Tag Archives: Mine detector (Polish) Mark I

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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