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Czech-US Inspirations



The very first map of the United States of Virginia and Maryland was produced in 1670 by Augustine Herman, a prominent merchant and cartographer from Bohemia in today’s Czech Republic, who settled in the new world. While in the employment of Lord Baltimore, Herman produced an incredibly accurate map of the Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay regions in exchange for permission to establish an enormous 30,000 acre plantation in what is now southeastern Cecil County, Maryland. He named his plantation Bohemian Manor, building the manor north of the Bohemian River. Herman’s descendant and inheritor of the plantation was Richard Bassett, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and signers of the United States Constitution.  Today, a high school and middle school are named after the plantation Bohemian Manor.




The humanist John Amos Comenius (1592-1670) was a great educator from Moravia in today’s Czech Republic. He is considered to be the ''Father of Modern Education,'' establishing modern educational methods and promoting universal education. Comenius wrote about how people learn and how they should be taught through out their entire life. He produced the first children's picture book, Orbis Pictus (The World Illustrated). In his book Didactica Magna (Great Didactic), he outlined a system of schools that is the precise counterpart of the existing American system today. As his methods were respected and influential even in his time, Comenius was offered the prominent position of President of Harvard University (which he declined).




The Infant Jesus of Prague is a revered symbol and a sixteen century statue of the chid Jesus located in the Church of Our Lady of Victory i the Karmelitska Street in the Little Quarter of the Czech capital. During the plunder of the Thirty Years' War in 1631, the statue was damaged and forgotten. When found years later, legend has it that by miracle, its spirit spoke, "Have pity on me, and I shall have pity on you. Give me my hands, and I will give you peace." Since then, the Infant's many devotees, local and international, speak of its miraculous powers; so much so that a porcelain statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague was donated to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, in 1960. Pope Benedict XVI granted a Canonical Coronation to the Infant in 2009. Most recently, even Hollywood alluded to its powers in the last scene of the Academy Award winning film Argo.




John Nepomucene Neumann (1811-1860), born in Prachatice, Bohemia, part of modern-day Czech Republic, served as Bishop of Philadelphia, founding the first Catholic diocesan school system in the United States and increasing the number of Catholic schools in his diocese from two to one hundred. He was the first American bishop to be canonized. Following his canonization, the National Shrine of Saint John Neumann was built at the Parish of St. Peter the Apostle in Philadelphia, PA. The remains of St. John Neumann rest under the altar of the shrine within a glass-walled reliquary. Furthermore, Our Lady of Angels College, founded in 1980 by the congregation of Franciscan Sisters that Neumann had previously founded, was renamed Neumann College and granted university status by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 2009.




Antonín Dvořák, one of the most prominent Czech classical composers of all time, left an enormous musical footprint on the United States. Dvořák’s fascination with his ethnic roots and folk melodies gained him an invitation to direct New York ’s National Conservatory of Music and develop an American music style. Taking in the sounds of Native and African Americans, Dvořák produced in the 19th century one of the most listened to symphonies on Earth called From the New World. This beautiful piece inspired U.S. Astronaut Neil Armstrog in the 20th century as he took man’s first steps on the moon. Dvořák’s legacy also thrived through his students, who taught American legends George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, and Duke Ellington. Over 500 artists, 30 venues throughout the nation’s capital, and 10,000 attendees celebrated the composer’s work and influence at the Mutual Inspirations Festival 2011- Antonín Dvořák. 




Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) was a Czech artist, famous even today for his Art Nouveau decorative style. He is best known for his numerous paintings, posters, and advertisements, in which he depicts beautiful women in long flowing robes with flowers in their hair and in the background. His illustrations gained the support of American millionaire and philanthropist Charles R. Crane, who was also a friend of Czechoslovakia’s first President T. G. Masaryk. One of the works that Crane funded was Mucha’s Slavonic Epic, a masterpiece of paintings portraying the history of the Slavic people. Perchance in return, Mucha selected Crane’s American wife, Josephine, as his model for the female image illustrated on the one hundred crown banknote, put into circulation in 1920 in the newly founded Czechoslovakia. 




