Emil Kolben would be amazed
Not even as long ago as at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, Vysočany was an idyllic village. Balabenka, Hytlovka, Krocínka, Fleišnerka and Jetelka… if the people from any of the Vysočany farmsteads had work in Prague and wanted to walk, the journey would take an hour.
Those who stayed at home often worked in one of the local craft workshops, a sugar factory or a brewery. In 1896, however, Emil Kolben intervened in the fate of the village when he founded a company called Kolben a spol., An electrical factory in Prague-Vysočany.
Emil Kolben was born in 1862 as one of ten descendants of a weaver. His father sent him to Prague to study, where he also studied and later got into German technology. He graduated with honors at the age of twenty-five.
He and his wife Malvína had three children. The eldest Hanuš was born while working in Switzerland. In 1898, the Kolbenes had a daughter, Gréta, and four years later, a daughter, Lilly.
Emil Kolben was one of the most important Czech electrical engineers and entrepreneurs in the first half of the 20th century.
From a pin to a train engine
“Kolbenka” – as it was called – grew quickly. From 25 employees at the start, to 300 three years later. They started out assembling engines, and in 1900 they were good enough to produce their first train engine. Kolben, a successful entrepreneur, expanded the production and sold licences, authored papers in the field of heavy current electrical engineering and contributed to the development of industry and trade.
He was awarded an honorary doctorate at a German university and the Order of the Iron Crown from the Emperor. When Českomoravská-Kolben-Daněk (ČKD) was founded in 1927, Emil Kolben became its chief executive officer. The company’s motto was: We make everything – from a pin to a train engine.
The close relationship between ČKD and Vysočany ended in the 1990s, when the local industry was gradually phased out. Today, only a street and a Metro station bearing his name remind us of the legendary industrialist. Soon, however, his name will be borne by the whole new district, which will commemorate Kolben's work in the field of electrical engineering and the troubled fate of his entire family.