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on the Road to Science


József J. vitéz Hamvas


The Second Millicentennial Project of the Rákóczi Foundation





When more than forty years ago I first started collecting this material and discovered the immeasurable, an almost inexhaustible wealth, I was overcome with the happiness of enthusiasm. In the frenzy of work, I decided that this abundant treasure must be shared with the Hungarian youth, and the world.

Let us begin by imagining that we embark down the long highway of science in a time-car and our head-lights illuminate only the Hungarian milestones.

Look! What is this four-wheeled vehicle suspended on springs made of steel? This steel-springed vehicle originally came from the village of Kócs (pron. coach) in Komárom County which explains why it was called „KÓCSI”. This 14th century word was directly adopted as „Kutsche” by the Germans and as „coach” by the English. Note also that it was  the Hungarian horsemen who provided the rest of the civilized world with the „stirrup”. Bread fermented with leaven is a Hungarian discovery. It was the bread the Hungarian horsemen carried together with dried, powdered meat under the saddle-bow whenever they were on a military expedition. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, copper metallurgy was a Hungarian invention too.

The first Hungarian school founded at the turn of the 10th century by Prince Géza, belonged to the St. Benedictine Holy Order.

The first Hungarian University was founded in the 14th century in Pécs by Louis the Great. The College of Buda was set up by Monarch Zsigmond at the beginning of the 14th century. The University of Pozsony, which had four faculties, was built in 1467. Pázmány University in Nagyszombat first opened its doors in 1635; in 1777 it moved to Buda, then later established itself in Pest.

Books are necessary to spread scientific know-how. The very first book was printed in Hungary during the reign of King Matthias, preceding England, Sweden and Spain.[1] It was printed in Buda in 1483 on the presses of Endre Hess; the title of the book was characteristic – „Chronica Hungarorum”.

The first public library was already functioning in the 15th century at Bártfa. It was administered by the church and was later taken over by municipal authorities.

The first significant mathematical study was written (in Latin) by George Mester in 1499 in the Netherlands.

Pál Bagellardus had already written his book about the childrens’ diseases in 1472; János had written his book about medical science in 1358; Dénes had been teaching logic in 1474 at the University of Bologna where Gergely had also been teaching same.[2]

Briccius de Buda was the rector of the University of Prague in 1415.  At this time Christopher Pannonius was once and Bálint was four times the rector of the University of Koenigsberg.

The University of Vienna had 139 Hungarian professors between 1413 and 1639, and during the 1500’s it had a Hungarian rector, Ladislaus Hungarus.

János Zsámboki (1531-1584) was a historian. It was the remains of his library from which Emperor Miksy created his library obtaining some of the codexes from the library of King Matthias: the Corvinas.

A paper factory was established in Brassó in 1546, long before such a factory existed in England. In the mid 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I. of England, had brought miners from Légrád to demonstrate modern scaffolding techniques for tunnels and draining them of water. These same miners introduced methods of the train to move material by wooden rail. The English adopted the timber framework methods which they call „Hungarian riffle” to this day; and the smelting furnace is still called the „Hungarian mill.”

It was also a Hungarian who laid the foundation of the English glass industry in 1556. The hill beside the Worchester-Strombridge glass factory is called Hungarian Hill even today.

Ivan the Terrible[3] engaged Hungarian furnace men for his melting furnaces.

In the 16th century, Hungarians inherited the vertical axle wind turbine, the invention of Faustus Verancsics (1551-1617), who had been the captain of the Castle of Veszprém. He also invented the parachute, which he offered as one of the means to escape from the invading Turks.

János Ségner (1704-1777), physicist and physician, was born in Pozsony. His career as a professor began at the University of Jena, Germany, with subsequent stints at Göttingen and Halle. It was Ségner who first discovered that light travels in time. His best-known invention is the Ségner wheel, which is the ancestor of reactive turbines and motors, used in today’s jets.

János Balsaráti Vitus (1529-1575) was court physician of Pope Paul V. János Gyöngyösi (1707-1769) was the court-physician for Russian Czarinas Elizabeth and Katherine.

