Scientific and Technical Heritage of Rijeka


If you could go back in time and walk around certain parts of the Kvarner area some one hundred years ago, for example the western outskirts of Rijeka, you would encounter a surprising scene. The coastal strip of land was dotted with dozens of factory chimneys, poking up into the sky and doing what chimneys have always done: belching out smoke. These chimneys indicated the energetic industrial life going on beneath them, for this was the western industrial zone of the town. And they were tall, visible symbols of the fact that Kvarner was one of the most important industrial areas in Croatia. To be more accurate, Rijeka, the largest town on Kvarner, was Croatia’s industrial heart at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, the town where 50 percent of Croatia’s industry was then concentrated. The city of Rijeka is the birthplace of many very important inventions int he world. Kvarner is also the birthplace of a technical solution that significantly improved the traditional way of fishing worldwide. For centuries, fishermen would sail off for a night’s fishing and lure fish by lighting fires. But that all changed in 1898 in Rijeka when Giovanni Delaitti devised an acetylene gas lamp whose intensity was equal to the light of 400 candles.

The most important of the many industrial plants and achievements in Rijeka are notable:

The Sugar Refinery  -  the so-called Zuccheriera, was the first and oldest industrial plant in Rijeka. It was established in 1750 as a plant for processing sugar cane and raw sugar from overseas. Since the refinery was located right by the sea, raw material would be unloaded from the ships directly to the factory’s entrance. The factory area of 17 thousand square metres was criss-crossed by water channels that were used for the production. The refinery employed several hundred workers in Rijeka and the hinterland, and had representative offices throughout Europe (Vienna, Graz, Lisbon, Levant) and worldwide (Philadelphia, Santiago de Chile, Crimea). In the heyday of the company in 1786, a new administrative building was added, one of the largest factory buildings on the Adriatic. The refinery was closed in 1828, but the magnificent late baroque building still serves as a reminder of its past.

The Tobacco Factory  -  appeared in Rijeka in 1851 when it took over the buildings of the former Sugar Refinery, which in the meantime had served as barracks due to their size. The Tobacco Factory added new production buildings to the existing factory complex, thus becoming the largest tobacco processing plant in the Monarchy. One of the new buildings was the Virginia cigars production line from 1867, popularly known as the T-Building because of its ground plan. Close to it were two old production buildings that were connected in the middle, resulting in a H-shaped ground plan. During the first years of production, the Factory employed some one thousand workers, and by the mid-1860s this number had doubled. It is interesting to mention that more than half the employees were women. The factory was closed by the end of World War II. In the period between 1945 and 1998, the same buildings housed the Rikard Benčić Engine Factory. Beside the administrative palace inherited from the Sugar Refinery, the preserved T-Building and H-Building today still stand as reminders of the Tobacco factory.

The Rijeka Gasworks -  was commissioned in a most spectacular way: it enabled the illumination of the town on the summer night of 1st August 1852 with 226 gas lamps with fan-shaped flames. This date was important not only for Rijeka, as this was the first plant of its kind in Croatia and the former Yugoslavia. It also made possible the introduction of gas illuminations to the Rijeka Theatre in 1856. The gasworks were first located in the city, and then, from 1874, at a new location outside the town, in the western industrial zone where its production capacity was significantly increased from 400-500 thousand cubic metres gas in the 1850s to two million cubic metres gas at the eve of World War I. In 1878, Rijeka had 318 gas lamps, and by the end of the 19th century, 511. The last of these was turned off in 1939. Gas production has continued until today, with a gradual change to natural gas since 1995. Today this is the responsibility of the Energo municipal services company. A “two-storey” telescopic gasometer (gas storage tank) from 1910 was used in the gasworks for a very long time - up until 1992.

