Tadeusz Sendzimir (1894–1989) – Saying 'Goodbye' to Rusty Cars
After the Second World War, politicians and media of the Polish People’s Republic would not even mention his name. Most Poles were unaware that this great inventor ever existed. But he had a long life, as if in defiance of the communist authorities, even though most of it abroad.
After the First World War, Tadeusz Sendzimir wound up in Vladivostok. Next, he set off for Shanghai. It was in China that he developed a completely innovative method of galvanizing sheet metal. Unfortunately, its implementation was costly, and neither Sendzimir nor Chinese authorities had sufficient funds. The engineer travelled the world, trying to arouse interest in his invention from various industrialists. In 1929, he left for the US. In Pennsylvania, he developed a galvanizing line, but he was not treated seriously. Conservative manufacturers were sceptical about has innovative ideas. Other US steelworks did not want to cooperate. Sendzimir did not fare any better in Europe. Negotiations with the reputable Krupp company in Germany proved unsuccessful. German specialists considered Sendzimir’s method unrealistic. Why take a risk and invest in unfeasible ideas of a little-known engineer? Discouraged, Sendzimir returned to Poland. Much to his surprise, a company from Kostuchna, a small town that later became a district of Katowice, decided to take a risk. At a break-neck speed, a galvanizing plant was set up. It used the world’s first technological line for continuous annealing and galvanisation of steel sheets on an industrial scale. To put it simply, it used the Sendzimir process, a name used the world over to refer to this process. On top of that, the production took place in an almost sterile environment, without any dust or noise. In 1934, the galvanizing plant was visited by President Mościcki, who was an outstanding chemist himself. He summed up his visit by saying: “it’s not a rolling mill, it’s a health resort.” What is more, the sheet metal was of an unmatched quality. Soon, its sheet metal covered roofs of the Krakow Cloth Hall and the episcopal curia in Wilno. It was 1934. Suddenly, the technology attracted companies from the UK, France and the US. Even the Japanese wanted to cooperate. Tadeusz Sendzimir became the most famous metallurgist in the world. The very same Americans, who shrugged with indifference, now humbly asked the Pole to help them build their steelworks. The cooperation started in 1938 and lasted several decades. After the war, Sendzimir did not return to Poland. He received US citizenship and simplified his surname. His father’s name was Sędzimir of Ostoja coat of arms. Tadeusz eliminated the “ę” vowel, because Americans were unable to pronounce it.
Tadeusz Sendzimir simplified his surname, but he never hid his nationality. By contrast, the communist authorities scrupulously concealed his achievements. In May 1973, the Senate of the AGH University of Science and Technology in Krakow awarded Sendzimir an honorary doctorate. However, it was not widely reported in the media. The greatest paradox is that the while Vladimir Lenin Steelworks in Krakow’s Nowa Huta was gladly using Sendzimir’s methods, the outstanding Pole remained anathemised. Ironically, the same steelworks would be named after him later on. In December 1989, Solidarity activists adopted a resolution to drop the name of Vladimir Lenin, who himself had little to do with metallurgy. Six months later, on 4 May 1990 steelworkers celebrated their day. On that day, the steelworks adopted the name of Tadeusz Sendzimir.
Today, manufacturers around the world outsource their production to China. Poles can take satisfaction in the fact that China’s first nail and screw factory was set up by a Pole, Tadeusz Sendzimir, in 1918.
Today’s cars do not rust so much anymore. We owe it to the Sendzimir process. Used across the world, the method consists in annealing sheet metal in hydrogen and then dipping it in a zinc bath. It was only in the 1990s that the process began to be widely used by car manufacturers.
Sendzimir as an inventor owned over 120 patents, with 73 granted in the US.
Towards the end of his life, rolling mills made according to Sendzimir’s design were processing 90 percent of the world’s stainless steel. No other Pole had a greater impact on steel processing in a past few decades.
The outstanding Pole died in September 1989. His body was placed in a galvanized coffin and buried in Bethlehem cemetery near Waterbury, where he lived since 1945. The coffin was galvanised using the Sendzimir process.