A POLE WHO ENLIGHTENED AMERICA
Erazm Jerzmanowski was born on 2 June 1844 in Domaników ( the district of Gostyń), whose co-heir was his mother Kamila from the Kossowski family. He was a child who was not given many chances to be alive, which is proven by a hastened baptism, that is, in water. His baptism certificate was found in a parish church in Warta (the province of Łódź). A few days after he was born, he was transported with his mother to home Tomisławice in the province of Kalisz, whose heir was his father Franciszek Jerzmanowski of the coat of arms Dołęga.
Family with patriotic Polish traditions
The Jerzmanowski family distinguished with great patriotic traditions. It cared about Polishness and remembered about predecessors and relatives who had fought for its sake. One of them was Franciszek Jerzmanowski (1737- 1802), a member of Rejtan’s opposition during the partition Seym in 1773, which was famous for its definite refusal to sign a partition treaty. It is also worth remembering Jan Paweł Jerzmanowski (1779 – 1862) who fought for the tsar Napoleon I Bonaparte in the war against Russia in 1812.
Youth and the national uprising
Erazm Jerzmanowski was taught at home in the beginning, and then he continued his learning in the Warsaw provincial junior-high school which he finished in 1862. In the same year he began to study at the Agricultural-Forestry Department of the Polytechnical Agricultural – Forestry Institute in Puławy. He met Adam Chmielowski there, with whom he was in friendship throughout his whole life. Unfortunately, education of Erazm in the institute in Puławy did not last long. Only three months after he began to study, did the January uprising break out, which was joined in by Jerzmanowski in order to fight in the division of Marian Langiewicz. When the uprising failed, he was on the area of Galicia where he was interned by the Austrian authorities and imprisoned in a fortress in Ołomuniec. Being forced to leave the monarchy of the Habsburg, he went to France through Switzerland in 1864. France.
Education and the first job
In the years 1864 – 73 he was in France. In Paris he continued his education in a Polish school on Montparnasse and a tsar Mining School. He was present in groups of emigrants, took part in political meetings and discussions. Fame of his deceased relative Jan Paweł Jerzmanowski opened lots of doors for the new immigrant, which made it possible for him to gain permission to begin studies in 1866 in a School of Military Engineering in Metz. In 1870, as an officer of the French army, he took part in a war against the Pruss for which he was awarded with the cross of the National Legion. When the war ended, Jerzmanowski left the army and began to work for a company specializing in production of illuminative gas. The company sent him to the United States of Northern America as its representative in 1873. He was supposed to build an illuminative system in New York, based on Drummond lamps, emitting the so-called lime light which appears as a result of thermo-luminescence of calcium oxide at the high temperature with an oxy-hydrogen burner. The system required supplying the lamps with two pipes of oxygen and water gas full of hydrogen, created in separate generators.
An American dream
Soon after he arrived at the United States, Erazm Jerzmanowski got married to an American Anna Koester and in 1879 he received American citizenship. In the USA he dealt with gasification and production of carbide. Initially he worked on building generators in New York Oxygen Gas Company, functioning from 1869 and controlled by the French. Because of difficulties of starting production of oxygen, he resigned from the Drummond system and got concentrated on improving production of water gas. The improvements also concerned raising energetic efficiency of the whole process. In 1873 Jerzmanowski patented replacement of costly kerosene used for carburizing of water gas in a carburetor with cheaper bituminous coal. Later he patented his idea of placing wires in a wall of the generator which would supply the chamber with air and water vapour. Both components were given to inside alternately, which eliminated danger of explosion. Erazm also observed that improvement of the generator functioning depended on precise regulating time intervals in which both components are supplied to the chamber. The Municipal Gasworks supplied gas with a strong mixture of carbon oxide reaching up to even 27 per cent, while 10 per cent was considered as a safe limit. In the years 1882 – 83 Jerzmanowski elaborated and patented an effective way to reduce concentration of the toxic substance – he covered the inside of the generator with limestone. The improvements were so essential that in a professional magazine the method was called a process of Jerzmanowski. In 1884 Erazm Jerzmanowski with a group of American financiers, at the helm with William Rockefeller set up a gas company called Equitable Gas Light Company. As a shareholder, he introduced not financial means but his patents into the future company. He ran this venture for nearly 13 years. Using his method led to the fall of costs of gas production by over 15 per cent, which caused a great success of the Equitable company, which quickly began to take over other gas companies in the United States, among the others, in Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit, Indianapolis, Troy, Albana or Lafayette. The American press informed about the unusual ‘Polish baron’ who appeared in it as the one who ‘enlightened America’. At the same time Jerzmanowski elaborated a new system of production of water gas, included to a group of retorting processes – that is, the ones in which vapour is passed to retorts including coal, and the suitable temperature of the reaction is maintained as a result of burning fuel in a separate chamber. This method was called a process ‘Baby’ and allowed for obtaining gas of low content of carbon oxide. Gasworks using technologies elaborated by Jerzmanowski functioned in a lot of cities in the USA.