In 1782, the Institutum Geometricum at Buda was the first Technical Institute of the world to open its doors.

Farkas Pázmándi Kempelen (1734-1804), an engineer with ingenious mind was born in Pozsony. On the basis of precise observations, he constructed talking machines  and power looms, as well as the pontoon bridge at Pozsony. He was the first to experiment in methods of establishing system for writing that would be readable for the blind. Of all his inventions, the chess machine is the most brilliant.

András Jelki (1730-1783), an adventurous tailor from Baja, became the envoy of the Dutch government in Japan.

Móric Benyovszky (1741-1786), the legendary lover of adventures, fought in the Polish War of Independence during which he was captured by the Russians and carried off to Kamchatka. He later escaped. Just to suitably impress with his exploits the French sent him, along with 300 soldiers, to Madagascar. Here he became the beloved viceroy of the island.

And now we have a double milestone proclaiming the excellence of the Hungarian mind. Father and son, Farkas Bolyai (1775-1856) and János Bolyai (1802-1860). Farkas was professor of mathematics at the College of Marosvásárhely. His work, „Tentamen” (1831) was the precursor of modern algebra and geometry. János, in the Appendix to his father’s book, introduced the fundamental principles of the logically connected new, hyperbolic geometry. This geometry was not based on the axioms of Euclid. „I created a new world from nothing.” he wrote. His work had great impact on the dynamic development of science and philosophy. In the opinion of Coolidge: „His work is a milestone in the history of human thinking.”

Why does this next milestone glow so bright? The name on it: Ignác Semmelweiss (1818-1865), born at Buda. His genius triumphed over the disease which took the many victims of his time: childbed fever. His tragic and futile fight against human ignorance reflected the cruel fate of many Hungarian intellectuals. Frank D. Slaughter told the life story of this great Hungarian physician in his magnificent book: „An Immortal Magyar Semmelweiss, The Conqueror of Childbed Fever.”

Ágoston Haraszty of Mokcsa (1812-1869), first arriving in America in 1840, together with an Englishman, Bryand, founded a city now called Sauk City. In Wisconsin he started to grow hops, which laid the foundation of the well-known beer products. Later, he devoted himself to producing wine by acclimatizing the Tokai grape in California, planting wine stock brought from the old country.

János Xanthus (1825-1897) whose ethnographical and mineralogical collections are highly valued by the Smithsonian Institute in Washington.

Ferenc Pulszky (1814-1894) was one of the best-known professors of Harvard University.

Among the great discoverers of the USA, a Hungarian, Samuel Bettelheim, stands out; on the island of Riu-Kiu, Japan, a statue was erected in his honour.

The first engineering military college of the United States was founded by József Makk.

Sándor Asbóth (1811-1868) designed New York City; he hid the Hungarian crown in the ground at Orsova, when escaping from Hungary.

During the American civil war, Hungarians were represented by 5 brigadier-generals, 2 lieutenant generals, 15 colonels, 2 lieut-colonels, 133 majors and 184 other senior officers.

Ádám Jávorka (1683-1747) became a general in the Russian army.

Throughout the world, cavalries were modelled after the Hungarian hussar regiments. This explains why every nation adopted the name „hussar” and the uniform of the Hungarian hussars. The French calls the pelisse of the cavalrymen dolman, the braiding soutach, the csákó chacon.

Ányos Jedlik (1800-1895), a monk of the Benedictine order, was professor of physics and mechanics at the University of Pest. He constructed the first electric motor in 1828 and, after resolving the principles of the dynamo, and proving his calculations he also built the first one. He presented the electric motor to his students in 1852, 18 years before Siemens.

János Irinyi (1817-1895) is the inventor of the safety matches. Canadian wheat is actually an acclimatized derivative of the Hungarian durum wheat. The partridge, pheasant now living in Canada „immigrated” from Hungary, which explains why it is called Hungarian Partridge.

