Peter Florjancic, the Slovenian inventor who died last week aged 101, once remarked that even Alfred Hitchcock would struggle to make a film about his life.
He was at various times an Olympic athlete, film actor, author, and friend of the rich and famous. But throughout his extraordinary life he had one chief passion: the everyday.
Florjancic was fixated on inventing ways to make life easier, safer and, where possible, a little more stylish. And while he is far from a household name, his inventions have almost certainly found a place in millions of homes.
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Florjancic was a talented athlete and, owing to his youth in Slovenia’s mountainous resort region, skiing was an early passion. At just 16, he became the youngest member of the Yugoslav Olympic team when he competed in the ski jump at the 1936 Winter Games in Germany.
The Games were opened by Adolf Hitler and senior figures of the emerging Nazi regime often watched the events. After competing in the ski jump, Florjancic shook the hand of Heinrich Himmler, the man who became head of Nazi Germany’s infamous SS.
But his Olympic handshake was far from his last encounter with the regime. Many Slovenian men were mobilised into the German army during World War Two, and Florjancic was conscripted to fight on the Russian front in 1943.
Unwilling to go to war he deserted and staged a daring escape to neighbouring Austria under the guise of a skiing holiday. He was pursued by the Gestapo and – with a friend – faked his own death in an avalanche on the slopes of the Hahnenkamm mountain. Somehow, the plan worked.
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Florjancic was granted asylum at a refugee camp in Bern, [Switzerland], and it was there that he made his first real breakthrough. He designed a wooden weaving machine that could be used by disabled people, such as wounded soldiers, and sold the patent to a timber company for 100,000 Swiss francs.
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In 1946, he took his wife and young daughter to Monte Carlo on holiday and stayed for more than 13 years. A poolside meeting with Ilhamy Hussein Pasha, an associate of King Farouk of Egypt, led to many years of collaboration and – significantly – major financial backing for his inventions.
“He understood innovation and also funded my mistakes,” Florjancic later wrote.
One of his major successes came in Monte Carlo when he invented the compact perfume spray that is still in use today. Prior to this, most perfume was dispensed through a tube connected to a large rubber bulb. “I noticed how the women were practically taking a gasoline pump out of their bags,” he told Deutsche Welle. “You just have to watch people.”
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“I’ve had five citizenships, 43 cars and the longest passport. The profession of inventor forced me to spend 25 years in hotels, four years in cars, three years on trains, a year and a half on airplanes and a year on board of ships.”
There’s more at the link. Recommended and entertaining reading.
Mr. Florjancic seems to have been a “renaissance man” in his own way: interested in everything, willing and able to turn his hand to anything, and always looking for insight, inspiration and a new challenge.