The 1920's saw the building of a new democratic nation in the heart of Europe. With the strong backing of US President Woodrow Wilson, Czechoslovakia had declared its independence in 1918, and Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk became its first freely elected president. In this inter World Wars period, the First Republic from 1918 to 1938 prospered socially and economically, becoming one of the most advanced countries in the world. On March 7, 1960, the US Postal Service issued a stamp honoring Tomas G. Masaryk in honor of the 110th anniversary of his birth.

Photo courtesy of the National Museum in Prague 




US President Woodrow Wilson’s strong support for the formation of an independent Czechoslovak state has not been forgotten. Initiated and funded by Americans of Czech and Slovak descent, a larger-than-life sized monument of the President was erected in 1928 in Prague, across from the main train station, which was renamed “Wilson Station” in his honor. However, the Nazis tore down the Wilson Monument on December 12, 1941, after the US declared war on Germany and Japan. Following WWII, Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk, the son of President Masaryk, installed a plaque at the site in 1946, only to be removed again after the communist takeover in 1948. The Wilson monument was rebuilt and rededicated on October 5, 2011, by the American Friends of the Czech Republic, the City of Prague, and the Metropolitan District of Prague 1, as an enduring symbol of the friendship between the United States and the Czech Republic.




November 17 is celebrated around the world as International Student's Day, the only international day to be inspired by events in today's Czech Republic. In 1939, a funeral procession for Jan Opletal, who was shot during student demonstrations, turned into an anti-Nazi protest in occupied Prague. In response, the Nazis closed down all Czech higher education institutions, sent over 1,200 students to concentration camps, and executed nine students and professors without trial on November 17. The day was first commemorated in 1941 in London by the Czech government in exile. Czech students continued to be politically active. In January 1969, student Jan Palach committed suicide by self-immolation in protest against the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact armies in 1968. Two other students followed his example. In 1989, marking International Student's Day on its fiftieth anniversary, student leaders organized a mass demonstration, which sparked the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, toppling the communist regime and restoring democracy.
Photo above: Jan Palach




Czech born Anton Cermak (1873-1933) became the 44th Mayor of Chicago in 1931.  He was an opponent of the Prohibition and waged a battle against the mob. As Mayor Cermak also traveled back to his native lands and met with Czechoslovak President T. G. Masaryk. Unfortunately, while shaking hands with U.S. President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) in Miami, Florida, on February 15, 1933, Cermak was fatally shot by assassin Joe Zangara. While on his deathbed, Cermak humbly told FDR, "I'm glad it was me instead of you." A plaque inscribed with these words to honor Cermak still lies at the site of the assassination in Miami's Bayfront Park. Cermak is buried in the Bohemian National Cemetery in Chicago and has a major street in Chicago named after him. Still, it has never been determined who was the target of the assassination, if the bullet was meant for the President-elect or Cermak in retribution for ordering the shooting of gangster Frank Nitti. 




Did you know that such a common word as robot was taken from the Czech language? Robot, which comes from the Czech word robota, meaning "serf labor," was introduced to the world in 1920 by the influential Czech writer Karel Čapek in his play Rossum's Universal Robots. The play begins in a factory that makes artificial people called robots. Although Karel Čapek was best known as a science fiction author, he was also involved in politics, interviewing the First Republic's President for his book Talks with T. G. Masaryk, and even wrote children's stories. (Picture: President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and writer Karel Čapek, Courtesy of the Archives of the Masaryk Institute at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.) 




Jaroslav Ježek became a popular jazz composer, pianist, and conductor during the 1920's, fearlessly crossing the borders between popular and classical music. He organized and conducted an orchestra featuring his original jazz compositions and arrangements, recording some of the most original music in Europe. Still, Ježek is best known for the songs he composed for the famous pre-WWII satirical cabaret, the Liberated Theatre, led by playwrights and comedians Jiří Voskovec and Jan Werich (V+W). As the theatre's performances were anti-fascist, all three artists fled to the US after the nazi occupation in 1938.




