Six cool inventions you didn't know were Polish

The Poles are an inventive bunch. In fact they are so inventive they actually invented a lot of things you thought were invented by somebody else, or that just happened somehow.

1. The Bulletproof Vest

It’s true that the Chinese or the Koreans or somebody messed about with the idea of bulletproof vests in the 1850s but the first true bulletproof vest of the kind you would recognize today was invented by a Polish priest in Chicago in 1893.

Who invented it and why?
Kazimierz Żegleń was born near Tarnopol (now Ternopil in western Ukraine) in 1869. Like a lot of Poles at that time he found it advisable to move to the United States as soon as possible and duly did so in 1890. Żegleń was a Catholic priest ministering to a flock of more than 40,000. When he wasn’t baptizing, burying or marrying people he indulged in his secret passion for bullet resistant clothing. Nobody knows where this strange obsession originated but I’m guessing Chicago catholics were less friendly than the kind he was used to.

When five-times mayor of Chicago Carter Henry Harrison was gunned down in his home by a crazed lone gunman (crazed lone gunman are not a recent American invention) Żegleń went into overdrive and finally came up with a useable bulletproof vest. Having experimented with jackets stuffed with hair, moss, and week-old doughnuts Żegleń finally hit on the idea of using that notoriously tough and resistant material silk. It worked. Żegleń proved it worked by bravely volunteering a friend to be shot eight times in the chest by a crazed lone gunman who wasn’t busy that day.


Ha ha! Your bullets cannot harm me!
Oh really? Do you have a bulletproof face?

Why should I care?
Apart from the fact that bulletproof vests are just cool you should bear in mind that the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was wearing a silk bulletproof vest when he was shot in Sarajevo in 1914. If he’d been killed it could have precipitated a cataclysmic conflict on a previously unknown scale – some kind of World War or something. No wait, that’s not a good example.

2. The Mine Detector

Mines are a pain, often in many parts of the body at the same time. Nobody wants to hobble around on one leg for the rest of their life, especially if you are, say, a seven-year-old kid in the Congo. Getting rid of mines involves finding them first. That’s where the mine detector comes in.

Who invented it and why?
Józef Kosacki (1909–1990) was an officer in the Polish Army during World War II. Like many soldiers at the time he was less than keen on the idea that the only way to find mines was by walking over them and losing parts of the body that might prove useful at a later date. With this in mind Kosacki invented the Mine detector (Polish) Mark I in 1942. It was the first mine detector that could be carried and operated by one man and the Mark 4c version remained in service with the British Army until 1995.


Completely genuine picture, completely genuine competition.

Why should I care?
There are estimated to be around 110 million unexploded land mines currently lurking a couple of inches beneath the soil around the world. That’s one for each leg of every Polish person alive today, at least.

3. The Walkie-Talkie

This one is a bit of a stretch, but what the hell. Another Chicago Pole was a vital part of the team that brought the world the first handheld two-way radio communication device, originally known as the Handie-Talkie but now as the Walkie-Talkie.

Who invented it and why?
Henryk Magnuski (1909-1978) was born in Warsaw and found himself in New York at the outbreak of World War II in 1939. Finding work at the Galvin Manufacturing Corporation (later known as Motorola) he worked on the wartime project to produce a portable communications system for the United States Signal Corps that resulted in the SCR-300 (the radio you see strapped to some doomed character’s back in every WWII movie) and the SCR-536 (the classic handheld device about the size of a 1980s mobile phone with the press-to-talk function).


In any war movie worth its salt the guy on the right is toast

Why should I care?
Without Walkie-Talkies nobody could have possibly thought of Star Trek communicators, and without Star Trek communicators nobody could have possibly thought of mobile phones, and without mobile phones ERA would have to deliver its nine million daily SMS ads by hand. Magnuski you fool, what have you done!

4. Space travel

Admittedly I’m edging out onto a perilously thin limb here, but there is a Polish connection to the history of space travel most people aren’t aware of.

