Slavoljub Eduard Penkala: The Reason We Write

Table on the house where Slavoljub Penkala lived in Zagreb, Croatia
A table on the house where Slavoljub Penkala lived in Zagreb, Croatia

It seems hard for us nowadays to imagine a life without technology, laptops, mobile phones, and keyboards. Before life as we know it today, people used to write to each other. Pen and paper were the only communication tools.

Yet, to be able to write, somebody needed to invent a pen – and you would have probably never guessed that the inventor was Croatian. Let me introduce you to Slavoljub Eduard Penkala.

In this article, we cover:

The facts are these…

The life of a master mind Slavoljub Eduard Penkala

Eduard Penkala was born in 1871 in Liptovsky Mikulas, then part of Austria-Hungary, but today’s Slovakia. He had a Polish father and a Dutch mother, both of whom urged him to become a doctor.

According to his parents’ wishes, he moved to Vienna to study medicine but eventually changed course as he felt he made the wrong choice. Penkala moved to Dresden where he graduated with a degree in Chemical Engineering from the Dresden University of Technology. During his studies there, he attended violin lessons where he met his future wife, pianist Emilia Stoffregen.

Finally, he moved to Croatia’s capital, Zagreb, with his family. He had four children who were his inspiration for new inventions. In the center of Zagreb, he opened a workshop where he did his inventing. He was later appointed Royal Technical Controller.

The invention of a pen

Penkala loved Zagreb. To show loyalty to his new homeland, he decided to change his name to Slavoljub, which is why we all know him as Slavoljub Eduard Penkala. Croatians showed him loyalty in return because over a hundred years after he died, we still call a pen penkala in Croatian.

Penkala invented the automatic mechanical pen in 1906. This was by far his biggest and best-known invention. Back then, it was called an “automatic pencil” and soon after it was invented, the pen was patented in over 70 countries around the world.

He collaborated with entrepreneur Edmund Moster, who started the Penkala-Moster Company which would soon become one of the biggest pen and pencil companies in the world. This company still exists today and is called Toz Penkala.

Wings to fly

Slavoljub Penkala showed interest in natural and technical sciences from an early age. He spent his time in nature surrounded by butterflies and birds. He would spend hours outdoors with his son, Eduard, watching and chasing the butterflies, as he was obsessed with flying.

Penkala was amazed by the first flights of the Wright brothers and had a big interest in aviation. The butterfly Neptis lucilla inspired him to build a plane.

Penkala constructed the first Croatian two-seat airplane. All the money he made by inventing the pen was invested in the construction of this plane.

The aircraft was completed in 1910 and was flown by the first Croatian pilot, Dragutin Novak. The airplane was named after his favorite butterfly and his inspiration, Neptis lucilla.

[Read: Croatian airport guides]

Penkala’s other inventions

Having such a creative spirit, Penkala invented more than 80 inventions and innovations we use every day.

One such invention was inspired by his daughter who didn’t like to brush her teeth. He watched her struggling for a while, thinking about how could he make tooth brushing easier for her. He was then inspired to invent a rotating toothbrush.

His patented inventions also include a hot water bottle called termofor, laundry detergent, an anode battery, and a remedy against rheumatism. As he traveled a lot, he would often stay in hotels and be surrounded by nature, so he invented pesticides too.

Penkala’s tragic end

During the First World War, he ended his research and focused more on patenting his innovations. However, everything stopped for him in 1919 when he got malaria. Nobody knew where the mosquito bit him.

He fought for his life and his family thought he would not survive. After ten days of high temperature and fever, he managed to recover.

Unfortunately, his health didn’t last long. One of his travels was fatal for him. He died in 1922 at the age of 51, after catching pneumonia on a business trip. His resting place is in Zagreb’s famous cemetery, Mirogoj.

Some of his work can be found at Tehnički muzej Nikola Tesla (Zagreb’s Technical Museum) and Muzej grada Zagreba (Zagreb’s City Museum). Though he has not been alive for over a hundred years, his inventions are still used daily around the world.

[Read: Weird and unique museums in Croatia]

Learn about other prominent Croatian figures

Please note: Information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change, and each personal case is individual, so different rules may apply. For legal advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant.

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