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Plywood factory in Mosty 1926-1939
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The company Konopacki Brothers Plywood and Veneers Manufacturers came into being in 1925 with an initial capital of 500 000 zlotys. The Company founders were two brothers, Ignacy and Wacław Konopacki, young wood-industrialists with over ten years experience in both industry and com-merce. Their expertise in plywood production was gained in the Szczuczyn factory, which was initially rented, and later bought from Prince Drucki-Lubecki. Factories making plywood in Mosty and Szczuczyn were family companies. Ignacy and Wacław worked at different periods of time together with their other brothers, namely Antoni, Tadeusz, Jan, Józef, Karol and Stanisław. The last two owned wood and plywood depots in Warsaw at the Grzybowska Street.

View of the factory from Niemen river

The whole of plywood used in a plane RWD-5 was Kopak Aircraft Plywood

The Mosty Factory was built on 33 hectares of land, not far from Grodno in the Białystok province. The site was carefully chosen as Mosty was situated not very far from the railway junction of Grodno-Baranowicze-Lida, and in the vicinity of three navigable rivers, the Niemen, Szczara and Zelwianka. The factory was linked to the railway track, and also had an in-house power station. Manufacturing equipment was very modern and modeled on American factories. Production started in 1926. Demand for plywood was huge and soon, at the beginning of 1928, the brothers increased their investments, expanding production still further. A second production line was started in May and November of that year and a 50m high chimney was erected. Further new buildings followed, including an administration offices, a warehouse and a boiler house with four boilers. This resulted in a twofold increase of factory output.

The basic raw materials used in plywood manufacturing were alder (60%) and birch (40%) whilst oak was used mainly for wooden panelling. Initially, the factory produced plywood using a wet cementation process based on casein glue, and later this was modified by the addition of glue based on albumen. High quality plywood made by the process of cold consolidation required exclusively bakelite film glue, which - until 1938 - was imported from Germany. At the beginning of 1938, Konopacki Brothers invented a liquid bakelite glue and started using it under the Trade Name of Kopalit. Kopalit was produced in-house by an Austrian chemist Franz Holler. When they found out, however, that albumen could be easily obtained from Bakutil, a firm situated near Krakow, they began production of the albumins glue in Red Prądnik, nowadays a district of Krakow. In 1935 they acquired a small production facility there, supervised by Jan Konopacki, the veterinary doctor and a brother of the factory owners.

Contemporary newspapers described the Mosty factory as an example of the successful Polish investment in Białystok region. They emphasized the good layout of the plant and its modern equipment, thus ranking it as one of the leading producers of plywood not only in Poland, but also in Europe. In 1929 the company was making enough plywood a year to fill 600 railway carriages, with almost 90% exported to Europe, USA, South America, India and other English and French colonies. The factory was then employing three hundred workers.

The company built a nearby housing settlement, Mosty Przyfabryczne, where many factory work-ers were housed. In addition, Wacław and Ignacy organized an elementary five-form school, provided medical care for workers, and founded a drug store, a local post office, a public library, and later even a cinema. Workers were given free plots of land to build small one-family houses. The factory provided free electricity for the settlement .

The business was going well until the Great Financial Crisis of 1929-1934. Collapse of pound ster-ling currency led to the entire loss of the company's current assets (working capital). Konopacki's company almost went bankrupt. In spite of their best efforts, working in a very hostile business environment, they were forced them to purchase raw materials financed by private capital. In due course however they managed to regain their own working capital. Business was again going very well until the factory was burned down in 1935. Wacław Konopacki was often heard saying that Plywood factories and sawmills have to burn down every now and then, and no fire-fighting, safety regulations could prevent it happening. However it must not happen too often. In those days, the Konopacki Company was already recognized as one of the best Polish enterprises on the country?s eastern border and the National Bank of Poland gave them a longterm loan to facilitate speedy reconstruction. A new modern working hall of 1020 square meters was completed in the autumn of 1935. In 1936 the factory?s turnover amounted to 2.600.000 zlotys, and 510 workers and 35 techni-cal staff being employed there. The factory output included wooden furniture, standard and aircraft (flying) plywood (the latter made in cold-gluing technology). The factory had its own agency and sale offices in Gdańsk (Eugene Blioch Company), Warsaw (Janor Company) as well as in Milan (Italy). It also represented the German Th.Goldschmidt A.G. Essen Company.

Factories in Szczuczyn and Mosty were the only producers of plywood for aircraft production in Poland. It was estimated that in years 1930-1939, at least 2.000 aircrafts made from wood and combined wood-steel construction, used Mosty's plywood. In the same period 1.370 gliders were manufactured using plywood from the same source. Konopacki Brothers and others cooperated with aircraft manufacturers of the RWD-5, a sport-touring aircraft, which later became famous after Stanisław Skarżyński flight over Atlantic. A sport plane RWD-6, piloted by Franciszek Żwirko and Stanisław Wigura conquered the International Challenge 1932, and the RWD-9 captured the first and second prize in the Challenge 1934. At the turn of 1937/1938 years, the factory took on the production of some specific curved plywood of birch-bakelite construction, used as a cover of the body of the first Polish twin-engine training aircraft PWS-33 The Pointer (Wyżeł). The plane was designed by Eng. Władyslaw Czerwiński in the Podlasie Aircraft Factory and was the first to use a half-shell wooden construction. Its prototype was presented at the XVI International Air Sa-lon in le Bourget Paris in 1938, and was received with a huge interest for this unusual design.