Alexander Graham Bell, is the inventor of the telephone, together with Thomas Alva Edison. But Edison acknowledged that without his friend and first co-worker, Tivadar Puskás of Ditro (1844-1893), the telephone would not have spread around the world so quickly. He credited this to Puskás’ invention of the ingenious switchboard system. He built the first switchboard in Paris and introduced the telephone news system in Budapest. There is a nice story about the origin of the word „hallo”. Edison’s other coworker, whom he called his right-hand-man, István Fodor (1856-1929) was also a Hungarian. The two Hungarian engineers were listening for the result of a test in two separate cities: when Puskás heard his friend’s voice, he shouted: „hallom, hallom” (=I hear you, I hear you!). According to legend, here lays the origin of the word Hello.

József Pulitzer (1847-1911) born in Makó, established the biggest newspaper in America: The World, and he built the first skyscraper and news agency. The Pulitzer Prize is given annually to the author of the best novel, play, historical work or music or the best journalist of the year.

Donát Bánki (1859-1919) the chief engineer of the GANZ factory became professor at the Technical University of Budapest in the Faculty of Hydromachines, Compressors and Steam Turbines.

He and János Csonka (1862-1939) designed the first carburetor. He designed the first usable airplane model as well as designed and constructed the engine and a turbine that were named after him.

Kálmán Kandó (1869-1931), a mechanical engineer, was a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. His phase-alternating electrical locomotive was the harmonious merger of mechanical and electro-technical solutions.

Otto Titusz Bláthy (1860-1939) was one of the world’s greatest electro-technicians. He is the founder of the Hungarian electro-technical industry. In 1884 together with Károly Zipernovszky (1853-1942) and Miksa Déri (1854-1938), calculated and designed the first transformer. Zipernovszky discovered the coherer, the rectifier for wireless telegraph. Déri also designed the North Italian power plant in Tirol, Italy.

The first underground electric railway on the European continent opened at Budapest in the year of the Millennium – 1896.

Architect Eugene Hermann designed and built the port of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Exhibition Palace of Venice, Italy was built by a Hungarian, named Bajan and the port of Lisbon, Portugal was built by Engberth from Budapest.

György Jendrassik (1898-1964), engineer, built a gas turbine, which is known world-wide.

Antal Pollák (1865-1938) and József Virág (1870-1909) were the inventors of express telegraph.

Dénes Mihály (1906-1963), an engineer, developed the television. Its improved version is still in use in Germany and throughout Western Europe.

The names of Dr. István and Lajos Dorogi are praised by children for their technical solution in manufacturing inflatable rubber balls and floating toys.

Among many other Hungarian inventions that were thrown into the waste basket of the Vienna Department of Defence were the inventions of Dr. Steiner the armoured automobile and tank in 1910. Litfas, the printer from Sopron invented the lighted advertising post.

Dr. Béla Schick, who lived in the USA, discovered the test which can detect an individual’s sensitivity to diphteria.

The two Korányi brothers, as well as Tauffer, Verebély, Herzog, Nékám and
, are among the world’s greatest physicians.

Ármin Vámbéry (1832-1913) is regarded by England as one of its greatest orientalists. He was the first to travel to Teheran, Samarkand in Asia.

Sir Aurél Stein (1862-1946) is the honourary member of the Geographic Society of London.

Károly Havas (1881-1960) founded the world’s first news agency around 1835.

The greatest achievement of the research of Oszkár Asbóth (1881-1960) was the „floating airplane”. In October 1928, the first helicopter had its trial run at the Rákos airport. The helicopter is also a Hungarian invention.

Dr. Albert Fonó, mechanical engineer, forwarded a recommendation to the general headquarters of the Austrian Army in February 1915 for manufacturing jet-propelled airplanes. The idea was rejected as the whim of an eccentric brain. Nevertheless our colleague Fonó improved his invention after the WWI and submitted it to the German patent office in 1918 from which he received the patent in 1932. Contemporary modern airplanes are a declaration of the geniality, knowledge, strong will and persistence of Hungarian inventor.

