You may not realize this; but it’s likely that you’ve been influenced by Polish inventions. Yes, the influence has been indirect at times – such as Polish contributions to Cryptology – but there is no denying the impact Poland has had on the modern world of science. So, here is my top-list of Polish contributions that may be of interest to you today.
In no particular order:
A. The Bulletproof Vest
This one’s on the top of the list because it’s most likely one of the first thing you’d find if you googled “polish inventions”. While the concept of body armor is as old as the hills, the first modern bulletproof armor to use fabrics was invented in the late nineteenth century by Kazimierz Żegleń. Variations on his original silk design were made up until the 1970s when the invention of Kevlar made all other bulletproof vests obsolete. You can read more about it here.
B. The First Live Polio Vaccine
While you may not have used a bulletproof vest, hopefully you’ve at least had your polio vaccine shot. Most North Americans receive this vaccine shortly after birth. They originated because, in 1952 and 1953, the United States experienced two outbreaks of polio that prompted the state to find a viable vaccine. Two years earlier, in 1950, Hilary Koprowski had already created the word’s first live Polio vaccine, but it was not commercially available until almost 1960. By that time, the United States had already tested, prepared, and made Jonas Salk’s dead polio vaccine commercially available for a whole five years! It just goes to show: just because you’re the first doesn’t mean you’re the one that’ll be used in the end.
This one is actually quite vehemently contested. Both Poland and Russia lay claim to the invention of Vodka, but the origins of Vodka are not nearly as clear as either side would have you believe. This dispute has been known as the Vodka War and you can get yourself educated on its significance with a documentary you can find right here. At any rate, if you were to ask any Pole where Vodka came from there’s only one answer you’d hear. So, on the list it goes!
D. The Walkie-Talkie
Whether you’re six old or sixty years old, everybody loves the two-way, short-wave radio: the Walkie-Talkie. They are the precursor to today’s cellphones, but the basic technology has still not been made obsolete. In 1939, Henryk Magnuski was sent to the United States to study radio technology, but it wasn’t long after that Germany invaded Poland to officially kick-off WWII. Instead of returning to Poland, Magnuski started working for the Galvin Manufacturing Corporation (Motorola) in Chicago where he and his team developed one of the first walkie-talkies. As it turns out, this invention was particularly popular with the American military during the second world war and no doubt contributed to the Allied victory.
Long before it became evident that English was to become the world’s standard business language, Dr. Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof hoped for an easy to learn, politically neutral language that would be the world’s one and only universal language. That language turned out to be Esperanto. Literally meaning “one who hopes”, it is the world’s most widely spoken artificially constructed language. Zamenhof was technically Russian by citizenship, ethnically Jewish, and even spoke ten other languages besides Polish, but he was born in the city in Poland which I currently live in: Białystok. Today, there is an Esperanto Cafe in Białystok where people gather to enjoy their love of languages together in his memory.
F. Synchronized Sound On Motion Picture Films
Prior to 1927’s The Jazz Singer, films were a strictly silent affair. The term “Silent Film” is something of a misnomer because there certainly WAS sound in these early films, just not synchronized sound. It was not uncommon for entire bands to do live performances while the film was playing during the premier, so it could be said that films had better sound than they do now. Regardless, Joseph Tykociński-Tykociner felt that film could benefit from the use of voices as well and was awarded a patent for his method in 1926. Unfortunately, he was not the only one working on the problem at the time and is not widely remembered for his contributions to film technology today.
G. Cotton Swabs
Invented by Polish born, American Jew Leo Gerstenzang in 1923. Not much else to say about these that I’m sure you don’t already know other than to say that the ‘Q’ in ‘Q-tip’ refers to ‘Quality’.
H. The Mine-Detector
While metal-detectors had been around in one form or another for at least 50 years before WWII, it was Józef Kosacki who mounted one onto a stick for the explicit purpose of finding mines. Developed in 1941, Kosacki never filed for a patent but instead gave it to the British military as a gift. It was originally quite bulky and difficult to lug around on the battlefield, but while the design has been improved upon over the last seventy years, the basic concept is still the same and it continues to save lives today.
So there ya go; now you can’t say that Poland never does anything for ya! For a more complete list of Polish inventors and inventions, check here.
-Six cool inventions you didn’t know were Polish (Polandian)