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At the beginning there was a dream ...

In 1918, having regained its independence - so very much desired after 150 years of partitions - Poland was still lacking direct access to the sea. It was only on 10th February 1920 that nuptials of Poland with the sea could be performed in Puck. It was a symbolic act meaning that our nation's dreams of regaining access to the Baltic, of having its own fleet, of being a sea power could start coming true. Under the Treaty of Versailles a small portion of the Baltic coast was granted to Poland.

The plan of the port in Gdynia (1921)

Tadeusz Wenda (1863 - 1948)

The plan of the port in Gdynia (1921)Tadeusz Wenda (1863 - 1948)

Three months after the ceremony in Puck, Engineer Tadeusz Wenda was delegated by Vice-Admiral Kazimierz Porębski, the director of Maritime Affairs Department of the Ministry of Defence, to go to Pomerania and search for the most suitable place to construct a naval port. In June 1920, Tadeusz Wenda submitted the report on his survey of Pomerania. He wrote the following:

"(...) the most suitable site for the construction of a naval (and possibly a commercial) port is Gdynia or, putting it more accurately, the plain between Gdynia and Oksywie, 16 kilometres from Gdansk's New Port. This location has the following advantages:

1. It is sheltered by the Hel Peninsula from those winds which Gdansk is not free from (from 21' NE to 54'20" NE).
2. Deep waters are close to the coast, the 6-metre depth line being 400 metres from the coast, and that marking 10-metre depth is between 1300-1500 metres from the coast.
3. The coast is low, being only 1 to 3 metres in elevation above the sea level.
4. There is plenty of fresh water available thanks to "Chylonja" brook.
5. The Gdynia railway station is located nearby (at a distance of 2 kilometres).
6. The holding ground on the roadstead is of good quality."

The reasons given by Engineer Wenda were convincing, but not for everybody. There were people advocating other locations, such as the Żarnowieckie Lake area, Puck or Rewa. Objections were also raised as to the scale of the harbour-to-be. The following is an excerpt from a letter (dated 12th November 1920) by the Supreme Chamber of State Inspection to Vice-Admiral K. Porębski: (...) "Sharing, in general, the opinion of the Minister of Defence, as expressed in the urgent proposal to the Economic Committee of the Council of Ministers regarding construction of the harbour in Gdynia, so far as independence of the interests of the Polish State from Gdańsk and development of the fishing industry is concerned, it is, nevertheless, the assumption of the Supreme Chamber that the work should be limited to the construction of the now planned breakwater, harbour and wharf with railway lines. Any further expansion of the inner (artificial) harbour is deemed without merit (...)."

Gdynia - here is how it all began...
Eugeniusz Kwiatkowski (1898-1974)
Gdynia - here is how it all began...Eugeniusz Kwiatkowski (1898-1974)

It was in spring of 1921 that the first piles were driven to construct what was termed as the "temporary naval port and fishermen's haven", and already in the autumn of the same year a daring idea of a great, versatile (commercial, fishing and naval) "national" port with transhipments reaching a minimum of 6 million tonnes annually was presented by Tadeusz Wenda.

All aspects of Construction of the "national port" were comprehensively dealt with in a pamphlet written by T. Wenda together with Vice-Admiral K. Porębski and aimed at popularizing the idea of this project. Although the pamphlet has never been published and only one of its chapters has actually been saved to this day, the pains taken by both authors to make the "national port" of Gdynia a reality proved to be successful. Even before the Act of Construction of the port or, more accurately, an "independent organization of the sea base" (dubbed "Gdynia's Magna Charta" by a pre-war lecturer of the Maritime School, Dr Aleksy Majewski) was passed by the Polish Parliament, holiday-makers would come to the idyllic "God's Inlet" at the bottom of Kamienna Góra hill and the Orłowo cliff. Among them was one of Poland's greatest contemporary writers, Stefan Żeromski. In 1921, he would keep a keen eye on the construction work of the temporary naval base and fishermen's haven in progress, and he was inspired by the work in which he saw the onset of a new epoch and a great opportunity for Poland's. He then wrote his book "Wiatr od morza" (Wind from the Sea), giving a surprisingly accurate (as it was proven shortly afterwards) picture of the harbour and city of Gdynia, which at that moment did not yet exist.

On 23 September 1922, the Polish Parliament passed the Act on Construction of the Port in Gdynia, Pomerania Region, as a Public Port. The construction of the port of Gdynia, a project of national importance, paid for itself even before the beginning of World War II, while having played the role of catalyst for social energy and patriotism. It was thanks to Gdynia that Poles started believing they could achieve their wildest dreams and face the most ambitious challenges of the 20th century. The man to give a political dimension and status of a national project to the engineering of Tadeusz Wenda, and the literary vision of Stefan Żeromski was Eugeniusz Kwiatkowski, a chemical engineer by profession and a politician by passion. From the moment he took his position as the Minister of Industry and Commerce in 1926 (and also during his time as a deputy Prime Minister of Poland's last government, before the outbreak of World War II), the matters of the port of Gdynia, having not been given enough attention, were accelerated. Kwiatkowski was a zealous promoter of the state's maritime policy, the foundation of which was the basis of the modern port of Gdynia.

