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The Polish-Croatian who was first to invent the wheeled suitcase

(Photo source: Krupa family archive/Public Domain/Unsplash)

With over 1.4 billion people making international trips annually, the suitcase with wheels is one of the world’s most used products. However, the story of its original inventor and its connection to Croatia is not a well known one. 

Whilst American Bernard Sadow is actually credited for inventing the wheeled suitcase in the 1970s, it was actually a Polish-Croatian artist who invented it first, almost 20 years earlier.

The patent for the rolling suitcase was awarded to Sadow in 1972, but Alfred Krupa had invented his wheeled rolling suitcase in 1954 in the Croatian city of Karlovac.  

Alfred Krupa and his wheeled suitcase invention circa 1954 (Photo source: Krupa family archive/Public Domain)

“Sadow attached four casters to a suitcase and added a flexible strap. His first retail client for the new invention was Macy’s Department Stores. However, around 1954, the Polish/Croatian painter Alfred Joseph Krupa invented a wheeled suitcase,” writes Interesting Engineering, the world’s leading engineering, technology and science community platform.

(Photo source: Krupa Family Archive/Public Domain)

Who was Alfred Krupa?

Alfred Krupa was born in Mikolow, Poland in 1915 and after losing both his parents at an early age, was raised by his grandmother. After studying painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, Poland, Krupa escaped occupied Poland to Yugoslavia in 1943 at the age of 28. 

Krupa married into the Croatian Ožbolt family from Gorski Kotar and spoke the Croatian language for most of his life.

Krupa became one of the core artists of the Art of Croatian Antifascist Movement and after the war, he began exhibiting his paintings, which included portraits and landscapes in watercolor, oil, charcoal, chalk, and pencil. In 1946, Krupa started teaching art at the Karlovac High School where he remained until his retirement in 1971.

Krupa was also a keen inventor and made a number of interesting inventions, including a glass-bottom boat for sightseeing which is popular today, skis for walking on water with, which he demonstrated on Croatia’s Korana River, a folding canvas catamaran, a system for preventing the sinking of ships and boxing gloves that could be inflated with compressed air.

Alfred demonstrating his skis for walking on water on Croatia’s Korana River (Photo source: Krupa family archive/Public Domain/MyHeritage app)

Alfred folding canvas catamaran (Photo source: Krupa family archive/Public Domain

A local newspaper also reported that Krupa was the very first man who painted a classical oil on paper painting under the sea in the summer of 1950 in Vrbnik on the island of Krk. He hand-made a dive mask from truck tires and glass, a tube for breathing underwater and he tied himself and a painting stand to the bottom. Those works exhibited in Zagreb in 1951 have been lost but critics attacked him for being ‘too bizarre’.

Krupa created all his inventions in his family home in Domobranska 8 street in Karlovac.

Alfred Krupa with wife Štefica and son Mladen at his home at Domobranska 8 in Karlovac (Photo source: Krupa family archive/Public Domain)

“Krupa tried to patent his inventions but after contacting authorities in Belgrade at the time, and even the British Embassy, but he eventually gave up on the idea,” Interesting Engineering writes.

Krupa’s ideas at the time had not been met with understanding by authorities, unlike his work as an artist and sportsman. Krupa was a man of many talents, apart from being an artist and inventor, he was an amateur boxer and martial arts practitioner, and he also taught target shooting and fencing.

Alfred Krupa recorded in the train at the Central Station in Karlovac with his portable hanger/ body support invention (Photo source: Krupa Family Archive/Public Domain)

He was also awarded among other distinctions the Medal for Bravery after he helped rescue British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s son Randolph and members of the U.S. 449th Bomb Group who were forced to land in Croatia.

Alfred Krupa spent 46 years in Croatia until his death in 1989 in Karlovac.

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