Václav Klement

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Václav Klement

Václav Klement (October 16, 1868, Velvary – August 10, 1938, Mladá Boleslav) was a Czech automotive pioneer, co-founder of Laurin & Klement, what is now Škoda Auto. He was a bookseller originally.

His childhood was not the happiest one. His mother died when he was small, replaced by a stepmother who hardly paid any attention to the little boy. From the age of 14 Klement did manual jobs although he showed talent for studying. Despite the obstacles he managed to become a good student and became an apprentice in a bookshop in the town of Slaný where he managed to finish his secondary studies.

After that Klement worked in Prague for some time and then moved to Mladá Boleslav where he worked in another bookshop. When the owner of the bookshop died Klement decided to buy it. However the business did not prosper and Klement had to sell the bookshop to pay off his debts.

The story of founding the Laurin & Klement Company starts with the day when Klement bought a bicycle made by the German company Seidel & Naumann. Upon finding a problem with the bicycle Klement sent a letter in the Czech language to the company, requesting repair. The company replied that they would deal with the request only if the letter were written in a "comprehensible" language. Klement was so indignant that he decided together with Václav Laurin, to start repairing bicycles themselves.

Later in 1895, propelled by Klement's modesty, excellent people skills and business acumen, together with Laurin's technical expertise, the two decided to found the Laurin & Klement Company, producing their own bicycles. These were known as Slavia bicycles. The company took off, and soon had 12 employees, later going up to 40.

In 1899 they went on to produce motorcycles which were an immediate success not only at home but also abroad, even in sport competitions. In 1902 Laurin & Klement motorcycles were successful in the famous Paris - Vienna race. This race covered 1430 km and the only motorcycles that made it to the finish line without any breakdowns in 31 hours were the Laurin & Klement motorcycles.

Soon these motorcycles became so successful that the company decided to stop bicycle production in order to devote itself fully to motorcycles. In 1903 the company had already about 200 employees producing around 2000 motorcycles annually.

In 1905 the company started making cars and in 1907 it expanded, registered on the stock exchange, and stopped motorcycle production. In 1925 the Laurin & Klement Company joined the Pilsner Škoda Concern and the name of the factory was changed to Laurin & Klement - Škoda, later only Škoda which produced hugely successful automobiles and became one of the great brand names, recognized worldwide, in the history of the Czech Republic. Václav Laurin kept the position of technical director. In 1991 the Škoda Factory became a member of the Volkswagen Group.

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