Migrants from the Eastern lands of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth also left their mark on an increasingly powerful American economy. They designed inventions that changed the life of human beings around the world. Casimir Zeglen (1869-1940), born Kazimierz Żegleń near Tarnopol, Eastern Galicia, was a Polish engineer who invented a silk bulletproof vest. At the age of 18 he entered the Resurrectionist Congregation in Lviv. Its co-founder, the creator of the group’s main spiritual ideas and its first superior general was Peter Semenenko, the most prominent Polish theologian of the Roman Catholic Church in the 19th century. He was born into a Ruthenian family in Podlasie, an ethnically mixed border region. In 1890, Zeglen moved to Chicago in the United States. In 1893, after the assassination of Carter Harrison Sr., the mayor of Chicago, he designed an improved silk bulletproof vest. Carter was the cousin of US President William Henry Harrison, whose grandson, Benjamin Harrison also served as president. In 1905 Zeglen left the order, married, and started a business career.
Tadeusz Sendzimir (1894-1989) was a Polish engineer and internationally renowned inventor with 120 patents in mining and metallurgy. Almost 75 of these patents were awarded to him in the United States. Sendzimir gives his name to the revolutionary methods used to process various metals and steel. Certainly, the great majority of the world’s galvanized steel production has used the ‘Sendzimir process’. Sendzimir was born in Lviv and entered the Lviv Polytechnic School. However, when the city was captured during the First World War by Tsarist Russian troops, the Polytechnic School was closed, and he moved to Kyiv. There, he worked in the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce, where he learned English. The Russian Revolution forced Sendzimir to flee to Siberia and then to Shanghai, where he built the country’s first factory that produced screws, nails, and wires. He then returned to an independent Poland and began experimenting with a new way to galvanize steel. He moved to the US in 1939 and after the Second World War he designed the Z-mill (Sendzimir Planetary Mill), a machine for rolling steel.
Zbysław Roehr (1902-1970) was born in Lviv and graduated from the Lviv Polytechnic. He moved to the US in 1939 and established a company that produced syringes and injection needles. His main invention was a plastic disposable hypodermic syringe with a needle called the ‘Monoject’. The product became a huge commercial success. At the beginning of the 1960s his company was the second largest producer of injection needles in the world. In 1964, the American Medical Association recognized the disposable needle as one of the most important medical innovations of the 20th century.
Lucjan Barton (1921-2009), born Lucjan Bartoszewicz, grew up in Vilnius. After the Soviet invasion of eastern Poland in 1939, he was exiled to Siberia and imprisoned in a forced labor camp north of the Arctic Circle. After the German attack on the Soviet Union in 1941, Bartoszewicz was released from the camp and joined the Polish Army. He fought in the Middle East and Italy, including the legendary battle of Monte Cassino, for which he was awarded one of the highest Polish military decorations. After the war, he did not return to Poland. In 1951 he emigrated to the USA, where he adopted the surname Barton. In 1955 he joined the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) research laboratory in Princeton, NJ, where he worked for 25 years. Barton’s greatest invention was LCD or liquid-crystal display. This flat-panel display uses the light-modulating properties of liquid crystals combined with polarizers. Today LCDs are used in a wide range of applications, including indoor and outdoor signage, computer monitors, instrument panels and televisions.
Paul Baran, born Pesach Baran (1926–2011), was a Polish-American engineer of Jewish origin who pioneered the development of computer networks. He was one of the two inventors of ‘packet switching’, a method of grouping data and its transmission over digital networks into packets. This method is the dominant basis for data communications in computer networks worldwide today. Baran was born in 1926 in Hrodna, present-day Belarus. His family moved to Hrodna from a small village located near the city. Today the village is located in eastern Poland. His family moved to the US in 1928. In 1959 he joined the RAND Corporation, an American think tank created to offer research and analysis to the United States military that is based in Santa Monica, California. During the Cold War, Baran took on the task of designing a communications system that could survive the damage from a nuclear attack. Baran eventually invented packet switching while working for RAND. He was involved in the development of other networking technologies in Silicon Valley. Upon his death, RAND President James Thomson stated that “Our world is a better place for the technologies Paul Baran invented and developed, and also because of his consistent concern with appropriate public policies for their use.”