Who invented it and why?
Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857–1935), recognized by spaceflight historians as the father of theoretical astronautics, was half Polish. His father, Edward Tsiolkovsky (Ciołkowski) was a Pole who had been deported to Russia for his political activities. His mother was Russian. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky isn’t well known in the way that, say, Wernher Von Braun or Neil Armstrong are, but he is something of a god to serious space nerds. Tsiolkovsky was the guy who first came up with a serious theory about how people could travel through the near vacuum of space. He did this while living in a log cabin a hundred miles outside of Moscow at a time when most people gaped open-mouthed at horseless carriages. His 1903 paper “The Exploration of Cosmic Space by Means of Reaction Devices” provided the theoretical foundations for the use of rockets in space.


Tsiolkovsky’s drawings of an airlock. Space nerds like me get goosebumps from this kind of thing.

Why should I care?
If you don’t already, I can’t explain why you should.

5. The Oil Industry

I don’t mean some obscure but vital piece of machinery here, I mean the actual industry. I mean the idea of pumping the black sticky stuff out of the ground and turning it into something useful. That’s an achievement similar to that of the guy who once said “Hey, why don’t we put the buffalo in a field with a fence around it, then we can eat them whenever we want.”

Who invented it and why?
Jan Józef Ignacy Łukasiewicz was a Polish pharmacist and therefore more or less guaranteed to become a very rich man. Rather than sitting back and waiting for the cash to roll in from the notoriously hypochondriac Poles Łukasiewicz got it into his head that messing around with seep oil was the future. Mineral oil seeping from the ground had been known and used for centuries. In the 9th century the Persian scholar and all-round smarty pants al-Razi distilled petroleum to produce kerosene, but his process never became an industry. Ten centuries later most domestic lighting was provided by candles and whale-oil lamps. The difficulty with whale oil is that you have to persuade the whale to part with it, a process that involves a lot of tedious sailing about in the middle of the ocean, nasty sharp harpoons, and people who insist on being called Ishmael. Łukasiewicz changed all that, much to the relief of a lot of whales.

In 1853 Łukasiewicz and his associate Jan Zeh rediscovered the process of refining kerosene from seep oil. The following year Łukasiewicz opened his first oil well near Krosno and in 1856 he built the world’s first oil refinery near Jasło. In the second half of the 19th century southern Poland was littered with oil rigs. Movies have since taught us to associate the birth of the oil industry with Wild West Texas, Stetsons and six shooters, not Galicia. Stupid movies.


The Wild, erm, southwest of Poland

Why should I care?
Whales. They’re cute and everybody loves them – apart from krill.

6. Talking pictures

I don’t mean those spooky portraits of ancestors that whisper to you in the middle of the night I mean movies with sound.

Who invented it and why?
Joseph Tykociński-Tykociner, born in Włocławek in 1877, emigrated to the United States in 1895. In 1918 he began working on a way to record sound directly onto film along with images. In 1922 he gave a public demonstration of his process in which he showed a film of his wife, Helena, saying “I will ring” and then ringing a bell. Not the catchiest line in cinema history, but undeniably fact-based. History does not record if Helena was wearing some form of skimpy bondage outfit but I like to imagine she was the true pioneer of home-made-movies-of-the-wife.

Tykociner never became famous or rich from his invention. A lot of other people were working on the same problem at the same time and some of them had better lawyers.


What did he say? Something about chores and wife? Why is there never a lipreader around when you need one!

Why should I care?
If talking movies hadn’t been invented nobody would understand when I said “Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?” and I’d probably get locked up even though I can do the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.

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86 thoughts on “Six cool inventions you didn't know were Polish

  1. MaterialGirl says:

    I hadn’t heard only about the last one.
    The generation who learnt Russian had got some lecture about Ciołkowski.
    Lately was a lot in media about inventor of the Bulletproof vest.

  2. Mario says:

    Sad thing is that most of those things were invented by emmigrants. Poland never cared for it’s citizens. Greetings from London.

