Croatian Innovations

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When you think of Croatia, it’s likely a picture of unspoiled Mediterranean islands swimming in turquoise waters, long stretches of beach and succulent seafood. Oh, and if you’re a Game of Thrones fan, the King’s landing, which was primarily shot in the Old Town of Dubrovnik, an ancient city that’s also one of the many UNESCO world heritage sites in the country.  

But here are some lesser-known tidbits about Croatia and all the marvels it has spawned –

The Cravat

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The cravat, the ancient ancestor of the necktie and distant relative of the bow tie originated in the mid 17th century during the thirty years’ war. Croatian mercenaries knotted colourful cloths around their necks to differentiate themselves from the French soldiers while also holding their jackets in place. These attractive multi-purpose neckties caught the fancy of King Louis XIII, so much so that he made these neckties a mandatory accessory for royal gatherings. After the war, to honour the Croatian soldiers he gave this clothing piece the name “La Cravate” – which remains the French name for the necktie to this day. Once embraced by France, the accessory spread all across Europe and eventually found its way into modern-day cubicles and formal fashion wear. In 2008, Croatian parliament decided to commemorate their national heritage and honour their contribution towards modern fashion, by celebrating the Day of the Cravat on October 18th.

Mechanical pencil and fountain pen

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In 1906, Professor Slavoljub Penkale invented the world’s first mechanical pencil and in the following year, the fountain pen. He then co-founded the Penkala-Moster Company in Zagreb, one of the world’s biggest factories for pen and pencil production at the time (which still exists today as TOZ Penkala), selling these essential instruments of expression. By many accounts, Penkale is said to be the author of some 80 different patents including the Penkala biplane in 1910, which was the first aircraft to fly in Croatia.

The proto-parachute

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The next time you go skydiving, leaping headlong out of a plane without summarily falling to your death, you can partly thank Fausto Veranzio, a bishop and inventor of Croatian origin who was amongst a long line of inventors over history whose ideas led to the modern parachute. Veranzio designed a parachute, loosely modeled on Leonardo da Vinci‘s sketches. Stretching fabric over a wooden frame, he made a parachute prototype that was believed to be tested by jumping from St. Mark’s Campanile in Venice in 1617.  He depicted his invention in a famous illustration called Homo Volans or The Flying Man found, amongst other technical depictions, in his book on mechanics, ‘Machinae Novae,’ and is presumed to be the first man to build and test a parachute.

Essential medicine

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If you’ve suffered from strep throat, Delhi belly, bronchitis or other common bacterial infections, it’s likely that you’ve taken the drug Azithromycin without thought to its origins. This hugely popular antibiotic, even included in the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines, was first discovered by a team of researchers working for the Croatian pharmaceutical company, Pliva in 1980. Hailed as a medical triumph for its effectiveness and safety, this drug has become one of the world’s best-selling medications and the Croatian scientists behind it received the Heroes of Chemistry award in 2000 by the American Chemical Society in Washington, DC. Their immense contribution towards global health cannot be understated, and so in turn, Croatia’s.

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