František Křižík (1847–1941)

Commentators called František Křižík the ‘Czech Edison’ – he was a leading inventor and entrepreneur who introduced electricity in Czechoslovakia. He designed generating stations, urban lighting, tramways and electric railways and manufactured dynamos, lamps, motors, transformers and tram systems. His inventions included a railway signalling device, an arc lamp and an electric car.

Křižík grew up in a poor family, the son of a shoemaker and a domestic servant. He was an exceptional pupil at school and was admitted to the technical university of Prague. He obtained a post in 1868 that involved electrical signalling and went on to work as a railway signalling clerk. In 1870 he patented a device that ensured malfunctioning signals automatically displayed a safety position. When he visited the 1878 Paris World’s Fair he was inspired by seeing electric arc lamps demonstrated. He soon patented an automatic regulation mechanism for arc lamps that made them last longer than others of the time. In 1880 he was commissioned to provide lighting for the Piett paper factory in PIlsen. His lamp won a gold medal at the World Electrotechnical Exhibition in Paris in 1881 and he set up a company to develop it. He produced the lamp in Bohemia while partners manufactured it for Germany and Russia and sold the rights to Britain and America. Shortly after this Křižík moved his factory from Pilsen to the Prague suburb of Karlin. In 1888 he built an electrical power plant in the Žižkov district of Prague.

He built his first electric tram line in 1891 for an exhibition at the Prague Exhibition Grounds and in 1892 he designed a tram system for Pilsen, which opened seven years later. In 1896 he built a tram line of 8 km in the northern suburbs of Prague that passed his Karlin factory. This was followed in 1903 by his 24-km railway between the towns of Tábor and Bechyně in southern Bohemia: the first electrified railway in Austria-Hungary.

Křižík turned to the development of the electric car for road transport in 1895. He built four prototypes by 1908 but the cars never went into production. He failed to recognise the advantages of alternating current and lost contracts for further electrification in Prague. In 1917 his company overstretched itself financially and the bank formed it into a joint-stock company. Křižík lived in semi-retirement until his death aged 93 in 1941.