AN INITIATOR OF TELEVISION FROM TARNOW
He was called Polish Edison. For over a hundred years newspapers in the whole Europe and America wrote about the inventions of this Pole. He was invited even to China to present his achievements.
He knew Gabriela Zapolska, Ignacy Jan Paderewski and was in friendship with Mark Twain and Kazimierz Przerwa-Tetmajer. The Caesar of Austria Franciszek Józef I personally received a gift from him on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his reign. The king of Spain Alfons XIII, whose life was rescued thanks to the bullet-proof material of the inventor in a bomb assassination, gave him an Order of Catholic Izabela which was parallel to giving nobility. For improving a bullet-proof waistcoat, earlier patented by another Pole – a monk Kazimierz Zegielnik, the Caesar Mikołaj II gave him the Order of St. Anna but the inventor did not take it for patriotic reasons. Today his surname is mentioned by all professional encyclopaedias and lexicons in the world. John Szczepanik, whose person has been mentioned, was a famous and appreciated inventor in the world, and today – maybe outside Krosno, where he had been brought up and Tarnów where he has been buried – in fact he is unknown in his native country.
A difficult childhood
Szczepanik, called Polish Edison or da Vinci from Galicia, was born 140 years ago – on 13 June 1872 in Rudniki near Mościcka (today Ukraine) as an illegitimate child of Marianna Szczepanik. When Marianna had to leave for Lvov for work purposes, her brother Ludwik was taking care of little John. After an unexpected death of Marianna (the date of death was not saved), aunt Salomea and grandparents Stanislaw and Katarzyna Szczepanikowie from Zrecin near Krosno started to bring up John. John Sczepanik started his education in a folk school in Krosno, where aunt Salomea moved to with Wawrzyniec Gradowicz after her wedding. They did not have children, so they took care of John like their own son.
At that time a long-term friendship started between John and a later poet, prosaic writer and translator – Franciszek Pik. They inspired each other. They shared their humanistic interests and creative ambitions which are proved by artistic works of Szczepanik or his violin play. Godfather of Franciszek Pik was Igancy Łukasiewicz whose creative attitude could be an inspiration for John Szczepanik. He visited oil fields and drilling devices together with Franciszek, he used to be in a workshop of Łukasiewicz and was learning about scientific equipment. After finishing the primary school in 1885 he continued on learning in the gymnasium in Jasło where he stood out in Mathematics and Physics but he did not finish the school, mainly because of serious problems in Greek. Then his friend’s parents came with help – the Pikow family. Szczepanik moved to Cracow in 1888 and started living at the Pików family who had moved there and in 1891 he became a graduate of a teacher’s seminary in Cracow with the qualifications of a teacher at the folk school.
The inventor’s passion
Szczepanik was employed and taught in villages in Podkarpacie, such as Potok near Jedlicz, Lubatowka near Iwonicz-Zdrój, Korczyn near Krosno. At that time he did first discoveries which caused that in 1896 he gave up the job of a teacher and returned to Cracow where he devoted himself to his real passion. The yearly stay in this city was a turning point in his life because he met with scientific environment there and made new friendships among which the most important was the one with an owner of a photo shop – Ludwig Kleinberg. Kleinberg was agreed to finance scientific investigations and implementing the inventions of Sczepanik. In 1896 he made exact changes in a weaving machine, used for producing tapestry. Creating stencils, that is, schemes of a later woven picture (a worker painted suitable squares of paper with paint), he replaced with the device transferring a picture on a stencil like in a photo camera. In addition he simplified a process of transferring a picture from a stencil onto the elements of a weaving machine by means of electromagnet. It caused that tapestry, created for 5 weeks till now, could be produced during half an hour. In 1898 Szczepanik left for Vienna where not only did he carry out experiments in various areas of technology but he wove the biggest tapestry in the world at that time – 148cm long and 120cm wide. It was mapping of a picture of Henryk Rauchinger presenting an apotheosis of 50th anniversary of the reign by Caesar of Austria-Hungary Franciszek Jozef I. The Caesar personally received the tapestry given to him by Szczepanik and as his expression of gratitude he released him, as an exception, from 3-year military service. However, in the year 1900 the Austrian authorities called the inventor again to do the service and in this way he got to Przemyśl – he was still allowed to do scientific work but outside his laboratory. There he met his future father-in-law – a doctor Zygmunt Dzikowski, and then his daughter Wanda. In 1897 Szczepanik patented a telektroskop in England, that is a device used for transmitting a coloured picture and sound at a distance by means of electric impulses. The project included solutions which later, in fact, were applied in television technologies. This project raised much interest at that time but for financial reasons and not sufficient possibilities of technology at that time, it was not realised. At that time Szczepanik met and made friendship with Mark Twain who had arrived in Europe with the intention of buying the patent for the weaving machine of Szczepanik. The transaction was not realised but Twain registered talks with Szczepanik in his diary. He used them in his two literary works: ‘The Austrian Edison Keeping School Again’ (1898) and ‘From the London Times of 1904’; whereas Szczepanik made for Twain tapestry of the image and autograph of the writer.
After finishing his military service Szczepanik arrived in Tarnów on a day before his wedding with Wanda Dzikowska. On 8 October 1902 the young couple got married in the cathedral basilica in Tarnow. Just after the wedding the left Tarnów and went to Vienna where they bought a flat. At that time the couple were travelling a lot in Europe, visited, among the others, Paris and London. In 1904 their first son - Andrzej was born. Weaving factories of Sczepanik (in Cracow, Brussels, Roubaix in France and Barmen in Germany) were getting into bankruptcy because of decreasing interest in tapestries. The inventor got into financial troubles and the Szczepanik family had to leave Vienna. At that time Wanda’s parents helped them who suggested living together in Tarnow. During their stay in Tarnów (1906 – 14) their other children were born: Zbigniew, Bogdan, Bogusław and Maria, and John patented many inventions in the area of colourful photography.
In 1907 a tragic accident happened in his family. During one of their visits at their friends’ in Tarnów, their son Andrzej was left under the care of a servant. During play the boy fell into a well and drowned. This tragedy detached the inventor from his scientific work for 3 years. During the First World War the Szczepanik family are leaving Tarnów for a short time, setting off to Vienna. After the war John Szczepanik spends most of his time outside home, mainly in a laboratory in Berlin. There his health gets worse and only a day before his death he is taken by his wife, father-in-law and son to Tarnów again. On Sunday 18 April 1926 Szczepanik dies. The cause of his death is liver cancer. His body has been buried in a family grave of the Dzikowscy family.
Szczepanik is an author of about 50 inventions and nearly 100 patented technical ideas. It is difficult to mention all of them. One of the most important ones was an invention connected with film scoring, patented only in Vienna, which allowed others to take an advantage, not mentioning the surname of Szczepanik. Coloured photography of small pictures has been based on his patents recently. Szczepanik was doing research on a colourful film, gaining a lot of successes – a dozen of colourful films were produce by means of his method, presenting, for the first time, 24 film frames per second. Among his most important inventions one must mention a colourmeter (a device used for controlling colours), an electric rifle, photo-sculpture – device used for copying sculptures or caloridul – a self-working regulator of chimney draft in furnace boilers. This last invention gave 20 percent of savings in the usage of coal in furnace boilers. The Polish scientist was also working on a submarine, an aeroplane with mobile wings, a helicopter with a dual rotor or an airship before Ferdinand or Zeppelin.
In the last interview with Szczepanik, published in ‘Tarnów news’, to the question where his fascination by technology came from, he answered briefly that it was a gift from God. He was an extremely modest man.