The tradition of shipbuilding -  on Kvarner has a long tradition and goes back to the times of the Liburnians, an Illyrian tribe. Their ships, the “Liburnian galleys”, were the elite sailing vessels of the Roman imperial fleet because of their quality. In more recent times, shipbuilding flourished again on the island of Lošinj in 1824. The town of Mali Lošinj had six shipyards in the 19th century. Because of that, Mali Lošinj became a European centre of shipbuilding and shipping – for some time it held second place in the Austro-Hungarian Empire for the number of long-distance sailing ships that were made there. By the second half of the 19th century it had almost 150 sailing ships, more than the whole of neighbouring Istria. Sailing reached its peak in the period between 1855 and 1870, when 1,400 captains and sailors from Lošinj were working away at sea. Some of the most renowned shipbuilders and shippers from Lošinj were the families of Karatanich, Tarabochia, Martinolich (who later founded the shipyards in Monfalcone), and Cosulich (present owners of a shipping company in Trieste). In Punat on the island of Krk, a shipyard that produces wooden ships from 1922 is still operating and is today the largest shipyard of its kind on the Croatian Adriatic.

The Rijeka Oil Refinery -  was founded in 1882 and put into operation in 1883 as the largest oil-processing plant in Europe. It was built to the plans of the Rijeka architect Mato Glavan. In contrast to other refineries of that time, which were organised like manufacturing plants, the Rijeka Refinery had an initial annual capacity of 60 thousand tons, a workforce of 300 and a professional chemist as director. Therefore it was the first industrial oil-processing plant in Europe. Rijeka is the birthplace of the oil industries of two EU member states: Hungary (whose authority Rijeka came under when the Refinery was founded) and Italy (after World War I, the Refinery was the “core of the Italian oil programme” and the first industrial plant of the state firm Agip in 1926). The Refinery’s plant in the part of town called Mlaka is today one of the oldest active refineries worldwide, with a preserved chimney from 1883 and some oil product tanks from 1883 and 1884.

The Hartera Paper Factory in Rijeka -  was founded in 1821 thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit of Andrija Ljudevit Adamić. In 1827, Walter C. Smith and Charles Meynier bought his manufacturing plant located along the River Rječina and expanded and modernised it, first by introducing the most up-to-date paper-producing machine in the Monarchy, and then in 1833 with the first steam engine in Croatia and the Balkans. The factory had a workforce of one thousand in the 1870s. The paper from Rijeka was a top-quality product that was awarded many international quality prizes at the end of the century (Vienna, Barcelona, Budapest, Melbourne, Paris). In 1940 it was exported to 40 countries worldwide. The production of cigarette paper started in 1890 and lasted for more than a century. It was Europe’s second largest factory in 1991 in terms of the amount of cigarette paper produced. After operating for more than 180 years, the Hartera went bankrupt in the 1990s. However, some of the oldest buildings and machines have been preserved, including the impressive 83-metres-high chimney of the factory’s electric power plant from 1930.

The Torpedo Factory in Rijeka -  came into being thanks to Giovanni Luppis from Rijeka who came up with the idea for a naval defence weapon that would “guard the coast”. Luppis had that idea in the early 1860s, but had not enough technical knowledge and means to put it into practice. Robert Whitehead, manager of the firm Stabilimento tecnico fiumano, got interested in Luppis’s idea and made and tested a prototype on 20th December 1866. For the test launchings, he installed his invention, the launching tube, on the gunboat Gemse in 1868. This was done in the Rijeka shipyard of Schiavon Brothers, making Gemse the first torpedo ship in the world. In 1875, Stabilimento became the Torpedo Factory R. Whitehead & Co., the first torpedo factory in the world, with an annual production of 800 torpedoes for customers from Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Japan, Argentina, Russia etc. The factory opened production works abroad, and later licensed production worldwide. Production of this weapon continued in Rijeka until 1966. At the site of the former Torpedo factory there is still a launching ramp from the 1930s. Many technical innovations were introduced in the torpedo factory and many new instruments were invented and tested for the first time. No less fascinating is the fact that that early acoustic and aerodynamics research was conducted in this factory and that the breaking of the sound barrier was proven here. All important characteristics of torpedo were improved during the 100 years of its production. Between the late 1860s and 1960s, the factory in Rijeka produced more than thirty models, which differed in calibre, length, quantity of explosive, speed and range. Various navies around the world were delivered around twenty thousand torpedoes.

