Pawel Styrna discusses historical research on the life of industrialist Leopold Wellisz

Imagine a situation in which almost no American knew who such major industrialists as John D. Rockefeller or Andrew Carnegie were.

We find it practically impossible to discuss America’s rise as an industrial superpower without mentioning their names. And yet, such was the fate of Leopold Wellisz, a key captain of industry in interwar Poland.

Guided by patriotic motives, Wellisz made a significant contribution to building the Second Republic’s defense industry. His efforts bore fruit in factories producing ammunition, explosives, fertilizer, steel, locomotives, aircraft, cars, and tanks. In addition to his business ventures, the entrepreneur was also an avid art collector and literary scholar; in other words, a veritable Renaissance Man. For instance, it was Leopold Wellisz who discovered the writings of the great Polish poet, Cyprian Kamil Norwid, while studying in Paris. Last but not least, the industrialist worked on American soil on behalf of Poland’s government-in-exile during the Second World War.

In spite of such an impressive resume, Leopold Wellisz remains virtually unknown, even among specialists – both in his native Poland, and in the West.

During a lecture for the Kosciuszko Chair of Polish Studies’ Intermarium series on September 11, 2013, historian Paweł Styrna discussed the numerous methodological challenges facing a researcher attempting to reconstruct the life of a “phantom.”

This fascinating personality will be portrayed in Paweł Styrna’s upcoming monograph Private Means, Public Service: The Life and Times of Leopold Wellisz.

Please click here for his Powerpoint presentation: The Wellisz Family

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