The very first map of the United States of Virginia and Maryland was produced in 1670 by Augustine Herman, a prominent merchant and cartographer from Bohemia in today’s Czech Republic, who settled in the new world. While in the employment of Lord Baltimore, Herman produced an incredibly accurate map of the Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay regions in exchange for permission to establish an enormous 30,000 acre plantation in what is now southeastern Cecil County, Maryland. He named his plantation Bohemian Manor, building the manor north of the Bohemian River. A current high school and middle school are named after the Bohemian Manor.
The humanist John Amos Comenius (1592-1670) was a great educator from Moravia in today’s Czech Republic. He is considered to be the 'Father of Modern Education,' establishing modern educational methods and promoting universal education. Comenius wrote about how people learn and how they should be taught through out their entire life. He produced the first children's picture book, Orbis Pictus (The World Illustrated). In his book Didactica Magna (Great Didactic), he outlined a system of schools that is the precise counterpart of the existing American system today. As his methods were respected and influential even in his time, Comenius was offered the prominent position of President of Harvard University (which he declined).
John Nepomucene Neumann (1811-1860), born in Prachatice, Bohemia, part of modern-day Czech Republic, served as Bishop of Philadelphia, founding the first Catholic diocesan school system in the United States and increasing the number of Catholic schools in his diocese from two to one hundred. He was the first American bishop to be canonized. Following his canonization, the National Shrine of Saint John Neumann was built at the Parish of St. Peter the Apostle in Philadelphia, PA. The remains of St. John Neumann rest under the altar of the shrine within a glass-walled reliquary. Furthermore, Our Lady of Angels College, founded in 1980 by the congregation of Franciscan Sisters that Neumann had previously founded, was renamed Neumann College and granted university status by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 2009.
Antonín Dvořák, one of the most prominent Czech classical composers of all time, left an enormous musical footprint on the United States. Dvořák’s fascination with his ethnic roots and folk melodies gained him an invitation to direct New York ’s National Conservatory of Music and develop an American music style. Taking in the sounds of Native and African Americans, Dvořák produced in the 19th century one of the most listened to symphonies on Earth called From the New World. This beautiful piece inspired U.S. Astronaut Neil Armstrog in the 20th century as he took man’s first steps on the moon. Dvořák’s legacy also thrived through his students, who taught American legends George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, and Duke Ellington. Over 500 artists, 30 venues throughout the nation’s capital, and 10,000 attendees celebrated the composer’s work and influence at the Mutual Inspirations Festival 2011- Antonín Dvořák.
The 1920's saw the building of a new democratic nation in the heart of Europe. With the strong backing of US President Woodrow Wilson, Czechoslovakia had declared its independence in 1918, and Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk became its first freely elected president. In this inter World Wars period, the First Republic from 1918 to 1938 prospered socially and economically, becoming one of the most advanced countries in the world. (Photo credit: The National Museum in Prague)
Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) was a Czech artist, famous even today for his Art Nouveau decorative style. He is best known for his numerous paintings, posters, and advertisements, in which he depicts beautiful women in long flowing robes with flowers in their hair and in the background. His illustrations gained the support of American millionaire and philanthropist Charles R. Crane, who was also a friend of Czechoslovakia’s first President T. G. Masaryk. One of the works that Crane funded was Mucha’s Slavonic Epic, a masterpiece of paintings portraying the history of the Slavic people. Perchance in return, Mucha selected Crane’s American wife, Josephine, as his model for the female image illustrated on the one hundred crown banknote, put into circulation in 1920 in the newly founded Czechoslovakia.
Czech born Anton Cermak (1873-1933) became the 44th Mayor of Chicago in 1931. He was an opponent of the Prohibition and waged a battle against the mob. As Mayor, Cermak also traveled back to his native lands and met with Czechoslovak President T. G. Masaryk. Unfortunately, while shaking hands with U.S. President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) in Miami, Florida, on February 15, 1933, Cermak was fatally shot by assassin Joe Zangara. While on his deathbed, Cermak humbly told FDR, "I'm glad it was me instead of you." A plaque inscribed with these words to honor Cermak still lies at the site of the assassination in Miami's Bayfront Park. Cermak is buried in the Bohemian National Cemetery in Chicago and has a major street in Chicago named after him. Still, it has never been determined who was the target of the assassination, if the bullet was meant for the President-elect or Cermak in retribution for ordering the shooting of gangster Frank Nitti.