  3. guest says:

    Between 1772-1918 Poland did not exist Mario. And you are right, Russia, Prussia and Austria did not care for Poland and Poles.

  4. MaterialGirl says:


    thanks. I’ve found there my ancestor. :)

  5. tomek says:

    What a clever people we, poles,are:)) Greetings

  6. abc says:

    Mario, sad is that people like you aren’t liked in Poland and in UK neither.

  7. Patti says:

    Mayby they were Poles, but all these inventions was made in USA or in western Europe. Dont forget of other discoveries made by Poles like radiation (Nobel prize for Maria Curie, who we in Poland call Maria Skłodowska-Curie) or first planet out of solar system (prof. Wolszczan), but also remember it was made out of Poland. Why? I don’t know.

  8. Patti says:

    Edit: above you have an example of comment made by polish idiot, maybe that’s why

  9. susan says:

    What a talented nation. Cool and funny. Thanks

  10. krzysztof says:

    Ohhhh yes Sue !!!! yes we are :)

  11. guest says:

    “but also remember it was made out of Poland. Why? I don’t know.”

    Because Poland did not exist between 1772-1918, and millions of Poles emigrated to France, South America to the USA and other countries.

  12. gosc says:

    Dzieciaki do piaskownicy, tam wasze miejsce.

  13. nemo says:

    yeah yeah yeah.. lot of inventors.. but got no nobel laureates …

  14. Scatts says:

    Bloody hell! Some good adverts for THIS PLACE in here today! :)

  15. paulina says:

    Well, Poles are generally clever people, but unfortunately there we may se the examples of some meatheads :/. Feel ashamed for them, so yeah, gotta apologize. I suppose those are kids in the age of 12-15, who somehow got to the computer.
    Amazing article, loved it. Had no idea about the last one, but well, good to know <3.

  16. paulina says:

    and -nemo- what do you mean by ‘no noble laureates’? Actually we do have a few, maybe in comparison to other countries not that many, but yeah. So stop fooling people, because someone who has no idea bout Poles may think you’re right =/.

  17. Pawel says:

    Jamie! Your post was plagiarised by the Dziennik! Now that’s quite a complement, isn’t it?

  18. Johnus says:

    Sorry people for this stupid polish (unfortunately..) comments what we see here from Poland people and Wykop site (polish equivalent There are lot of clever and well cultured people but they are in shade of some stupid idiots who are everywhere and stay so cunningly that you encounter them on every move. We call this people in inthernet as “dzieci neo” what means “kids of neostrada”, polish most used ISP (internet service provider). Its huge humiliating insult :) Sorry for any faults / errors in my english. Greetings.

  19. Gmorek says:

    Can somebody please delete those stupid comments… I’m not used to read this kind of thing here… Terrible!!!!

    Post was very good.

    I’m on Polandian website every day. Good job guys. Like it very much.

  20. island1 says:

    Seems the naughty boys have been allowed out to play.

    I don’t like deleting comments – free speech and all that – but I think in this case a few will have to go.

  21. Anna says:

    Please delete those dirty comments! to rani moje oczy i uszy.It was probably a provocation.
    I love yours blog.:)

  22. island1 says:

    Gmorek: Sorry about that, I turn my back for 5 minutes and the toddlers are out of the playpen. Always nice to hear from a regular reader.

    Johnus: Nothing you should feel bad about. We have just as many idiots in the UK too :)

    paulina: Thanks. Glad you enjoyed it. Again, nothing you need to apologize about.

    Scatts: Keep the language down old chap, there are kids about :)

  23. island1 says:

    Patti (and others who mentioned other notable Poles): Yes. There are lots of other examples, I just wanted to concentrate on a few who are unknown in the English-speaking world rather than those who are already famous.

  24. island1 says:

    guest: Nice find, as always.

    Pawel: “Plagiarised” is a little strong I think, “inspired by” maybe.

