Barényi béla-Mercedes-Benz
Photo: video still from Béla Barényi – A history of safety

Hungary has given a great number of talented geniuses to the world, whose inventions contributed to numerous scientific fields. Oszkár Asbóth, László Bíró, Ányos Jedlik, Tivadar Puskás, Ernő Rubik, or Ede Teller are just a few of the most outstanding Hungarian inventors, whose names are known all over the world. Nonetheless, there are several lesser-known Hungarian geniuses whose outstanding achievements left their mark on the technologies we utilise today.

Béla Barényi (1907–1997)

Barényi Béla-Hungarian-inventor
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Austro-Hungarian engineer was a prolific inventor − more than 2,500 patents originated from him − and a defining figure of automotive engineering. Barényi was born in an era when the presence of automobiles on the streets was rather uncommon, and these vehicles were unaffordable for most people, writes Mercedes-Benz on its website. In 1924, he enrolled as an engineering student at the Viennese Technical College of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering. As a student, he already thought about the “future people’s car” and, based on the sketches he made in 1924−25,

Barényi is considered the intellectual father of the “people’s car” or “Volkswagen”.

He was first employed by the Gesellschaft für Technischen Fortschritt (GETEFO, Society for Technical Progress) in Berlin, and he registered over 150 patents during the time he worked for the company. After he lost his job at the beginning of 1939, Barényi applied to Mercedes-Benz. He was rejected at first, but he did not give up. During his second application, Barényi was interviewed by chairman Wilhelm Haspel, who immediately recognised his potential: “Mr Barényi, you are fifteen to twenty years ahead of your time. You will be put under a bell jar in Sindelfingen. Everything you invent will go straight to the patent department”, said the business executive.

One of his main goals was to design vehicle interiors without dangerous components, and he urged Mercedes manufactures to put more emphasis on safety in automotive manufacturing. In 1925, Barényi developed the telescoping safety steering shaft to prevent the steering column from impaling the driver during a collision.

He achieved his biggest breakthrough in 1951 when he registered patent DBP 854.157 – commonly known as the “crumple zone” – and revolutionised the entire automotive industry with his discovery.

Crumple zones are areas of a vehicle that are designed to deform and crumple in a collision to absorb some of the kinetic energy of the impact, thus preventing the forces from being transmitted to the passengers. The first Mercedes-Benz vehicle with bodywork developed according to this patent was the 1959 W111 series. Barényi retired in 1972. He became Honorary Member of the Deutsche Aktionsgemeinschaft Bildung-Erfindungen-Innovationen (the German Action Group for Education, Inventions, and Innovations) and was awarded a professorship by the Federal President of Austria. In 1994, Barényi was inducted into the Detroit Automotive Hall of Fame in Detroit.

Ottó Titusz Bláthy

Bláthy Ottó Titusz-Hungarian-co-inventor of the transformer
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Ottó Titusz Bláthy was born in Tata, and he studied as a mechanical engineer at the Technical University of Vienna. He began working at the Ganz factory as a mechanical engineer in 1883, and the factory provided an ideal environment for Bláthy to unfold his remarkable talent. After studying Faraday’s experiments and Maxwell’s work,

he outlined the practical application of Ohm’s law of magnetism, and in 1883, he transformed the shape of the magnets in direct-current (DC) machines.

His most important invention was the closed-core transformer, developed jointly with Károly Zipernowsky and Miksa Déri in 1885. This joint effort resulted in one of the most important electronic inventions of that period. From 1887, Bláthy experimented with alternating current (AC) generators connected in parallel. This arrangement was implemented one year later at an Italian power station. In 1889,

he designed the first induction kilowatt-hour meter.

By 1912, he perfected its structure and reduced its weight significantly. The kilowatt-hour meters used today operate on the same principle as his original invention. He also developed his own water and steam turbines, which have powered many European cities in the first decade of the twentieth century.

Bláthy was the first in the world to successfully connect a thermal power station to a hydroelectric power station.

Bláthy was an honorary member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the Association of Hungarian Engineers and Architects, and the Hungarian Automobile Club.

Jenő Fejes (1877−1951)

Jenő Fejes was one of the most talented automotive engineers in Hungary. After graduating from the Higher Industrial School in 1896, he worked in the Arms and Machine Manufacturing Company. From 1902, Fejes worked as a design engineer at the Westinghouse Factory in Le Havre, France, and he later became the workshop manager of the company’s Arad branch, Arcanum writes. As the director of the Ganz−Fiat Airplane Engine Works, he was one of the organisers of the domestic car and aircraft production from 1917.

His most notable invention was the “disc engine”, constructed of welded and pressed iron.

László Heller (1907−1980)

Bust of László Heller-Budapest Technical University-Hungary
Photo: Wikimedia Commons by Akela3

Born in Nagyvárad, Heller graduated in Budapest in 1925 and took a degree in mechanical engineering in 1931 at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule in Zürich. He worked as a research engineer at the university for two years where he studied the special areas of statics. In 1933, Heller returned to Budapest and started to work as a thermal engineering designer. He contributed to numerous significant improvements in the field of energetics, such as the construction of the first high-pressure industrial power station in Ajka or the development of different systems that utilise the exhaust fumes of explosion engines.

In the 1940s, he developed a process for the dry cooling of power stations, known as the “Heller-System”, and based on his principles and the designs of Forgó, the Heller−Forgó cooling tower system was born in 1958.

Their joint invention solved an important problem at power stations by utilising cooling water more efficiently. After World War II, Heller founded EGART Rt which became an internationally-known innovation institute. From 1951, he was a professor at the Budapest University of Technology. In 1954, he was elected to be a corresponding member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and he became a full member in 1962.

Rubik's Cube Hungarian invention
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Source: Daily News Hungary

1 comment
  1. Béla Barényi’s father was Hungarian but Béla was born in Austria, educated in Austria and worked in Austria and then Germany. I hardly think that makes him a Hungarian inventor. Credulity is being stretched here!

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