Leonardo da Vinci from Galicia. - Niepospolici
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Leonardo da Vinci from Galicia.

Jan Szczepanik was the author of over 50 inventions and patented technical projects. “The Polish Edison”, “the da Vinci of Galicia”, “a Galician prodigy”. A self-taught genius inventor from Rudniki near Moscisk (Lviv Voivodeship). He held a few hundred international patents of astonishing variety. They included such ideas as coloured photography as well as an engine run on chemical fuel and electric power.

He is best known for his invention of the bulletproof vest. It was this gadget that saved the life of Spanish king Alfonso XIII during an assassination attempt. In 1902, to express his gratitude, the ruler awarded Szczepanik the Order of Isabella the Catholic. A similar honour was to be bestowed upon him by tsar Nicholas II, however, he felt obliged to refuse the monarch out of patriotic considerations. Instead, the tsar gave him a golden watch set with diamonds.

Szczepanik’s rejection of the controversial medal was not a solitary gesture. He often manifested his love and devotion to his mother country. Despite many job offers from abroad, he decided to stay and work in reborn Poland.

Needless to say that after his premature death at 54 years of age he was mourned deeply by his countrymen. In 1926 one of the brightest stars of the Polish nation faded away.