All new today!  We continue with our wonderful story from the pages of the 1934 edition of the Czech-American annual journal, Amerikán Národní Kalendář!  This is one of stories with the highest degree of detail when it comes to describing what life and work was like for a tradesperson in Bohemia in the 1800s!  It is truly fabulous!

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Amerikán Národní Kalendář

Volume: LVII, Year: 1934, Pages: 187-213


Translated by Layne Pierce and Dr. Mila Saskova-Pierce

©Onward To Our Past®

1934 John Zajic image

John Zajíc, Sr. Edgerton, Alberta, Canada.

I received work in a shoe and glove store (the finest in women’s footwear) and I learned quite a bit more, so that by now I was quite well outfitted with much knowledge to continue my life.  It was this knowledge that was lacking in many of my colleagues. 

In the year 1880 in Vienna there was a general chaos so that I was without work for three months.  I was dragging myself through all the asylums and cheap lodging houses.  They were so full that on Saltkrist Street all the traffic was stopped.  Then the police started to clean up Vienna.  Whoever was not able to show at least 3 guilders needed for a journey, was taken behind the “line.”  They took away his workbook.  They ordered a return to their birth village.  And whoever did not obey was sent by force.

Finally I got fed up with it and I set off to go home to Žabonosy on foot. I was home in three days.  I had barely rested, but on the second day a female hurdy-gurdy player came to tell me that I was supposed to go to Vrbčany to Mr. Král, that he would like to hire me as a shop supervisor.  Supposedly he heard that I know all of my work quite well.  He was sick in his kidneys.  Two young shoemakers had settled down there at this place.

A shoemaker's workbench in the 19th Century.

A shoemaker’s workbench. 1955 copyright Artis Prague.

I did not have any plans to be a shoemaker in a village.  However, before the morning thoughts about this were going through my head.  It was during harvest, I was thinking we could come to an agreement.  I will wait out the time there until the spring, and then I will go and try Paris.  We actually did reach a deal and I immediately took the position.

Vrbčany is the biggest and the richest village in the Kolín region.  There were 20 big farms, and many smaller holdings.  it is about 2 kilometers from Žabonosy.  Mr. Král gave me free reign and I started to use my knowledge.  I began to change the whole business completely, from inside out.  Even the purchase of the raw material was changed.  I was working 18 hours a day.  How pleased I was.  I started to make modern shoes for everybody.  People liked me and the master as well. I was especially well liked by the people who had injured or sensitive feet, who suffered with podagra, bunions, rheumatism, etc.  I made sure that everybody had comfortable shoes, cheap prices, and beautiful style.  After several trials the work was pouring in and so was the appreciation.

Shoemakers Guild Funeral Banner.

Shoemakers Guild Funeral Banner. 1955 copyright Artis Prague.

Winter went by and spring came.  Mr. Král died on the 30th of April.  What now and what then?  There was a supply of leather.  There were measurements taken from clients, and even work that had been started, so I took it over, thinking that I would fly towards France as soon as I am done.  However, people make plans and people change them.

The clients were coming every day.  “Johan don’t leave this place.  We like you. We want to patronize your business.  Some even offered me “prepayment”.   So this is how it happened that I stayed.  In several days I had enough “prepayments” for 600 guilders a year.  I had 110 guilders of my own and during that time I bought a new sewing machine.  I submitted an application for trade permission, even though I was only 20 years old.  I submitted my diploma with honors from the trade school in Vienna.  I received the trade list and the gentlemen in the guild had to be quiet.  That same year there was a new law passed,” freedom of trade.”

Tomorrow we continue following the most amazing story of the life of Johan Zajíc and his life in Bohemia as he continues to dream of a better future!

Onward To Our Past®

A Genealogical Historian, who is focused on family history and genealogy of the highest quality, but with a dose of fun. Avid about documentation and evidence. Loves helping folks of all levels in their genealogy pursuits, especially in the areas of Bohemia, Czech Republic, Italy, Cornwall, Kent, United Kingdom, U.S. Immigration and Cleveland, Ohio.

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