Eugeniusz Kwiatkowski was a man of great calibre, and so were his works of which the most famous, and probably the greatest was Gdynia. It was through his advocacy that the Polish Parliament would allocate the funds for the development of the city and port which for the pre-war generation of Poles was a true Promised Land, an America. In the years 1927-1928 the Government's expenditures on the construction of Gdynia harbour amounted to PLN 34.8 m, compared to the mere PLN 6.5 m in the period 1925-1926. During Kwiatkowski's occupation of the position as the Minister of Industry and Commerce, the total value of construction work done at the harbour of Gdynia amounted to PLN 88 m.

Gdynia (1928)
Railway station (thirties)
Gdynia (1928)Railway station (thirties)

Being a politician, Eugeniusz Kwiatkowski was gifted with a special talent. He was also a publicist, a talent which he used, among other things, to popularise the matters of Gdynia. He would persuade sceptics to follow the idea of Poland as a seafaring nation. He would infect people with his passion and zeal. He would impress and move them with unselfishness and patriotism.

Along with Tadeusz Wenda and Vice-Admiral Porębski he is deemed to be the father and creator of Gdynia. Inhabitants of the city conferred on Eugeniusz Kwiatkowski Gdynia's honorary citizenship in 1931.

Brothers Robert and Franciszek Wilke - a firm founded in 1931 - reflects the very essence of Gdynia's dynamism and initiative. Their business started in the summer. They started taking tourists for trips on board an old fishing smack. They treated this activity marginally but pretty soon, however, their idea took on the more mature shape of the firm called: Robert Wilke - Passenger Motorboats. The old fishing smack was soon sold and replaced by a better range of motorboats built in the Gdańsk Shipyard. The first one was given the proud name of The Dolphin. Short after that The Dolphin was joined by The Shark, The Gryphon, Jaś and Małgosia.

Robert Wilke - Passangers Motorboats
Gdynia - holiday atmosphere

Robert Wilke - Passangers MotorboatsGdynia - holiday atmosphere

During the summer season in Gdynia, the Wilke brothers used to service around two hundred thousand tourists, longing for the sea adventures. Trips around the port, and further - to Orłowo, Sopot, Gdańsk Jastarnia and Hel - the very tip to the Peninsula, were one of the main attractions for Gdynia holiday makers.With the beginning of World War II the company ceased to exist.

GdyniaThe rapid growth of Gdynia in the 15-year period starting from 1926 was dramatically hampered by the outbreak of World War II. The city did not suffer much from bombardment, especially when compared with Warsaw or Gdańsk, but the harbour and shipyard were completely destroyed. It was the people - Gdynia's main asset - that suffered most. The bulk of Polish inhabitants were expelled by Germans or sent to concentration camps, many were killed at the fronts.

The survivors would quickly start coming back to the city, which was liberated in March 1945. Along with native inhabitants of Gdynia people from Warsaw, Lvov or Vilnius, having lost everything and looking for a place to set up a home of their own and just as earlier Gdynia was again viewed as a Promised Land. The post-war era once again became the pioneering time.

Before the shipyard came to its final shape, it had rendered all kinds of services. Its portfolio of orders included, for example, making a toothed-wheel for a tape-recorder, a chimney-pipe for a portable stove, repair of cars (among them those fuelled with wood gas)...

As the work at putting into operation the cranes and docks went on and on, the shipyard would take up more ambitious tasks, such as the recovery of sunken fish cutters, and then - repairs of foreign ships. Gdynia became the biggest repair base of the Polish fleet when in September 1945 Polish merchant and naval vessels started coming back to Poland from their war-time wandering, along with the German ships granted to Poland under war reparations and English and American ships received by our country from military surplus stores,

Gdynia - the seventies Gdynia - the nineties

It became the unfortunate lot of the post-war generation to witness the tragedy of the bloody events of December 1970, when the shipyard workers of Gdynia, just like their colleagues from Gdańsk took - on behalf of the whole nation - the rebellion against the government of the People's (only by name) Republic of Poland.

Gdynia remembers them. Two monuments to the victims of December 1970 have been erected in the city...

There were also joyous days, filled with rebellion and hope, in August 1980 when SOLIDARITY was born.

GdyniaToday Gdynia has more than 250,000 inhabitants and is an important centre of naval economy, international trade, science and academic education, culture, tourism. It is frequently cited as a city of success, a city in which people of initiative, entrepreneurial spirit, active and daring ones dwell.

We, inhabitants of Gdynia, are well aware of the opinion, for which the two previous generations should be credited to a great extent, but which has also been a merit of the last years. Although the present-day Gdynia, as opposed to the city before World War II, is no more Poland's only sea port, it continues to be determined to keep its position on the Baltic sea. The competition is fierce, the pace of changes frantic. Thanks to its excellent geopolitical position, Gdynia aspires to be a centre of international meetings and trading. It is an ambitious continuation of Eugeniusz Kwiatkowski's dreams.

It is already the third generation building Gdynia. We have many new challenges still to face.

Franciszka Cegielska Mayor of Gdynia (1990 - 1998)
Franciszka Cegielska
Mayor of Gdynia (1990 - 1998)
European flag for Gdynia

Gdynia is a unique city, created out of dreams - about the sea, about free access to the world, about welfare. Those dreams do not leave us now that we contemplate the future of Gdynia.

© City Hall of Gdynia, 81-382 Gdynia, Aleja Marszałka Piłsudskiego 52/54
phone (+ 48 58) 66 88 000, fax (+48 58) 62 09 798, e-mail: umgdynia@gdynia.pl

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