The Father of Polish Aviation & His Car Designer Son
default, Czesław Tański with his son Tadeusz Tański, photo courtesy of the Motor Vehicle School Complex in Nowy Sącz / www.zss-ns.internetdsl.pl, center, #000000, tadeusz_czeslaw_tanski.jpg
Czesław Tański, a respected Polish painter, was also an amateur constructor whose glider experiments in the late 19th century reputedly made him the ‘father of Polish aviation.’ His son Tadeusz became a professional engineer; in the Interwar period, he designed Poland’s first car which curiously could be assembled using, basically, only one wrench. Culture.pl looks back at the story of this unique duo.
The flight of birds & insects
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Czesław Tański experimenting with a glider of his own construction in the years 1896-1897, photo: Polish Aviation Museum in Kraków / Army Photography Agency / Wikimedia.org
In June 1896, Czesław Tański, a painter by profession, visited a meadow near the village of Janów Podlaski in eastern Poland to conduct a rather special kind of experiment. The 33-year-old arrived there with a glider of his own construction, wanting to carry out the first manned flight of a heavier-than-air aircraft on Polish soil. His glider was made of lime wood and wicker and covered with paper and silk gauze. The construction weighed 18 kilogrammes and had a wingspan of 8 metres.
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Tański’s experiment ended in success. Jumping from a 3.5 metre-high scaffolding, he managed to glide (holding the glider’s bottom by his hands) over a distance of approximately 30 metres. He repeated this feat a couple of times, in 1898 as well, when finally one of these flights ended with the damaging of the aircraft. Even though these accomplishments may seem rather modest from today’s perspective, in their day they were at the forefront of aviation development. They occurred only a few years after the very first such flights were conducted by the German pioneer of aviation Otto Lilienthal.
Lilienthal’s glides served as inspiration for Tański, but so did nature. The Polish artist-aviator used his painter’s eye to keenly observe flying animals:
I observed the flight of birds and insects, seemingly so easy and simple, and in my thoughts I transposed it to artificial, mechanical flight. The idea of gliding flight, as the most constructionally accessible, appeared to be the most suitable for the first attempts…
From ‘Tański Czesław’, an article at samolotypolskie.pl
Tański, born in 1862 in the village of Pieczyska near Grójec, became a painter thanks to his mother. She had studied painting under the acclaimed artist Aleksander Lesser and decided that a similar education would be appropriate for her son. She sent the young Czesław to the School of Drawing in Warsaw where he studied under the renowned painter Wojciech Gerson.
Tański displayed a lot of talent for art, and, after completing the Warsaw school in 1883, he opted to further his education at the Academy of Fine Art in Munich. After two years studying there, he moved to Moscow.
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In 1885 he travelled to his relatives […] to Moscow, where he became a member of the Moscow Painters’ Association. He worked as an illustrator for the weekly Russkiy Sport, painted horses for the local Horse Racing Association and genre scenes showing Russian life for private individuals, gaining much popularity.
From ‘Tański Czesław’
In Moscow, on 11th March 1892, his son Tadeusz was born to Czesław and his wife Maria, née Jakubowska. A year later the family moved to the Polish village of Wygoda near Janów Podlaski. Thanks to a recommendation made by the Moscow Painters’ Association, Tański was given a job there – he became a painter of horses at the renowned local stud farm for Arabian horses.
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In Wygoda, for reasons that remain somewhat unclear, Tański suddenly developed an interest in aviation. Some point to his wild imagination and carefree disposition as the cause – he simply had an urge to experiment with flight and went for it. Whatever the reasons, aviation was to become an equally as strong passion for him as painting.
An amateur with wild ideas
Tański went on to create a number of gliders as well as numerous flying models of planes (the first of their kind in Polish lands). His 1893 plane model with two airscrews propelled by twirled rubber bands was particularly noteworthy. He also experimented with models of helicopters.
The painter also tried to construct flying machines – a plane and helicopter – that were propelled by the muscle strength of the pilot, where their energy was transferred to airscrews by cranks and gears. These aircraft, however, were never going to be a success since human beings don’t have enough strength to ascend into the air thanks to their muscle power alone. In 1911, Tański also designed an airplane equipped with an engine, but the machine was incapable of take-off due to construction flaws.
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Tański was an amateur enthusiast. He simply didn’t have the technical know-how or education, hence his failed projects. But while he struggled with certain aircraft designs, he was highly successful at something important during this period: promoting aviation in Poland. After he moved from Wygoda to Warsaw in 1898, he co-founded the Aviation Circle with his friends. The group organised monthly meetings propagating the development of flight on Polish soil. He also popularised aviation through press articles and by exhibiting his constructions:
In 1907, during the Technical Exhibition at the Museum of Industry and Agriculture, among other participants and exhibits, he publically presented his achievements, exhibiting for the first time his flying constructions, which were the first of their kind in Poland.
