znojmo and he placed the first prototype of the lightning rod in the parish garden calling it “meteorological machine”. The first lightning rod placed on a building in Bohemia was the one installed in 1775 on the chateau of Měšice.
10. Mendelian inheritance
Gregor Johann Mendel was a Czech-German abbot and scientist living in Brno. He proposed a set of principles which became the core of modern genetics. He discovered the law or dominance of uniformity (some alleles are dominant while others are recessive), the law of segregation and the of independent assortment. His work gained recognition posthumously. One of the universities of Brno is named after him as well as several places of the city and he is mentioned also in popular literature, for example Simon Mawer’s Mendel’s Dwarf.
G. J. Mendel is commonly known as the father of modern genetics.
11. Electrical tram
Many Czech towns and cities have electrical trams in their urban transport infrastructure. Although the electrical tram is not a purely Czech invention, a Czech inventor by the name František Křižík perfected the tram to the use we know today. He constructed the tramways in Prague-Letná and part of the tramways from Florenc to Vysočany. Křižík also significantly perfected the arc lamp.
12. Front car fender
The first automobile in Austria-Hungary ever was built by the Czech Leopold Sviták. He was the first one in the world to add front fenders to his first creation called Präsident. Sviták drove his car in 1898 from Kopřivnice to Viena (328 km) which took him more than 14 hours. His invention – the front fender didn’t help him much in 1900 when he had a car accident in which he lost his leg and his co-driver his life.
13. Ship propeller
The ship propeller is the work of the Czech inventor Josef Ressel. Ressel patented his prototype in 1827 which he actually started testing in Slovenia, on a small boat on the river Krka. Ressel died without gaining any recognition for his invention and it took long 39 years until the US Academy of Science officially recognized him as the inventor of the ship propeller.
What is this weird looking thing you ask? Fanfrnoch is a musical instrument from the Chod region and not a forgotten one! As for the classification, it’s a percussion instrument – a clay or metal container covered with a stretched bladder and a bundle of horsehair (or a cord) passed through the center. The sound is produced by the friction of pulling on the hair.
15. W0 constant
W0 or the Vatrt constant is a globally recognized constant that indicates the global value of the geopotential of a geoide. The author is the Czech scientist Viliam Vatrt and his team. The constant is used for example to coordinate the atomic clock or to map the geological sites.
16. Versatilka mechanical pencil
Do you own a versatilka? If not, you should! This brilliant Czech invention will make your life so much more…I wanted to say easier but that’s not it. The word is probably pleasant. There’s something gratifying about having one mechanical pencil and just changing the graphite.
Anyway, the production of versatilka started in 1950 in České Budějovice and the pencil literally won the hearts of generations. There’s even a special sharpener for the graphite.
Polarohraphy is a method of electro-chemical analysis. It was discovered by the Czech chemist Jaroslav Heyrovský who received a Nobel prize in 1959 (for this discovery). If you want to read more about the method, start here. We’ll tell you something about the scientist instead. Since Heyrovský made his discovery in 1922 his whole career was focused on developing this branch of chemistry. He’s the founder of the school of Czech polarographers at the Charles University and in 1950 he became the director of the Polarographic Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences (since 1952).
Remoska is a mobile electrical oven appreciated as one of the most practical Czech household inventions. The advantage of remoska is that the food doesn’t loose water and flavour. It serves for preparing anything you would bake in your usual oven – meat, bread…
And who do we thank to for this invention? His names is Oldřich Homut
19. Silon polyamide thread
The silon thread is the result of the work of three Czech inventors – Wichterle (the inventor of contact lenses), Novotný and Procházka. The production started in 1950 and originally the name winop was chosen for it. Silon was chosen as a better option for the similarities with the nylon thread. Nowadays it finds use in many branches such as beadweaving or fishery.
How many of these Czech inventions did you know? Visit General & Trivia to learn more interesting facts about the Czech Republic!