The twin towns of Bielsko and Biala on either side of the Biala River, that make up the modern city of Bielsko-Biala both have medieval origins. They were part of the Habsburg Empire between 1772 and 1918, and ethnically were predominantly German until 1945. The cities lie at the point where the main routes from Russia and Cracow through the Beskid mountains cross the river, and textile manufactures flourished there from the 17th century, when a cloth makers’ guild was founded. The first power looms in Poland were installed at the Jankowski factory in 1820, and in the 19th century Bielsko-Biala was sometimes called the ‘Silesian Manchester’.
The city’s museums portray many aspects of the history of the textile industry, and perhaps show more clearly than in any other European city the evolution of factory-based textile production from manufacturing workshops on the premises of retailers.
The broad pattern of the history of Bielsko-Biala is displayed in the museum in Sulkowski’s Castle, which is the headquarters of the municipal museum service that manages the two textile sites. The domestic stages of textile production have been illustrated since 1992 in the Weaver’s House, a 2-storey timber-framed building with a galleried first floor, which illustrates a characteristic guild master’s house of the 18th century, and a late 19th century domestic weaver’s workshop.
The Museum of Technology and the Textile Industry has been located since 1979 in a wool textile factory, whose nucleus was a workshop established by Karol Traugott Buttner (1833-84) as an adjunct to his draper’s business. It was transformed into a factory by Karol Teodor (1863-1932) and Gustav Adolf (1865-1933) Buttner, who constructed the steam-powered premises that now house the museum in 1889. Exhibits, many of which can still be operated, include carding machines, self-acting mules of the late 19th century, winding machines and weft winders. The museum is a site on the Industrial Monuments Route of the Silesian Voivodeship.