Emil Kolben (November 1, 1862 in Strančice - September 3, 1943 in Terezín) was an engineer and entrepreneur from Bohemia. The large engineering company ČKD bears his name. He died in the Theresienstadt concentration camp.
Kolben was born into the German-speaking Jewish family of a small shopkeeper in the village of Strančice, southeast from Prague. He had nine siblings and from the age of 15 he was left to care for himself. After completing his secondary education in Prague, Kolben studied there at the German Technical University. After finishing university he obtained a two-year Gerstner's stipend that allowed him to study abroad. In 1887 he travelled to Zürich, Paris and London and finally settled for five years in the United States.
In the USA he first worked as an engineer for the Edison Machine Company in Schenectady, then as an assistant of Thomas Edison in Orange, New Jersey and finally as the chief-engineer in Edison's laboratories. In 1889 he met Nikola Tesla, who convinced him of a future for alternating current. This resulted in conflicts with Edison.
In 1896 he returned to Bohemia and, in the same year, set up a company named "Kolben a spol." in Vysočany, an industrial district of Prague. A 60 kW alternator was the first system constructed. With secured financial investment from a bank the company became a stock holding company in 1898. In 1899 it was renamed to "Elektrotechnická a. s.". In 1911 Kolben invited Edison to visit Prague.
The company produced large electrotechnis systems as hydro-electric power stations, locomotives and machines. Used technologies and equipment were much above standards of the time - for example instead of using a centralized power source and mechanical transmitters the machines were fitted with electrical engines.
In 1921 the company merged with another engineering company "Českomoravská strojírna" into "Českomoravská-Kolben a. s.". In 1927 it merged with "A. s. strojírny" (formerly "Breitfeld & Daněk") into "Českomoravská-Kolben-Daněk", the ČKD. Kolben had served as the director until 1939. The company produced a wide array of electrotechnic and engineering systems and also complete industrial plants. ČKD employed up to 15,000 people.
Kolben also founded two other companies: "Pražská továrna na káble" in Prague-Hostivař (power cables) and "Pražská elektroinstalační společnost" in Prague-Hloubětín (wiring systems). He published dozens of articles, mostly about electrotechnic and engineering.
Immediately after the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Nazis (1939) Kolben was recalled from his position as the director (March 16) and later imprisoned in the concentration camp Theresienstadt. He died there abandoned and exhausted. Almost all members of his family were imprisoned; 26 of them were killed by the Germans. His grandson Jindřich (b. 1926) survived.
ČKD was heavily damaged during the last days of World War II. It later employed up to 50,000 people and was known mainly for locomotives and trams. Mismanagement during the new free-market era (1990s) and technological delay accumulated during previous decades resulted in bankruptcy in 1998 and a massive reduction in production.
- Hlaváč, Miroslav M. (2000). Tvůrci českého zázraku. ISBN 978-80-86363-00-4.
- Martin Kvítek: "Průkopníci vědy a techniky v českých zemích" (Pioneers of science and technology in Czech lands), 2003, ISBN 80-7200-813-7
- Efmertová, Marcela C. (1999). Elekrotechnika v českých zemích a v Československu do poloviny 20. století studie k vývoji elektrotechnických oborů. ISBN 978-80-85983-99-9.
- Teichova, Alice; Matis, Herbert; Resch, Andreas (1999). Business history. p. 197. ISBN 978-3-214-08328-1.
- Jaroslava Hofmannová: "Emil Kolben a založení Kolbenky" (Emil Kolben and establishment of the “Kolbenka” works) /97:3:169/, journal "History of Sciences and Technology" (DVT), Prague 
Exhibition, Film, Radio
- The Kolben Family Story Prague, The Jewish Museum: Robert Guttmann Gallery, Prague 1, U Staré školy 3. From February 15 until April 15, 2007, open daily 9 a.m. – 4.30 p.m. except Saturdays and Jewish holidays. Exhibition curator: Dr. Arno Pařík
- Lampa Film Production, Prague, intends to make a film about Emil Kolben, contact: V. Hamáčková, Jewish Museum
- Familie Kolben: Eine Industriellenfamilie im Strudel der Zeit - 24-02-2007 - Radio Prag at www.radio.cz Familie Kolben: Eine Industriellenfamilie im Strudel der Zeit (German, by Andreas Wiedemann)