The centre of the Baťa shoemaking empire

On September 21, 1894, Tomáš, Antonín and Anna Baťa, two brothers and one sister, set up a shoemaking firm in Zlín, which undoubtedly sped up the development of the whole town.

The ancient town of craftsmen and tradesmen started to turn even more quickly into an important industrial centre. The new shoemaking enterprise headed by Tomáš Baťa (1876-1932) moved into more modern facilities at the beginning of the 20th century (in 1990 and 1906), gradually increasing the number of its employees and gaining an ever better reputation among its customers. Around the year 1910 Zlín gained the position of a significant centre of the shoemaking industry. The then mayor of Zlín, František Štěpánek, largely contributed to the town's modernization and revival of public life.

The growth of production was sped up by World War I, when the Zlín factories were supplying millions of pairs of shoes to the Austro-Hungarian army. At the end of the war in 1918, the Baťa factory already had 4,000 employees. The promising development was slowed down by the post-war recession, with smaller factories soon going bankrupt. Baťa's firm survived but the decreasing number of its customers made it necessary to cut down the production. At that time, the power in Zlín's town hall was taken over by Social Democrats and later by communists (1919-1923).

Tomáš Baťa nevertheless succeeded in overcoming the crisis thanks to a very brave decision: in September 1922 he cut the price of his shoes by half and immediately won over thousands of customers with his cheap products. He gained control over the entire shoe market and became the shoe king in the then Czechoslovakia. His factory in Zlín was set on the road of spectacular development. An extensive complex comprising of dozens of modern buildings and facilities was built on the outskirts of the town 1923-1938. The enterprise, equipped with the most advanced machinery, was taking on thousands of new employees and turning out millions of pairs of shoes. Besides them it also produced rubber, chemical and textile products and machines. Hundreds of new Baťa shoe shops were opened all over Czechoslovakia and also in many countries of Europe and Asia.

Together with the expansion of the Baťa Company Zlín was also changing, particularly after 1923, when Tomáš Baťa became its mayor. His company built three department stores, a hotel, a cinema, a large hospital, school facilities, scientific facilities, film studios, and thousands of new flats. The number of Zlín's inhabitants grew sharply from 4,678 in 1921 to 21,582 in 1930 and 37,342 in 1937. Feverish construction between 1923 and 1938 turned Zlín into a hypermodern industrial city. Yet its development was not uncontrolled but based on modern town-planning concepts. The work of prominent architects (Jan Kotěra, František L. Gahura, Vladimír Karfík, Miroslav Lorenc) gave Zlín the character of a functionalist city unique in Europe. Modern Zlín also attracted the attention of the prominent constructive architect Le Corbusier.

After the death of Tomáš Baťa in 1932, the management of the plants was taken over by Baťa's co-workers Dominik Čipera, Hugo Vavrečka and Josef Hlavnička. Jan A. Baťa became the head of the firm. It was based in Zlín but ran sister plants all over Czechoslovakia and started to open new factories, business companies and shoe shops not only in Europe but also in America, Asia and Africa. In 1938 the Baťa Company had a total of 65,064 employees, 41,814 of them in Czechoslovakia and 23,250 abroad. Slim was the seat of the Baja world-wide shoe empire, a city gathering up the threads of business contacts from almost all over the world.

The catastrophic consequences of the 1938 Munich Agreement and German occupation during the World War II stopped the advancement of both the Baťa Company and the city of Zlín. Germans introduced wartime regime in the Baťa plants and in 1944 a large part of the Zlín factories was destroyed by the U.S. air raids. The war sufferings ended with the city's liberation by Soviet and Rumanian soldiers on May 2, 1945.

The materials have been used from the Brochure (Zlín - The town in gardens), that was published by the Statutory city of Zlín in 2005.
Text: L.Horňáková, P. Novák, Z. Pokluda