When Erazm Jerzmanowski arrived at the United States, it was the time of beneficial economic situation which appeared after the end of the secession war. For 23 years he was one of the most prominent managers of highly developed gas industry in the United States, and he achieved a lot of money and acknowledgment of industrial spheres and professionals. The inventing and business activity allowed him to earn money amounted to 3 million dollars, which placed him on the 96th position in a list of the richest Americans in 1894.
A Pole and a fervent Catholic
Erazm Jerzmanowski always emphasized his origin, saying that he was a Polish refugee from the Russian partition. He was a fervent Catholic of very clear opinions. He expressed his objection to anti-semitism which caused attacks on his person taken by nationalist and national-catholic groups of the American Polish Diaspora. He was defended by cardinal Mieczysław Ledóchowski being in Rome then, who intervened in a campaign of slanders against Jerzmanowski to pope Leon XIII. In response, in a special breve of 26 April 1889, the pope granted an award to Jerzmanowski for his merits for ‘Church, Homeland and Humankind’ and granted him the title of z Commander of the Cross of St. Sylwester. Erazm Jerzmanowski was the first man on the American continent who received such a high papal distinction.
Support for compatriots
Jerzmanowski always supported his compatriots – both the ones being on emigration and those being on Polish lands under partitions. He developed an action of social and cultural patronage. He managed the Central Committee of Charity and took an active part in the Polish Union in the United States, maintaining a Polish Library, created employment agencies for Polish immigrants, supported the Society of Charity in New York with enormous sums of money. Jerzmanowski devoted his whole time to help Polish immigrants, and not only by giving them financial help, but also helping them find jobs, so that they could earn their living for themselves and their families. He warned others against this excessive subordination to Americanization and subordination to mass culture. In an interview with a correspondent of ‘Gazeta Wyborcza’ in Paris, he said on 16 September 1888: ‘I do not belive in our future in America (…). Those who arrive here, cannot stay here (…). But the next generation will disappear, as it will get materialized and Americanized’. He warned others against thoughtless emigration to America. In 1887 he began to raise funds for the National Treasure which he supported with his own money. He also supported the National Polish Museum in Rapperswil. When inhabitants of Polish lands experienced calamities (floods, fires, crop failure), he did not hesitate to help them, setting up nurseries for children, funding and financing the activity of libraries and schools.
The Jerzmanowskis often arrived in Cracow. They met with their relatives and friends, among the others, with Adam Asnyk, whose idea of setting up the Society of People’s School in Cracow they supported financially. They also supported Polish ventures, for example, the Universal Exhibition in Lvov in 1894 or the People’s Education Society in Cracow. They financed stained glass windows by Józef Mehoffer in Wawel.
A return to Polish lands
To surprise of many people, in 1895, at the age of 52, Erazm Jerzmanowski decided to draw back from the public life and managing the gas company and in 1896 he left the United States. Together with his wife Anna he settled down in Prokocim near Cracow. The Jerzmanowski family did not take an active part in social or cultural life of Cracow but met with a small group of their friends, mostly veterans of the January uprising. Erazm Jerzmanowski died on Sunday 7 February 1909, in the early morning, as a result of complications of pneumonia, in his mansion in Prokocim. The funeral was days later – on 10 February and became an occasion for a great social manifestation, a kind of a tribute paid to commemoration of the deceased, whose body was laid in a tomb on Rakowicki graveyard in Cracow. The author of the tomb was an excellent sculptor Wacław Szymanowski (the author of the Warsaw monument of Fryderyk Chopin).
Foundation of the Jerzmanowski
The Jerzmanowskis did not have any children, so Erazm delivered his whole property in his testament to his ill wife, provided that after her death all the money would be passed over to the ‘Foundation of awards named the deceased Erazm and Anna the Jerzmanowski spouses’, established by him, and whose activity was to be laid in custody of the Cracovian Skills Academy. In the statute of the foundation we can read: ‘(…)Every year grant is to be paid to a Polish man or a Polish woman born in Poland in 1772, being of Roman-Catholic religion, who could receive a prominent post in the Polish society, thanks to their literary, scientific or humanitarian works for the sake of their homeland’. When Erazm Jerzmanowski died, his wife Anna sold their property in 1910 to the Augustian Order and left for Drezno where he died in 1912.
In the pre-war time the award was called the Polish Noble Prize. It had the same value as 12 kilos of gold. Laureates were chosen by the Polish Skills Academy. After granting the award in 1928 there was a financial crisis and the financial means of the foundation got devalued, which resulted in the lack of them. In this situation for some time no awards were granted. Another award of about 10 thousand zlotys was granted from the means of academies in 1931 and since then it had been awarded every three years – it was so till the outbreak of the Second World War. This distinction was granted to among the others: cardinal Adam Stefan Sapieha, Henryk Sienkiewicz, Napoleon Cybulski, Benedykt Dybowski, Jan Kasprowicz and Stanisław Zaremba. In 2009 the Polish Skills Academy renewed granting the Awards named Erazm and Anna Jerzmanowscy, but in the statute the statement from the testament of Jerzmanowski about Roman-Catholic religion of a granted Pole was omitted.
Translated by Aneta Amrozik
Niedziela 44/2018 (4 XI 2018)