The popular and prolific Czech composer of modern classical pieces, Bohuslav Martinů, fled the Nazis to America due to his involvement in the Czech resistance movement. Spending over a decade in the US in the 1940’s and 50’s, Martinů composed many works, including all six of his symphonies, and taught at the Mannes College of Music, Yale University, and the Berkshire Music Center (now Tanglewood). Martinů offered several of his works to the Library of Congress, which holds the originals along with his correspondence for special viewings. Martinů’s 1943 orchestral work Memorial to Lidice, is a tribute to the innocent victims of the village of Lidice in the Czech Republic, which was destroyed by the Nazis in retaliation for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the mastermind behind the Holocaust, by Czechoslovak special trained soldiers in one of the most important resistance actions in World War II. To this day, the community in Phillips, Wisconsin, holds an annual memorial service for the victims at its Lidice Memorial each summer. 




TATRA, a.s., a Czech company founded in 1850, ranks among the oldest truck and car companies in the world. In 2010, a 1941 TATRA T87 won the "Most Collectible Car of the Year" in the NY Times. TATRAs were known as the 'Czech Secret Weapon' during WWII for the scores of nazis who died behind these fast wheels, prompting Hitler to ban his top officers from driving them. During the Cold War, TATRA continued to manufacture trucks, buses, and a luxury car, which was reserved for national and foreign communist officials (including Fidel Castro). The company's current models consist of transportation and heavy duty off-road trucks.
Photo courtesy of Lane Motor Museum 




Franz Kafka is regarded as one of the most influential authors of the twentieth century. He was born into a German-speaking Jewish family in Prague in the Kingdom of Bohemia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Influenced by the troubled relationship with his father, Kafka opposed the mainstream society and explored themes of mystical transformations, alienation, and psychological cruelty in many of his novels and short works, such as The Metamorphosis, The Trial, and The Castle. Although he never visited, Kafka was also fascinated by America, writing an unfinished novel of the same name. So influential are his works that today’s term "Kafkaesque" is used to describe concepts and situations, filled with feelings of surrealism, helplessness and confusion, which are reminiscent of his writings.
Photographs courtesy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic 




The U.S. capital is reviving its streetcar network after nearly fifty years, purchasing its first, three streetcars from the Czech Republic for its planned lines in Anacostia and along H Street. Manufactured by the Inekon Group, the cars are able to operate in mixed traffic, quickly connecting neighborhoods. Such streetcars cover a route length of 335 miles in the Czech capital of Prague, a system in operation since 1891. These days, this environmentally friendly mode of transportation is making a comeback across the Atlantic in many U.S. cities beyond Washington, DC. Czech streetcars already cruise along the streets of San Francisco, Portland, Tacoma, and Seattle.
Photographs courtesy of DDOT 



1920's FASHION

In 1918, the First Republic was founded with women having political, social and cultural equality to men. Women participated in forums, such as the American Ladies' Club, which aimed to educate and discuss the role of the modern, intellectually and socially active woman. Also a member, the First President's wife, Charlotte, led by example and President Masaryk even took his American wife's surname Garrigue as his middle name. This liberation was also reflected in the fashion of the day. In 1893, Czech-American Marie Tucek patented her "breast supporter" with the US Patent Office, inventing the modern day bra. Gaining vast popularity everywhere, women shed the constricting corset, feeling liberated in this golden era of the First Republic. 




The Czech Republic belongs among the top ten countries in the world with the most developed film infrastructure. Many American filmmakers take advantage of the famous Barrandov Studios in the architecturally stunning city Prague, shooting films such as Mission Impossible (1996), The Bourne Identity (2002), Alien versus Predator (2004), Hellboy (2004), and The Brothers Grimm (2005). Referred to as the "European Hollywood,” the studios offer all production needs under one roof, along with a wide range of the most comprehensive services currently available at an appealing price. The Barrandov Studios were founded by brothers Miloš and Václav Havel, after visiting the University of California, Berkley. “America was my inspiration,” said Václav Havel, the father of the Czech President with the same name. 




The Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (KVIFF) is annually hosted in the scenic, spa resort town of Karlovy Vary, where American box office hits such as Casino Royale (2006), a James Bond series, and The Last Holiday (2009), starring Queen Latifah, were filmed. The KVIFF dates back to 1946 and is the most important international Category A film festival in Central and Eastern Europe. Each year, the nine day festival premieres about 180 carefully selected films from all over the world, presented by up to 350 film directors, actors and other filmmakers and covered by about 700 journalists. Past guests from Hollywood include Michael Douglas, Leonardo DiCaprio, Susan Sarandon, Sean Connery, Renée Zellweger, Danny DeVito, and Matt Dillon, just to name a few. Among exceptional awards bestowed annually at the festival, Czech-American director Miloš Forman received the Crystal Globe award for Outstanding Artistic Contribution to World Cinema in 1997.
Photo courtesy of Czech Tourism. 




Václav Havel (1936-2011), playwright, essayist, poet, dissident, and politician, was one of the writers of Charter 77, a document that criticized the communist government for failing to implement human rights provisions. After the Velvet Revolution, Havel became the tenth and last President of Czechoslovakia and the first President of the Czech Republic. Shortly after being elected, he gave a speech to the joint session of Congress. In his speech, he stated, “The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and in human responsibility.” Havel has received numerous state decorations, honorary doctorates, and international awards, including the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom. After leaving office, he continued to work in human rights, creating the Forum 2000 Foundation. Havel passed away on December 18, 2011.
Photo courtesy of Tomki Němec  



Many dissidents in Communist Czechoslovakia listened to smuggled in, underground music such as The Velvet Underground, an influential American rock band, formed in the 1960’s. American artist of Czechoslovak heritage Andy Warhol managed the band and it played at his studio. The Czechs voiced their own dissenting views of the totalitarian regime through bands, such as The Plastic People of the Universe (PPU), formed in 1968 after the Soviet invasion and reversal of Prague Spring’s liberalization period. The PPU were strongly influenced by American song writer Frank Zappa and hired Paul Wilson, an English teacher, to teach them the lyrics of American songs. In 1976, PPU and others were put in prison for disturbing the peace. Their prosecution led dissident Václav Havel and others to write the Charter 77. Two decades later as President, Václav Havel requested, Lou Reed, a founding member of The Velvet Underground, to perform at a White House dinner held in his honor and hosted by President Bill Clinton in 1998. 




Madeleine Korbelová Albright, the first woman to serve as the United States Secretary of State and, hence, asthe highest ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government, was born in Prague in the inter-World War period. Her father, Josef Korbel, was a diplomat and loyal supporter of the democratic regimes of the first Czechoslovak President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and his successor President Edvard Beneš. After the communist takeover in 1948, Korbel moved his family to New York and obtained a teaching position at the University of Colorado, where he would later mentor another future U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. Following the end of Albright’s term as Secretary, her good friend, Czech President Vaclav Havel speculated about the possibility of Albright succeeding him after he retired, which she declined. In May 2012, Madeleine Albright was honored by US President Barack Obama with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 




Award-winning director Miloš Forman grew up in a small town near Prague, Czech Republic. He was hailed as a major talent of the Czech New Wave with films exploring social and moral issues, including Loves of a Blonde (1965) and Firemen’s Ball (1967), which was banned after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Forman later came to the United States and made several successful films, notably One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), which won five Academy Awards, including best picture, best director, best actor (Jack Nicholson), best actress (Louise Fletcher), and best adapted screenplay. Forman went on to win a second Oscar for directing the film Amadeus (1984). Some of his better known films include Hair (1979), Ragtime (1981), Man on the Moon (1999), and The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996). In his films, Forman explores the theme of the individual versus society. His films address questions of personal freedom, social conformity, and the oppression of the individual.
Photo courtesy of Oldřich Škácha 




Czech-American director Miloš Forman’s film Amadeus (1984) received eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Makeup, and Best Costume Design. The motion picture also won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, adapting British playwright Peter Shaffer’s 1979 play Amadeus. The story of Amadeus is inspired by the 1897 opera called Mozart and Salieri by Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, an adaptation itself of the 1830 play of the same name by the great Russian author Alexander Pushkin. The story of mutual cultural inspiration is a fictionalized account of the relationship between the classical composers Antonio Salieri and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The Czech Republic’s capital of Prague provided much of the backdrop for the filming of the film Amadeus and, appropriately so, as Mozart famously stated “My Prague people understand me.”
Photo courtesy of Jaromír Komárek   



