Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Town That Baťa Built

The 21 Building

View of Baťa Housing Development

Although Zlín has been in existence since the early 14th century, it was a sleepy little village until the Baťa (pronounced Batya) family shoe business began to thrive around 1900. Like many European families, the Baťa family had a trade they had practiced for many generations – they were cobblers. Tomáš Baťa was born in Zlín in 1876 and started his own shoe manufacturing shop in 1894. The population of Zlín was around 3,000 in those days.

Typical Baťa House

Baťa traveled to America and studied the manufacturing methods of Henry Ford and other mass manufacturers. He returned to his home town and applied these principles to his shoemaking factory. From very humble beginnings, he built a worldwide empire that still employs over 50,000 people in 70 countries. Baťa was also far ahead of his time in his concern for his employees and the environment in which they lived and worked. He built over 2,000 modern houses for his workers, a large hospital, a technical college, and an award winning factory (see nearby pictures). He paid wages that were around 50% higher than the prevailing wage at the time. When Tomáš Baťa died in a tragic airplane accident in 1932, the population of Zlín had soared to over 26,000, almost entirely due to the employment offered by his company. Sadly, during the communist rule of this city, the factory declined and the Baťa company has only a small presence here today.

The views we enjoy from our front windows are of the well-known 21 bulding, one of the first central European skyscrapers. We are growing to love this city, so we appreciate the excellent things that Mr. Baťa built. So far, we have found no record of his spiritual life – perhaps that will be another story.

A Nearby Street with Baťa Houses

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