  25. Grzesiek says:

    Before 1918, Poland wasn’t the most conducive place for Poles. Imagine not being able to publish in English, but Russian, for example.

    Kolski’s movie “Historia kina w Popielawach” comes to mind. You have to watch the end to know what I mean :)

  26. ?? says:

    Czemu rozmawiacie po angielsku Polaczki? Czyżby emigracja ze zmywaków naczytała się za dużo focusa?

  27. Sylwia says:

    Poles invented the first Ministry of Education ever. Unfortunately not all of them know how to benefit from it, fancying they have something interesting to say nonetheless. Especially in Polish on an English blog.

    But then I read that Americans invented bad grammar, which sounds as bad, only more hilarious.

    I loved the bit about whales, Jamie! I’m still laughing.

  28. Jacek Wesołowski says:

    Education is overrated. It gives you knowledge, and knowledge makes you unhappy.

  29. Sylwia says:

    Thank you, Jacek! I feel much better now, knowing that so many people are happy.

  30. Aaron says:

    This article is silly. 3 of those were invented in the US, one invented 23 years after the inventor moved to the US.

    This article practices the art of making points flexible to the point of being formless.

  31. MaterialGirl says:


    do you know that baloon near to Skałka is flying finally?! Saw it on my own eyes last weekend!

  32. richardlith says:

    The Poles will soon be catching up with the Scots, a country that can publish books with names like ¨How the Scots Invented the Modern World.¨ Mind you, with the economic crisis I would not hold up Adam Smith as a hero.

    Also, like the Poles, many of the inventions were made outside Scotland (generally in London or the US). Unlike the Poles, not enough Scots seem to want to try hard enough to have their own country.

  33. Pioro-Boncza says:

    Poles are a very clever bunch but unfortunately the Polish system is so poor that it doesnt allow most Poles to reach their full potential. The reason behind this is arguable (lack of money and infrastructure, corruption, self-interest, etc.) but theres an even an old saying that take a Pole out of Poland and he will become a success.

  34. Malcolm says:

    I loved the references to Blue Harvest. But I don’t think anybody understood them…

  35. gumishu says:

    as for war time inventions methinks aiming equipment used on allied bombers was invented by a Polish engineer.

    and some kind of tank caterpilars was invented by a Pole – the one used in M4A Shermans

  36. […] “Six cool inventions you didn’t know were Polish” – at Polandian: bulletproof vest, mine detector, walkie-talkie and a few more. Cancel this reply […]

  37. jess says:

    i hate you

  38. island1 says:

    Jess: I’ve never met you but I’ve taken a dislike to you too – so everything has turned out okay.

  39. Pawel says:

    i want to be your groupie :>

  40. q says:


    what is it with people these days????

  41. tryeirutyer says:

    gasefluegen tryasi faeyun daeren kaer nermunachi oiase trwe?

  42. Jim Borthwick says:

    Yes but unlike Poles we didnt allow the Nazis to invade and enslave out people, we Scots are proud of our heretige, never say different. there is an old saying in English “never throw stones in glass houses” the Scots who read this will take grate exception to your crass and frankly unnecessary remark, its no wonder you are an unpopular race.

  43. Kuba says:

    Let the Nazis in, hmm get a good book on history and read about it.
    Did not the Scotts let the English in who still rule Scotland?

  44. Anonymous says:

    it was partied between russians, austrians, germany and prussia it lost its independence :(

  45. Jakub says:

    Really well made this website!Funny too. Makes me proud! Dziekuje

  46. Polak says:

    Just want to add some thing to what nemo posted, we did get a few but unfortunately the nobel prize isnt what it used to be. As an example Lech Wałęsa (A Pole) got it but he deserved it and now Obama got it? What a fucking joke!

    “yeah yeah yeah.. lot of inventors.. but got no nobel laureates …

    Posted by nemo”

  47. Kuba says:

    But Obama did something now. We have national healh care. Next he is planning to introduce the euro.

