Aug 23, 2019 - Zoltán Kovács

This August honors Hungarian scientific contributions

The month of August marks the anniversary of some of the most vital Hungarian contributions to the history of ideas.

When was the last time you washed your hands? Although you probably did not realize it, the liquid quietly sitting on the sink of just about every restroom is the invention of a Hungarian genius, Ignác Semmelweis.

August 13th marks the anniversary of the passing of the visionary medical surgeon and scholar. In commemoration of the great scientific contributions made by this Hungarian talent, this article will look at the rich legacies of Semmelweis, József Galamb and Leo Szilard, figures who will be honored extensively throughout the month of August.

Hungarian talents have conquered the world with their ideas - and the month of August provides us with ample opportunity to look back at their revolutionary innovations that changed history for the better.

Born 201 years ago in Buda, Semmelweis experienced a troubled and complicated journey, earning recognition only decades after his death. The first to recognize the link between sepsis and the lack of general hygiene in the poorly-equipped healthcare institutions of the mid-19th century, Semmelweis spent most of his career campaigning for surgeons to be more mindful of cleanliness to no avail. It was only in the 20th century that Semmelweis’s contributions gained international acceptance, with institutions showing a newly-found willingness to adopt a rigorous disinfection procedure to prevent the further spread of sepsis.

The engineer József Galamb’s success story is much more straightforward. Born in 1881 to an impoverished family in Makó, the revolutionary engineer began his studies at the local elementary school. One of the lucky few to be granted extensive funding to work abroad, Galamb began his travels around Europe as early as 1901. After an apprenticeship in Bremen, he set out to visit factories in Berlin, Düsseldorf, Hamburg and Dresden. By 1905, he was invited to work at the pioneering automobile-manufacturer, the Ford Motor Company. Soon enough, he became a close friend and collaborator of Henry Ford, devoting his attention to revolutionizing the car design industry. As the popular anecdotes dating from the era hold, this was a true friendship between two extraordinary minds, with long hours spent at the factory, brainstorming the next paradigm shift to change the car producing industry. As to their greatest-ever idea? It has to be the Model T, the first-ever sustainable, long-lasting, economical car to be built with middle-class families in mind.

The first Hungarian scientist to recognize the connection between thermodynamics and information theory, Leó Szilárd launched his career during the 1920s. As a physicist, he submitted patent applications for a linear accelerator, a cyclotron and an electron microscope, before joining Albert Einstein on a research project concerning the development of the Einstein refrigerator in 1926. By the late 1940s, he finished the development of certain aspects of a nuclear reactor design at the Manhattan Project’s Metallurgical Laboratory. A crucial scientist who worked extensively on the development of the nuclear bomb, Szilárd spent the second half of his career campaigning against the use of such weaponry. In 1962, he founded the Council for a Livable World, the first-ever organization to issue extensive warnings against nuclear warfare.

August 2nd also marks the 80th anniversary of the Einstein-Szilárd Letter, co-written by Leó Szilárd and Albert Einstein, and addressed to American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, concerning the unimaginable prospects opened up by the potential use of an atomic bomb. August 12th also marks the anniversary of the completion of the first-ever Model T, while August 13th is the anniversary of the death of Ignác Semmelweis. These dates prove that Hungarian talent is, indeed, everywhere, actively shaping and forming the history of ideas.