Final torpedo assembly prior to delivery.

Giovanni Luppis (1815–1875) : Frigate captain who in the winter of 1860, during the long and uncomfortable patrol of the outer, southern side of the Kvarner islands on frigate Bellona, invented the “coast guard”. It was a boat filled with explosive, propelled by clockwork mechanism. It would be steered from the coast by means of bridles. The boat would be directed at the enemy and explode on contact. The idea was never tested for real, but it was a base for the future torpedo.





Robert Whitehead (1823–1905) : Born in the area of the earliest European industrialization, Bolton near Manchester, which was filled with cotton mills and engine factories. He gained significant technical education and moved to the continent – first to Marseille, then Milan, Vienna, Trieste and Rijeka. Upon his arrival, he became the director of the Foundry (later Stabilimento tecnico fiumano) and then Torpedofabrik Whitehead & Comp (1875). The invention of torpedo (1866) enabled the fast development of the factory and brought Whitehead world fame.




First photograph of shockwaves at the breaking of the sound barrier - Peter Salcher, professor at the Rijeka Naval Academy, was a close associate of Ernst Mach and succeeded in what the famous physicist could not achieve - to make a picture of the invisible. Mach wanted to provide experimental evidence of his hypothesis about the existence of a “shock wave” around objects moving at speeds greater than the speed of sound. Therefore, he asked Salcher to try gaining such evidence in his laboratory in Rijeka. No sooner said than done. In 1886, Salcher and his associate Sandoro Riegler took a series of ultra-fast photographs of the acoustic phenomena that arise around a flying gun bullet, thus proving the existence of the “shock wave”, today also known as the “sound barrier”. His work was a scientific sensation. Could the unit for the speed of sound, instead of Mach, have been Salcher? We’ll leave that question unanswered and just remember that Salcher during his experiment actually took the first ever photographs of – a flying bullet. Salcher was not only interested in thermodynamics and electrical engineering, but also in meteorology, radioactivity and photography. The City of Rijeka certainly has the right to be proud of Peter Salcher. For many years he worked in this city to achieve a worldwide scientific reputation for himself andRijeka.

Peter Salcher (1848–1928) : Professor and physics and mechanics textbook writer at the Marineakademie (Naval academy) in Rijeka. At Ernst Mach’s suggestion, he and his associates joined in 1866 the acoustics and gas dynamics research. Salcher and his associate recorded the shock wave at the breaking of the sound barrier and gained recognition. They published their work in the Works of the Royal Academy in Vienna. The picture to the right was taken by Peter Salcher's wife in Opatija.
















Ernst Mach (1836–1916) : Austrian physicist and philosopher of science, a major influence on logical positivism. His most famous theory is the breaking of the sound barrier, which he proved mathematically but could not test. It was experimentally proven in 1866 by his co-workers, researchers from Rijeka, Salcher and Riegler, who conducted the research in the Whitehead factory. Most of Mach's initial studies in the field of experimental physics concentrated on the interference, diffraction, polarization and refraction of light in different media under external influences. There followed his important explorations in the field of supersonic velocity. Mach's paper on this subject was published in 1877 and correctly describes the sound effects observed during the supersonic motion of a projectile. Mach deduced and experimentally confirmed the existence of a shock wave which has the form of a cone with the projectile at the apex. The ratio of the speed of projectile to the speed of sound vp/vs is now called the Mach number. It plays a crucial role in aerodynamics and hydrodynamics. He also contributed to cosmology the hypothesis known as Mach's principle.

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