  48. Johnny Wowk says:

    The great people of Poland have contributed many great inventions to the public. If you compare to other countries, Poland is on the top. Google search Polish Inventions and you will see.

  49. Johnny Wowk says:

    Poland has sent 500 special Elite G.R.O.M. Commandos to fight Terrorists in the Middle East to help U.S. Forces maintain peace. Poland has always been there to support USA since the Revolutionary War, Starting with,

    General Casimir Pulaski, “Founder of the American Cavalry.”

    General Thaddeus Kosciuszko “Founder of West Point.”

    Both Polish Generals fought side by side with General George Washington to defeat the British.

  50. Mateusz says:

    Well, you made my day( a year ago)! Hahah

  51. dupa says:

    KURWA, ti dupek polski

  52. Johnny says:

    Poland’s Special Elite G.R.O.M. Commandos are right up there with British SAS or better. Look them up.

  53. person says:

    and goodbye from utah

  54. what says:

    @ Island1

    I like the part of giving exposure to the unknown. How many persons over the world’s colorful history had their inventions stolen or taken credit for?

  55. Name says:

    On November 11, 2000, the Polish Community Center of Buffalo was renamed in honor of Lt. Col. Matt Urban. Lt. Col. Urban was arguably the most highly decorated soldier in American History. He grew up at 1153 Broadway, steps from the Polish Community Center. In his youth he participated in the Center’s social activities and the traditions of the Broadway Fillmore Polonia neighborhood. The Center is proud to bear the name of a true American Hero.

    The Guinness books of records regonized Matt Urban as the most highly decorated soldier in World War II. The German army called him the “Ghost” because he woild appear on anothe battle field after he was shot. He woudn’t die.

  56. Name says:

    “Polish History in 10 minutes”

    Type this into Google Search. You will be amazed.

  57. PolishPower says:

    The Inventors are still Polish if they moved to the U.S. I mean Jimi Hendrix was born in the U.S & Moved to England?
    So, What he is not American? WTF?

  58. PolishPower says:

    Yes, Well some Scottish Inventions come from Poles. Like Paul Nipkow who was a Polish Kashubian of German citzenship invented Television. Scottish James Loagie Baird invented his Television based on Paul Nipkow’s work.

    The Wikipedia on Polish Inventions should be alot larger.

    Poles have still invented things in Poland in the past 20 years.
    Like Poles invented the Hybrid bus with the Polish company Solaris Bus &
    Also Poles invented the Blue Laser use in Blue Ray disc

  59. PolishPower says:

    Yes, Because Scotland was protected on an Island from Nazis.
    DUH. Pretty obvious. You know Scots are the closest related to Poles in the British Islands? Scottish Clans & Nobility have had R1a Haplogroup like Polish people do.
    I actually think all superior Scots come from ancient migrations from around Poland.
    Because most of the British Population is kind of retarded with a large range.
    I believe the elites inthe British Isles are all R1a haplogroup.
    The fact that Thomas Edison had AB blood type which is most common in Europe in Poland & Thomas Edison looked typically Slavic makes it seem like the most Intelligent Brits have roots of ancient migrations from Poland.
    James Watt also looked typically Slav.

    Nazis came in to Poland with the help of Russia, Slovakia & Ukrainians.

    The Briitsh were completely useless on land. Although French & British forces had about 1,000 more Tanks than Nazis they were completely useless.
    & Lasted about as long as Poles did.

    Poles on the other hand had about 2,000 less tanks than Germans.

    With Poles having about 7,000 less tanks than German + Soviet forces invading.

    Yet, Poles took out a larger percentage of Germans than French & Brits did.
    It took the Nazis far more bullets to take out Poles too.

    The Brits with the French had to run across the Channel at Dunkirk.
    It was the Channel that saved Brits.
    That saved Scots too.

    Pretty obvious. But,I notice alot of people are retarded in the British Isles.

    If R1a & I1 haplogroup people didn’t migrate to Britain I think you would all be retarded.