From ‘Awiator spod Grójca’, an article published in 2005 by the periodical Okolica
Sadly for Tański, the rapid development of flight in the early 20th century meant that he – an amateur with wild ideas – quickly stopped playing a meaningful role in the field. Aviation became the domain of serious engineers. In the 1930s, he contacted Poland’s Technical Institute of Flight, an army institution dealing with aircraft construction, about a possible collaboration in helicopter design, but his offer was deemed ‘useless.’ Nevertheless, thanks to his pioneering glider experiments and flying models, as well as his role in promoting flight in Poland, Tański had earned himself the reputation of the ‘father of Polish aviation.’
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A valued painter
Throughout his life, Tański financed his forays in the field of aviation by selling his paintings. He was valued for his depictions of horses, but also for his portraits, landscapes and symbolic scenes. Today his pieces can be found in the collections of institutions such as the National Museum in Warsaw or Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź.
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Among Tański’s best-known works is the 1905 painting Henryk Sienkiewicz i Jego Wizje (Henryk Sienkiewicz & His Visions), where the Polish Nobel prize in literature winner is shown sitting at a desk, with characters from his books hovering above him. Another notable painting by Tański is Pochód Śmierci (The March of Death), created around the year 1898. In this haunting artwork, referencing Danse Macabre themes, a diverse group of people can be seen following what appears to be the Grim Reaper (read more about this piece in our 8 Polish Paintings About Death article). Both these works testify to Tański’s highly creative imagination, something also so characteristic of his involvement with the world of flight. What might come as a surprise, though, is that Tański, as it seems, didn’t create aviation scenes – an online search reveals no such works by him.
In 1928, Tański moved from Warsaw to the village of Olszanka near the Puszcza Mariańska forest. There he continued his painting work and constructed further models of planes. In Olszanka, he was often visited by his son Tadeusz, who would drive there in his car. Quite curiously, Tadeusz’s car was of his own design…
Father & son reunited
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Tadeusz Tański behind the steering wheel of a car, 1924, photo courtesy of the Motor Vehicle School Complex in Nowy Sącz / www.zss-ns.internetdsl.pl
Whereas Czesław became interested in painting because of his mother, Tadeusz – most probably –became interested in engineering having witnessed as a young boy his father’s fascination with aviation. After completing secondary school in Warsaw, in 1909 Tański Jr. went to Paris to study at Ecole Supèrieure d΄Electricite, an institution providing technical education. After finishing his studies, he stayed in France where he found employment as an engineer working for various companies, including Renault and L. Bordon. He worked for them successfully designing, among other things, airplane engines.
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In France, he also reconnected with his father, who apparently hadn’t paid much attention to him for quite a while. Here’s what Tański Sr’s friend, Bronisław Kopczyński, wrote about their relationship:
[Czesław] took everything lightly and that’s how he also treated his marriage. […] When his child was born, bringing about various responsibilities, he ‘changed his mind.’ He put his hat on askew and wandered there where he wouldn’t hear the echoes of the family whimpers. Twenty years later fate brought him to a convention of airplane constructors in Paris. The event had attracted plenty of attendees. Czesław noticed, among others, a young engineer whose surname sounded uncanny to his ears: ‘Tański.’ It was his son Tadeusz. From that accidental meeting on, they were inseparable.
From ‘Awiator spod Grójca’
Apparently, a shared interest in aviation had caused the father and son to reunite. Also in France, Tański Jr. married Maria Ślizeń, a Polish citizen. After Poland regained independence in 1918, he returned to his homeland where a year later he found work at the Car Division of the Ministry of Military Affairs.
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An order of praise
In 1919, the Soviet Union attacked Poland in what was the start of the Polish-Soviet War. In response, Tański Jr. came up with the idea of designing a Polish armoured car. He presented his design, based on the chassis of a Ford T, to the Ministry of Military affairs on 12th April 1920. The very same day, he received an order to construct a prototype. Thanks to Tański’s outstanding engineering skills, the prototype was ready after just two weeks. The vehicle was named the FT-B Model 1920 and a few days later the first two units were ready for battle.
In total, 16 armoured cars were made, which were immediately sent to the front as the 1st Armoured Car Column. This unit fought bravely at the front for two months without losing even one armoured car, and the engineer Tański himself participated in the fights, overseeing his machines as their constructor and putting his life at risk, for which he received an order of praise from the Chief of the General Staff, Gen. Tadeusz Rozwadowski.
From ‘Inżynier Tadeusz Tański Patron Zespołu Szkół Samochodowych w Nowym Sączu’ at zss-ns.internetdsl.pl
Tańksi Jr’s armoured cars helped Poland win the Polish-Soviet war, the conflict ending in 1921. A year later, he became an employee of the Central Car Works in Warsaw, a state-owned car-construction plant. There he sought to design the first fully Polish civilian car.
