The birth of Gdynia - Niepospolita
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The birth of Gdynia

Immediately after regaining independence in 1918 Poland was faced with a serious challenge – the lack of sea port. The authorities of the Free City of Gdansk [Freie Stadt Danzig], which was under the wardship of the League of Nations, were rather antagonistic towards Poland which made using the existing port in Gdansk very difficult.

Therefore, already during the first days of independence, the issue of own sea port was under discussion. A number of possible locations were taken into account – the Gulf of Puck, Hel Peninsula, even Tczew. In the end the small fishing village of Gdynia was chosen as the most convenient spot. The final decision to build a modern port was made in the first few months of 1920. The design project was drafted by Engineer Tadeusz Wenda and already on the 29th of April 1923 the grand opening of a Temporary Sea Port and Fishermen Shelter was held. In August the same year the first seagoing ship – SS Kentucky sailing under the French flag – arrived in Gdynia.

However, due to financial constrains, further works at the new port slowed down. Finally, during later stages of construction, the cargo, fishermen, and passenger ports were completed together with a shipyard. The affluence of the people and dynamic development of the port allowed the city to grow and within less than two decades the small fishing village had turned into a city inhabited by approximately 130,000 people. The city soon became the pride and joy of the Second Republic of Poland.

INDISPENSIBLE KWIATKOWSKI

Engineer Eugeniusz Kwiatkowski had a major influence on the speedy development of the new city of Gdynia. Between the years of 1926 and 1930 he was the Minister for Trade and Industry, and from 1935 – a Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Treasury. He saw a great chance for Poland in industrialization and foreign trade. Industry was to increase demand for farming products within the national market which, in turn, was to fight unemployment and allow for the rational use of natural resources.
Gdynia played a crucial part in Kwiatkowski’s plan for the newly reborn country. He often emphasised that “without free access to the sea and our economy would suffocate. Likewise, our domestic politics”. It was the access to an independent sea port which was to allow Poland to free itself from the “middlemen” and increase the competitiveness of Polish products. His vision included the necessity to develop the communications network connecting the Coast with the rest of the country. He also recognised the role of sea transport for those Poles who lived abroad and advocated the development of the Polish fleet. Kwiatkowski believed that responsible politics would “strive for cooperation of the entire State to make full use of the port in Gdynia”.

GDYNIA – ONCE A VILLAGE, NOW A BEAUTIFUL CITY

Gdynia was first mentioned in a document dated 1253. The document describes the small village of Gdina which belonged to the parish of Oksywie. In those days it was in the hands of the Cistercians of Oliwa. It then belonged to Jan of Rozecin who in 1382 gifted the farming and fishing village to the Carthusian Order, which he brought to Kartuzy. The first Pub in the village was built in 1414 on today’s Portowa Street. It became the place where fishermen could meet after a hard day’s work and was somewhat of a centre for social and trading affairs. In 1429 the Carthusians chose one mayor for Gdynia and Grabowek and changed the initial villein service from fish to cash. The rent for the public house also changed and rose by 100%. At the same time the estate was enlarged – the neighbouring meadows were added together with a large area of forest (6 units of approximately 16.8 ha each) which would serve as heating material and provide material for construction works. In 1634 hetman Stanislaw Koniecpolski, later joined by army engineer Jan Pleitner, recommended to king Wladyslaw IV Gdynia as a perfect location for a navy port, however, construction never happened. The roadstead of Gdynia served for reloading goods which would be carried to the shore on smaller vessels.

For almost 400 years – until the first partition of Poland – Gdynia belonged to the Carthusian order. It then was taken over by the Prussian Commissioner, who claimed the Carthusian monastery, and thus it came under the occupation of Prussia. It remained under Prussian rule for approximately 150 years – until the end of the Great War.

At the beginning of the 20th century Gdynia became famous for its seaside location and slowly started turning into a seaside resort. It was frequently visited by Poles living in more inland areas of the country. In 1919 Jan Radtke was elected the first Polish mayor of Gdynia. By the power of The Treaty of Versailles on January 10, 1920 Poland was assigned 140 kilometres of the Baltic coast. Ten years later the first regular passenger connection between Gdynia and New York was established.
Gdynia became the largest port on the Baltic coast in 1934 (in cargo volume) and at the same time was the most modern port in Europe. It quickly transformed into a modern, flourishing city of the Second Republic of Poland and its days as a small fishing village were long gone. A rapid increase in the number of inhabitants was connected with the large number of workers who came looking for jobs, mostly from the region of Pomerania. Despite its rapid development in the 1930s approximately 30% of inhabitants of Gdynia were living in about 2500 primitive dwellings (shacks and barracks). Five days prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, Jan Kiepura gave a concert on the Grunwaldzki Square revenues of which went to the Maritime Defence Fund.

KEY DATES IN THE HISTORY OF GDYNIA

  • 1921 – Building works commence. Construction of the port and the city.
  • 1922 – SS Gdynia was the first seagoing vessel with its home port in Gdynia
  • 29 April 1923 – blessing of the pier and opening of the temporary navy port and shelter for fishermen
  • 13 August 1923 – Reception of the first transatlantic ship (SS Kentucky under the French flag)
  • 3 May 1924 – consecration of the Blessed Virgin Mary the Queen of Poland church
  • 4 March 1926 – receipt of municipal rights (granted by the power of a Regulation of the Council of Ministers dated February 10, 1926)
  • 1927 – urban transport begins to operate in Gdynia
  • 1928 – initiation of construction works for the rail connection between Gdynia and Upper Silesia
  • 1929 – establishment of Arka Gdynia FC
  • 1930 – establishment of Baltyk FC
  • 1931 – The Baltic Institute of Torun opens its branch in Gdynia
  • July 10, 1932 – grand opening of the football ground on Ejsmonda Street
  • July 31, 1932 – First celebrations of the Sea Festival
  • 1933 – opening of the Marine Station
  • May 1, 1935 – opening of the airport in Rumia
  • 1936 – opening of the Swedish Seaman’s House and Regional Court
  • 1937 – opening of the Polish Sailor’s House
  • August 289, 1938 – the SS Olza keel laying ceremony. SS Olza was to be the first seagoing ship built in Poland.