Did you know that such a common word as robot was taken from the Czech language? Robot, which comes from the Czech word robota, meaning "serf labor," was introduced to the world in 1920 by the influential Czech writer Karel Čapek in his play Rossum's Universal Robots. The play begins in a factory that makes artificial people called robots. Although Karel Čapek was best known as a science fiction author, he was also involved in politics, interviewing the First Republic's President for his book Talks with T. G. Masaryk, and even wrote children's stories. (Picture: President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and writer Karel Čapek, Courtesy of the Archives of the Masaryk Institute at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.)
Jaroslav Ježek became a popular jazz composer, pianist, and conductor during the 1920's, fearlessly crossing the borders between popular and classical music. He organized and conducted an orchestra featuring his original jazz compositions and arrangements, recording some of the most original music in Europe. Still, Ježek is best known for the songs he composed for the famous pre-WWII satirical cabaret, the Liberated Theatre, led by playwrights and comedians Jiří Voskovec and Jan Werich (V+W). As the theatre's performances were anti-fascist, all three artists fled to the US after the nazi occupation in 1938.
TATRA, a.s., a Czech company founded in 1850, ranks among the oldest truck and car companies in the world. In 2010, a 1941 TATRA T87 won the "Most Collectible Car of the Year" in the NY Times. TATRAs were known as the 'Czech Secret Weapon' during WWII for the scores of nazis who died behind these fast wheels, prompting Hitler to ban his top officers from driving them. During the Cold War, TATRA continued to manufacture trucks, buses, and a luxury car, which was reserved for national and foreign communist officials (including Fidel Castro). The company's current models consist of transportation and heavy duty off-road trucks. (Photo credit: Lane Motor Museum)
In 1918, the First Republic was founded with women having political, social and cultural equality to men. Women participated in forums, such as the American Ladies' Club, which aimed to educate and discuss the role of the modern, intellectually and socially active woman. Also a member, the First President's wife, Charlotte, led by example and President Masaryk even took his American wife's surname Garrigue as his middle name. This liberation was also reflected in the fashion of the day. In 1893, Czech-American Marie Tucek patented her "breast supporter" with the US Patent Office, inventing the modern day bra. Gaining vast popularity everywhere, women shed the constricting corset, feeling liberated in this golden era of the First Republic.
The Czech Republic belongs among the top ten countries in the world with the most developed film infrastructure. Many American filmmakers take advantage of the famous Barrandov Studios in the architecturally stunning city Prague, shooting films such as Mission Impossible (1996), The Bourne Identity (2002), Alien versus Predator (2004), Hellboy (2004), and The Brothers Grimm (2005). Referred to as the "European Hollywood,” the studios offer all production needs under one roof, along with a wide range of the most comprehensive services currently available at an appealing price. The Barrandov Studios were founded by brothers Miloš and Václav Havel, after visiting the University of California, Berkley. “America was my inspiration,” said Václav Havel, the father of the Czech President with the same name.
Václav Havel (1936-2011), playwright, essayist, poet, dissident, and politician, was one of the writers of Charter 77, a document that criticized the communist government for failing to implement human rights provisions. After the Velvet Revolution, Havel became the tenth and last President of Czechoslovakia and the first President of the Czech Republic. Shortly after being elected, he gave a speech to the joint session of Congress. In his speech, he stated, “The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and in human responsibility.” Havel has received numerous state decorations, honorary doctorates, and international awards, including the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom. After leaving office, he continued to work in human rights, creating the Forum 2000 Foundation. Havel passed away on December 18, 2011. (Photo courtesy of Tomki Němec)
Award-winning director Miloš Forman grew up in a small town near Prague, Czech Republic. He was hailed as a major talent of the Czech New Wave with films exploring social and moral issues, including Loves of a Blonde (1965) and Firemen’s Ball (1967), which was banned after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Forman later came to the United States and made several successful films, notably One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), which won five Academy Awards, including best picture, best director, best actor (Jack Nicholson), best actress (Louise Fletcher), and best adapted screenplay. Forman went on to win a second Oscar for directing the film Amadeus (1984). Some of his better known films include Hair (1979), Ragtime (1981), Man on the Moon (1999), and The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996). In his films, Forman explores the theme of the individual versus society. His films address questions of personal freedom, social conformity, and the oppression of the individual.
Photo courtesy of Oldřich Škácha