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Only one wrench
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Tadeusz Tański sitting on the step of a CWS T1 prototype during the car’s testing, photo courtesy of the Motor Vehicle School Complex in Nowy Sącz / www.zss-ns.internetdsl.pl
It took Tański Jr. three years to design from scratch a car which he called the CWS T1. At the vehicle’s heart was a 3-litre four-cylinder engine with 61 horsepower. Its stylish body was designed by Stanisław Panczakiewicz, and the car could reach a top speed of 105 kilometres (65 miles) per hour. It was equipped with various state-of-the-art conveniences like illuminated dashboard instruments and a regulated side reflector.
But the CWS T1’s most amazing feature was that you could assemble and disassemble it with only one wrench! All of the car’s thread fastenings came in only two sizes (M10 & M18), which meant that you could work on them using only one matching open-end wrench. The only exception were the spark plugs – you needed a screwdriver to work on those. This simplicity made the first Polish car a true masterpiece of engineering, especially since the vehicle is said to have operated splendidly.
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Plus, thanks to the simplicity of the CWS T1’s design, the car was very easy to service. This was especially important in Interwar Poland where there was a shortage of well-equipped car workshops.
The car was fantastic. It was suited almost perfectly to the not-so-good Polish roads, and the simple construction made it possible even for laymen to conduct necessary repairs. A Central Car Works brochure advertising the plant’s cars said that Tański’s car is ‘made entirely in Poland – from domestic resources and prefabs and is specially adapted for Polish road conditions.’ No wonder then, that one of the first units was ordered by President Ignacy Mościcki. A large majority of the cars were purchased by the administration and military.
From ‘Tadeusz Tański. Zapomniany Geniusz Motoryzacji’ at klubjagiellonski.pl
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Historical reenactment groups in Warsaw, an FT-B Model 1920 is in the foreground, photo: Marek Bazak / East News
Organising the serial production of the CWS T1 was a big undertaking and it only came to fruition in 1928 (that year Central Car Works also changed its name to State Engineering Plant). All in all, a few hundred units of the car were manufactured; the exact number isn’t known and is estimated at between 400 to 800. A handful of different versions of the CWS T1 were produced, including hardtop, convertible, and even a truck.
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Unfortunately, the production of Tański Jr’s car was discontinued in 1931. The costs were too high, rendering the CWS T1’s resultant price unaffordable for potential customers. The State Engineering Plant decided to substitute the production of Tański Jr’s car with the manufacture of cheaper models, under licence from the Italian company Fiat.
Until the outbreak of World War II, Tański Jr. kept working at the State Engineering Plant, designing, among other things, a plane engine and an off-road military vehicle. This is how his extraordinary talent for engineering was described by one of his contemporaries, Witold Rychter, a pioneer of Polish motorsports and also an engineer:
Tański was – in my opinion – an outstanding constructor, a constructor-poet who could build anything in almost any technical field.
From ‘Samochody Inżyniera Tańskiego’ at auto-swiat.pl
Interestingly, Tański Jr. owned a CWS T1 himself and he’s known to have driven it from his Warsaw home to Olszanka to visit his father. The vehicle caused quite a sensation when it appeared in this quiet village, especially since the engineer and his old man would oftentimes take locals for rides.
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Sadly, in July 1940, after the Nazi Germans took Warsaw in World War II, Tański Jr. was arrested by the Gestapo due to his involvement with the anti-Nazi underground. He was transported to the Auschwitz death camp where he was murdered on 23rd March 1941. His father, having learned of his death, began to lose his health. Tański Sr. passed away on 24th February 1942.
Keeping the story alive
Not only did both Tańskis perish during World War II, but Tański Sr’s substantial collection of flying models and gliders did too. In September 1939, they were on display at the Museum of Industry & Agriculture, where they were destroyed during the defence of Warsaw. Until today, not even a single item from this collection has ever been recovered.
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The CSW T1 cars weren’t much luckier. Most of them were destroyed during World War II and the few that made it through the conflict didn’t make it to our times.
But the legacy and story of Czesław and Tadeusz Tański live on. In 1969, Czesław Tański’s famous glider, used for his celebrated 1896 flight, was recreated by the pilot and historical plane reconstructor Paweł Zołotow. The replica is in the collection of Warsaw’s National Museum of Technology which is currently undergoing a renovation.
Also, in 2014 Ludwik Rożniakowski, a car aficionado from the town of Wejherowo, created a replica of the CSW T1, based on the car’s original technical documentation (fortunately, the documentation had managed to evade destruction). The car is fully operational and occasionally can be seen driven by its owner. So if you ever happen to be on a street in Poland, it might just pass you by, reminding those who look upon it about the story of its exceptionally talented constructor and his immensely creative father.
first polish car
first polish glider
world war ii
Written by Marek Kępa, July 20