  60. island1 says:

    Excellent. Racial blood types and appearance equal superiority. Kind of like a master race, yes? I see you have learned well from Polish history.

  61. Name says:

    Yes, “The Fighting Polish” – The first to fight.
    I would want them on my side by all means.

  62. island1 says:

    I thought the Germans were the first to fight. Surely the Poles were the first to defend.

  63. Name says:

    You didn’t Google Search: YouTube – Polish History in Ten Minutes.

  64. […] Polish have had some great ideas in the past, but can this really be counted as one of […]

  65. Johnny Wowk says:

    Polish Warriors never die … They become Legends!!!

  66. Polish says:

    List of polish Nobel laureates:

    Maria Skłodowska-Curie
    1903 physics
    1911 chemistry
    (first person to win 2 Nobel Prizes, only 4 people in history received 2 Nobel prizes, only 2 people received 2 Nobel Prizes in different fields)

    Henryk Sienkiewicz
    1905 literature

    Wladyslaw Reymont
    1924 literature

    Andrzej (Andrew) Viktor Schally
    1977 physiology or medicine

    Isaac Bashevis Singer
    1978 literature

    Czeslaw Milosz
    1980 literature

    Lech Walesa
    1983 peace prize

    Georges Charpak
    1992 physics

    Jozef (Joseph) Rotblat
    1995 peace prize

    Wislawa Szymborska
    1996 literature

    Frank Wilczek
    2004 physics

    Leon Hurwicz
    2007 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences
    (oldest Nobel Prize laureate, received it at the age of 90)

    Recently also Irena Sendler has been nominated for peace prize (saved many jewish children during WWII) but she lost with Al Gore. Few days later she died. She’d be even older than Leon Hurwicz, because she died at teh age of 98.

    So yeah, we have plenty of Nobel Prize laureates. :)

  67. Anonymous says:

    OK, Here is the list: The top four Special Forces in the world.

    1. Poland’s Special Elite GROM Commandos…for many years Classified Secret.

    2. British SAS

    3. Navy Seals… Team Six.

    4. Delta Force

    These four teams combined can cripple any country in the world.

  68. Anonymous says:

    World War II Ace Pilot was Polish…check your history.

  69. Anonymous says:

    The greatest Pope we ever had was Polish!!!

  70. Anonymous says:

    This is why the world loves Polish People.

  71. Anonymous says:

    Post your favorite Polish Hero here. It can be on YouTube or any where else.

  72. Anonymous says:


  73. Anonymous says:

    Carl Yastrzemski

  74. Anonymous says:

    Here are some more world famous Polish people.

  75. Anonymous says:

    Before America… Poland was the greatest country in the world, and could fight too. See the video. Polish History in Ten Minutes.

  76. Anonymous says:

    WOW! Who Knew

  77. Anonymous says:

    The Fighting Polish

  78. Anonymous says:

    This is one of the less informed crowds than I’m typically used to but you all realized that this quarreling is pointless. WWII is the worst topic to converse about Poland and any country in general because the whole first half of the war was when everyone was at its worst. Germany ravaged through Poland in a week, yes I understand that, but you have to realize that Poland was still basically under foreign control in 1918, even though it was actually on the map again. There was no next to no chance to revive ourselves in less than 20 years. The whole Great Depression didn’t make things any better than they already were. Let’s just leave it at the fact that we’re still alive and standing, because I’m sure no one wants to see their country die. Can’t we all be friends? It’s not too hard to ask, although the idiots may not understand that. EVERY country has a story, their birth, their rise, their decline… it goes whichever way the government decides to screw it up. But the people make the country, not the map or the borders. If the world was to lose its dividing lines we would still call ourselves Polish, American, German whatever you are… we are it doesn’t matter we would still carry the story. In the end we should call ourselves one big family with different last names, because every country came from somewhere so the ones that exist now are their offspring. We’re all humans. Its not to much to ask for peace is it?

  79. Hailey says:

    You forgot the cow

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