Many years ago the American Secretary of State gave a sumptuous party in honour of the Hungarians. The Secretary of State was toasting invited guests with a glass of champagne. Stepping under a huge chandelier, he posed the following question: „Ladies and gentlemen, do you know that eight of ten advisors to the American government are Hungarians?” Not only the guests, but many other Hungarians were unaware of this, though what an honour it is that the majority of the advisors of the world’s most powerful country were our compatriots (1955).

First of all, the names of Hungarian physicists, mathematicians and nuclear researchers are important to mention, because their role is very significant in the history of the world.

Tódor Kármán (1881-1949), born in Budapest, is recognized as the leading scientist of aerodynamics. Without his theory of air vortices, supersonic airplanes would not be possible. There is no part of aeronautics that has not been enriched by his scientific work.

János Margittai Neumann (1903-1962), was one of the greatest mathematicians of our age. Born in Budapest, he was invited to teach at the famous universities of Princeton and Harvard. He suggested and strongly supported the creation of super-speed computers, without which the US could have never established its leadership in space research and space travel. He proudly confessed and declared himself to be a Hungarian. One day he attended an official dinner where some guests were scolding Hungarians as being belligerent. He quietly noted: „I am a Hungarian too!” which made the scolder suddenly silent. Shortly before Neumann died, he was taken in a wheelchair to the White House and the President of the U.S. (Eisenhower) in a poignant ceremony pinned the country’s highest award (Freedom) to his chest.

Leo Szilárd (1898-1946), one of the four Hungarians, played a dominant role in employing atomic energy. He worked with Enrico Fermi producing the first „chain reaction”, which is now identified with their names. Szilárd was the first to use plutonium to cause an atomic reaction.

Jenő Wigner (1902-1995) was also a member of the Hungarian „atom quartet.” Born in Budapest, he finished his studies in Berlin, Germany and later became a professor at Princeton University. From 1942 to 1945 he had been involved in nuclear research in the first largest nuclear laboratory at the University of Chicago. From 1952 he worked as a chief member of the board of nuclear power as an advisor expert.

Ede Teller (1908-) was the pillar of the „Hungarian quartet,” with Szilárd, Neumann and Wigner. Born in Budapest, he was appointed to the University of Chicago where world history was made during those days. Working together at Los Alamos laboratory and at the University of Chicago they resolved the problem of nuclear bomb manufacture. The first two bombs were made under his directions and were later tested at Los Alamos. He had an even more important role in the realization of the hydrogen bomb, which is why he is called the father of the H-bomb.

Zoltán Bay (1900-1994), a nuclear physicist, was born in Békés county and studied in Budapest and Berlin, Germany. He was the director of the scientific laboratory of the large Hungarian electronic company: Egyesült Izzó. He became world famous when he successfully measured the distance between the Earth and the moon by radar. He also deserves credit for perfecting the electronic brain, the computer.

In the design and construction of satellites the following Hungarians participated effectively: Pál Gosztonyi, János Korda, Péter Földes, Endre Lovas.

Alfréd Sziegmeth controlled and directed the Pioneer research satellites in the U.S.A. as the head of staff of 600. Ferenc Pavlics, mechanical engineer, is the designer and producer of the moon-buggy. To my biggest surprise I learned that a Hungarian István Domokos designed the rocket engine of the lunar exploratory module (LEM) for the spaceship Apollo.

My late friend, Dr. János Selye, professor of the University of Montreal, conducted research on „human stress”.

László János Bíró (1900-), Budapest-born journalist, designed the ballpoint pen; the Argentinians simply call it BIRO, after its inventor.

We cannot forget about the two Rubiks, father and son. the father, László Rubik is one of the pioneers of the glider plane flights in Hungary; his millionaire son is the genius creator of the Rubik’s cube.

