Singing Fountain, Carousel, Street Lights and Trams

A singing fountain and a carousel, street lights and trams. What do these four have in common? The answer is simple, František Křižík.
Thanks to Křižík (1847-1941) we have street lighting, electric trams and rail track security. In Prague’s Letna Park, a section of tram tracks and a carousel are reminders of František Křižík. Like his American counterpart Thomas Edison, he was an inventor, engineer and entrepreneur. The Křižík fountain at Vysaviste and Křižíkova Street in the Karlin district of Prague are not just names but a tribute to the inventor of everyday things we now take for granted.

singing fountain

Singing Fountain

František Křižík designed a singing fountain for the Jubilee Exhibition in 1891, a true feat of engineering. He placed twenty-six arc lamps (one of his inventions) in a fountain for an optimal colour spectacle. The lamps were located under the glass cover over the fountain basin with fifty water spouts all around. An electric motor propelled the water several meters upwards while coloured light filters below the water’s surface illuminated the water jets. The changing colours and the dancing water jets against the dark sky were most impressive. The ‘fontaine lumineuse’, the dancing organ or the singing fountain had sequels throughout Europe. During the Second World War, the fountain in Prague fell into disrepair.

One hundred years after its debut in 1891, the singing fountain was restored to its full glory and the waters danced to the tune of Smetana’s symphonic poem ‘Ma Vlast’. Křižík’s design has been perfected. There are sixty loudspeakers and twenty-four pumps to propel the water. The fountain is computer-controlled and a unique program is written for each new performance.
Address Křižík Fountain (Křižíkova fontána), Výstaviště, Holešovice, Prague

singing fountain

Tram rails as a monument

Close to the technical museum in Letna Park, you will see one metre of original tram rails for the first electric tram that started running in 1891. The route was very short, less than one kilometre. It started at Letna and ended at Vystavista. Journey time was 4.5 minutes. In those days the regular tram was horse-drawn and this new electric tram was a true innovation and immensely popular. This new tram was an improvement for the tram driver because he no longer had to stand to drive the tram and he no longer had to take care of the horses. Especially at weekends, throngs of people waited to take a ride.

singing fountain

The Carousel on Letna

The Letna Carousel (Letenský kolotoč) dates back to 1892 and is housed in a custom-made wooden pavilion. Originally, this merry-go-round was driven by one person who walked around in the space below the floor and pushed the mechanism. On the revolving upper floor were nineteen horses that looked almost real because they were covered with horse skins. In 1930, František Křižík designed an electric motor that kept the carousel running. In 1981, when a new motor was installed. In 2006 the carousel was damaged and restoration work started in 2017 and is still ongoing.

Inventions of František Křižík

The first official invention of František Křižík was a device designed to prevent train collisions. He also perfected the electric arc lamp. His invention is known as the Plzeň lamp, or Křižíkova lampa in Czech. In an arc lamp an electric current creates a very hot arc of gas, the same principle as the discharge lamp.

In 1880, he produced this electric lamp that gave better and more constant lighting. His design won the first prize at the International Exhibition of Electricity held in Paris in 1881. This lamp became popular for street lamps in London, Paris and other major cities.

František Křižík a successful entrepreneur

Winning the gold medal at the International Exhibition of Electricity made Křižík a successful entrepreneur. Křižík invested the money, part of the award, in setting up his own factory. It produced arc lamps, of course, but also interior lighting and street lamps. The Křižík brand also included generators, transformers, water and thermal power stations, electric locomotives, electrical equipment for breweries, measuring instruments and a variety of installation equipment.

The Jubilee Exhibition, held in Prague in 1891, was a milestone in Křižík’s career. He worked as an exhibitor and as an organizer. His factory provided lighting for all indoor and outdoor areas. The singing fountain, built to his design, was a huge success. He installed bright lights that illuminated the fairgrounds and the surrounding area at night. His other major success was an electric tram which ferried visitors from Letna to the Vystaviste where the exhibition was held.

The Křižík Singing Fountain is still an attraction in Prague. Electric trams are running all over the world and track safety and street lighting have become an integral part of everyday life.

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photos: Marianne Crone

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