November the 6th, 2023 – Nikola Tesla might be the most famous inventor associated with Croatia, but what about the inventor and developer of many everyday items we all use and take for granted daily? Meet naturalised Croatian inventor Slavoljub Penkala.
He furthered the first solid-ink fountain pen and the Mechanical pencil
We might all spend much more time typing than we do writing these days, but those hours we spent sitting in classrooms learning how to join up letters likely remain clear memories. We can thank Slavoljub Penkala for that, and the first half of his surname probably gives what his creation was away. The very first solid-ink fountain pen, as well as the the mechanical pencil (then referred to as an automatic pencil), were furthered by Penkala in 1906 and 1907. Those of us who are left-handed and can’t use fountain pens because we get more on our hands than on the paper might not be quite as thankful for this!
Penkala changed his name to Slavoljub to showcase his love for Croatia
Born in what is now Liptovský Mikuláš (now within modern Slovakian borders), Slavoljub Penkala’s heritage isn’t a straightforward one. With Dutch ancestry on his father’s side and Polish ancestry on his mother’s, all while being born in what was then Austro-Hungary, Penkala was born Eduard, and not Slavoljub. After attending university in Vienna and meeting the woman who would later become his wife, a pianist named Emily Stoffregen, the pair moved to Zagreb. Penkala became a naturalised Croat, and changed his name to Slavoljub Eduard Penkala himself. Slavoljub translates to Slavophile (a lover of Slavs), and Penkala deemed it appropriate to prove his loyalty to his new country.
Unlike a rather obsessive Tesla, Slavoljub Penkala had interests that spanned different fields
Slavoljub Penkala didn’t become quite as fixated on specific things like Tesla did. Perhaps because there’s no evidence to suggest that he suffered with OCD, or maybe because he had no known grand ideas pertaining to the universe. Penkala attended university in Vienna and gained a doctorate in organic chemistry, but was also keen to learn to play instruments. In fact, it was precisely during violin lessons that he decided to take alongside his studies that he met his future wife, Emily.
He created the Penkala 1910 biplane – the first Croatian aircraft operated by the first Croatian pilot
He might get all of the glory for creating the pen, and admittedly, most of us are writing much more frequently than we are flying aircraft, but Slavoljub Penkala is responsible for this invention as well. The Penkala 1910 biplane, often referred to more simply as the Leptir (Butterfly), was the very first aircraft ever to take to the skies in Croatia. This single engine plane boasting conventional landing gear took to the skies on June the 22nd, 1910. Fittingly, it was captained by the very first Croatian captain, Dragutin Novak. Unfortunately, it only remained operational for a short while, crashing several months after June 1910.
He died prematurely and can be visited in Mirogoj cemetery today
Like a great many amazing minds, Slavoljub Penkala tragically left the Earthly realm prematurely. He contracted pneumonia during a business trip, from which he sadly couldn’t be saved. He left behind his devoted wife Emily and their four children. He was just 50 years of age. Today, Slavoljub Penkala’s grave can be visited at Zagreb’s beautiful Mirogoj cemetery. Unsurprisingly, he still gets very many visitors from across Croatia, Europe and indeed from all over the rest of the world to this very day.