It was a great pleasure for me to discover the new series of stamps representing the Hungarian Nobel-prize winners in the March 20/89 issue of the Hungarian News. The text following the stamps declares that the set is one-of-a kind, and had never existed before! „The Incorporation of the Immortals” in everyday language. The Hungarian Academy of Sciences met on the occasion of the newly issued stamps. One of the lecturers, Gábor Palló, the candidate for chemical sciences outlined the reasons for the very important session: „When a nation is in a difficult situation, it is looking for opportunities to strengthen its self-esteem. Thus it returns to the heroes of the past, to the giants of the arts and sciences.”


Let us present the Laureates:


Fülöp Lénárd, (Pozsony 1862 – Messelhausen 1947), physicist, university professor, member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. He received the Nobel Prize in 1905 for research in phosphorescence. His theory of photoelectric influence is accepted even today.

Róbert Bárány, (1876-1936), physician, received the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1914 for his research in the matter of equilibrium in the inner ear.

Richárd Adolf Zsigmondy, (Vienna 1865 – Göttingen 1929), physio-chemist, received the Nobel Prize in 1926 for colloid-chemical research and for inventing the ultra microscope.

Albert Szentgyörgyi (1893-1986), medical doctor and chemist, received the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1937 for research of biological-burns and the discovery of the role played by vitamin C.

György József Hevesy, (Budapest 1885 – Freiburg 1966) chemist, university professor, honourary member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the discoverer of Hafnium, received the Nobel Prize in 1944 for the application of radioactive isotopes as indicators in chemical research.

György Békésy, (1899-1972) physicist, received the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1961 for research related to the stimuli of the helix inside the ear.

Jenő Wigner, (Budapest 1902-1994) received the Nobel Prize in 1963 for his dispersion theories of nuclear reactions.

Dénes Gábor, (Pest 1900-1979) electrical engineer, received the Nobel Prize in 1971 for Holography – for the invention of total, super three-dimensional photography. He also improved the magnetic lens of the electron-microscope.

George Oláh, (Budapest 1927-) Director of Loker research Institute for Hydrocarbons, U.S.A. He studied at the Piarist’s Gymnasium. He came to Canada in 1964, later moved to the U.S.A. and in 1994 he received the Nobel Prize for his study and description of chemical reactions and transformation of hydrocarbons.

John Harsányi (Budapest, 1920-) After graduating Gymnasium at Fasor, Budapest, he studied Pharmacology. In 1950, with his wife and in-laws he first emigrated to Austria, then to Australia, where he finished his university studies. He received a Rockefeller fellowship and was later invited to the University of Berkeley, U.S.A. In 1994 he shared with two of his colleagues, the Nobel Prize for Economics.

First of all we have to be aware of our own worth. We have to know what the word Hungarian means. We have to inject our children with the pride and the confidence that Hungarians are the equals of any other nation in the world.

Our sad experience is, that nobody will help us if we don’t help ourselves, because we, and we alone, have to resolve the problems, which affect us all. In order to do so, all Hungarians have to join together and cooperate with one another in a helpful and united way.

We have come to the end of our journey. There are likely many milestones left unmentioned, I know.

Before returning to the everyday life, we should take a moment for reflection. Perhaps we can recall a name, an extraordinary deed, accomplishment or invention that had been given by a Hungarian to the world. If you can think for a moment, that: „I am a Hungarian too, and I am happy to belong to this nation,” then this humble work has accomplished what it was intended for.

We are not a small nation! There is no such thing as the Curse of Turan! The greatness of a nation does not depend on its size, but rather on its calibre.

With Hungarian belief, self-confident we declare: We can achieve greatness if we unite believing in ourselves and together we work for our Homeland.




[1] Prior to this, writing was invented by the Hungarians preceeding the Sumerians by a thousand years. They used carved (rótt) sticks as base-material. The writing of these sticks could be used to reproduce on other materials (cloth, leather, paper) as needed.  All later Western cultures  adopted the infinitive of this word (róni) for their own writing.

[2] Documents of the Inquisition in Hungary contain references that the physicians used palpation during examination and they also used urine-analysis as a diagnostic tool. They never accepted any compensation for their services, even though they were considered very successful practitioners of their healing art.

[3] of Russia