The greatest singles, doubles, and mixed doubles player who has ever lived is arguably tennis legend Martina Navratilova. During a remarkable career that has spanned four decades, Navratilova won an unprecedented 59 Grand Slam titles, including a record 9 Wimbledon singles championships. She was born in Czechoslovakia and came to the United States during the 1975 US Open. Navratilova became a legendary tennis star and even the oldest player to ever win a Grand Slam title, thanks to her dedication to fitness. Fittingly, she has served as a Health and Fitness Ambassador to the American Association of Retired Persons. After undergoing her own personal battle with breast cancer, Navratilova became a spokeswoman for breast cancer awareness. She is a gay rights advocate and remains in the public eye, such as with her debut on Dancing with the Stars. 




Ivan Pinkava, known for his black and white portraits, drew his earliest inspiration from the work of American photographers Alfred Stieglitz, Walker Evans, and Diane Arbus, and Czech photographers Jan Svoboda and Josef Sudek. He is now a leading contemporary Czech photographer who has created his own visual language. Pinkava aims to enter familiar iconographical situations of Western culture in order to—some slightly, some radically—alter, rearrange, rename, empty, cloak or show them in a different light. Behind historical scenes, he finds something relevant and common to both today and the future—human insecurity streaming from one’s own physical impermanence. During the years 2005-2007, Pinkava also acted as head of the Studio of Photography at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague. His photographs are regularly shown during exhibitions in Europe and the US.
Photo courtesy of Ivan Pinkava. 




Popular Czech graphic designer Michal Cihlář has long been inspired by Andy Warhol, an American renowned artist born to émigrés from Czechoslovakia. Andy Warhol was a successful commercial illustrator and leading influence in pop art in the second half of the 20th century. Warhol’s oldest brothers were born in their homeland before the family’s move to the US and the Warhol’s family ties to the area inspired the Andy Warhol Museum of Modern Art to be established there. Michal Cihlář along with co-author Rudo Prekop completed the in depth book Andy Warhol and Czechoslovakia, which reflects on the mutual inspirational relationship between Czechoslovakia and the artist. The work, which is neither a classic memoir nor a biography, took 22 years to complete and is Cihlář’s tribute to his greatest icon. 




The internationally known children’s illustrator Peter Sís began his career as a filmmaker in former Czechoslovakia . He was sent to the United States by the government in 1982 to work on an animation for the 1984 Summer Olympics. In 1983, he collaborated with Bob Dylan on You Got to Serve Somebody. Yet, upon meeting American writer Maurice Sendak, Sís found a new passion. Becoming a prolific author and illustrator, he is a seven time winner of The New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book of the Year and received the MacArthur Fellowship in 2003. Peter Sís is being recognized in 2012 on behalf of the Czech Republic with the “nobel” prize for children’s literature, the biennial Hans Christian Anderson Award. The Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic awarded him as well in 2012 with the Artis Bohemiae Amicis. His latest works may further be seen on murals at the Baltimore Washington International Airport and NYC's 86th Street Lexington Avenue subway station and even on posters designed for the NYC subway system. Petr Sís also designed the famous poster for director Miloš Forman's Oscar winning motion picture Amadeus. 




The Little Mole (Krtek) is an enormously popular Czech cartoon character, loved by children in over 80 countries around the world today. The Little Mole was created by Czech animator and illustrator Zdeněk Miler in 1956. Being strongly influenced by Walt Disney, Miler got the idea for his protagonist when he stumbled on a mole hill in a forest. The first released film was "How the mole got his pants,” which taught children how linen is made, and since then about 50 educational episodes for young children have been produced. The film series is highly universal, as the Little Mole’s speech is limited to brief, abstract sounds. In 2011, the Little Mole even traveled in stuffed-animal form aboard the US NASA shuttle Endeavour to promote children’s interest in space exploration. The launch also inspired the commission of IPad and IPhone apps for the character and Apple Inc. is planning on helping the Little Mole enter the $21 billion US toy market for the first time.