Konopacki Brothers Company's know how of the spatially shaped plywood in aircraft construction, was transferred during WWII by Eng. Czerwiński to Canada. In 1941 the Havilland Aircraft Factory employed him as a manager of a design team. He applied hot-molded plywood elements to NA-66 Harvard II, Anson and DH98 Mosquito planes. In 1942 he founded his own company, Canadian Wooden Aircraft in Toronto, which manufactured from plywood air locks and deposable fuel tanks for DH98 Mosquito combat aircraft used by the US Army.

On September 1st, 1939, the first day of WWII at 5-40 am the Mosty factory was bombed by Ger-man planes. Only minor damage resulted, the reel plant - where plywood waste was utilized for making thread reels - was destroyed. Factory workers, who were not called up to serve in the army, started to reconstruct the damaged halls. In mid-September the Soviets invaded the region and took over the factory management. Mr.Atnicki, a Russian citizen, was appointed to the post of General Manager. The factories in Mosty and Szczuczyn were working throughout the WWII. Nowadays they are named Mostodrew (in Belorussia) and is manufacturing wooden furniture and carpentry products. Some information on it may be found on http://www.wood.by. (in Russian lan-guage). It employs 4.000 people. In May 1999 a group of factory employees came to Poland to collect some materials for the Company?s Museum. They received photographs and printed material of the Konopacki Family and the former factory. That Museum was founded and exists to this day.

Konopacki brothers are descended from a modest miller family. They always believed that any success can be achieved by dedicated individual effort. Thanks to enormous diligence, initiative, and reliability they amassed a significant fortune. In 1939 however they lost all this acquired wealth. Those who survived WWII, were unable to accept neither the realities of Polish communist system, nor the somewhat predatory societies of Argentina or Australia, which had quickly forgot the golden rules of the XIX Century business, ie. honesty and integrity in business. Optimism and trust in a success however helped them to start new ventures once again. Just three month ante mor-tem Tadeusz wrote: I am 70 years old and have no fortune, nor capital, but I do bear hope of achieving something. Similarly Ignacy in December 1956 announced: In the next year I am going to start my own business. However fate intervened and their hopes were dashed.

Konopacki Wacław (1885-1950), was arrested by Soviets armed forced to continue production in Mosty. He tried to escape to Romania, but was intercepted on the border and, in March 1941, sen-tenced to eight years in a labor camp. He left Russia with Gen. Anders Army for Teheran. Passed away in poverty in Sydney Australia.

Ignacy Konopacki (1893-1957) escaped to Vilnius and from there contacted the Soviet authorities trying to regain management of the factory. After the Red Army invaded Lithuania in June 1940, he escaped to Kaunas, later went illegally to Prussia, and finally to occupied Poland. After the war, in Communist Poland, he tried to rebuild the Konopacki Brothers Company. In 1948 he was arrested and sentenced, in show trial, to eight years imprisonment, accused of harmful economic activities. Released from prison by the amnesty of 1953 he died in Krakow..

Antoni Konopacki (1899-1967) also took refuge in Vilnius, where he obtained Lithuanian citizenship. In July 1940 he reached Kaunas, then Prussia and finally to occupied Poland. After the war he was delivering wood to Pafawag - a state factory manufacturing railway cars. In a similar show trial, as his brother Ignacy, he was convicted to 12 years of prison. After the amnesty he could not find work at any state company. He passed away in Wrocław.

Tadeusz Konopacki (1896-1967) sold his shares in the Szczuczyn factory in 1935, and started an-other business on his own. In 1940 went to Argentina, where he was building various plywood fac-tories in the northern province Somersault, and later on, as a pioneer he went to Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire). Later he was double crossed by his Italian partners, brothers Finocceti, and went bankrupt. He died in Bella Vista near Buenos Aires.

Jan Konopacki (1889-1945) almost survived the German occupation in Krakow. In December 1944, just before liberation, was arrested by the Gestapo and later killed in the concentration camp, Mittelbau-Dora.

Józef Konopacki (1902-1945) failed to escape to occupied Poland and survived the Soviet occupation in the country woods in the Grodno region. He was sent by Germans to a concentration camp in Studhoff. for helping Polish Partisans (AK) He died near Rybno Kaszubskie during the so-called March of Death, when all prisoners were herded by the Germans, many dying from exhaustion.

Karol Konopacki (1897-1944) escaped from Mosty to Warsaw immediately in September 1939. He was killed during the Warsaw uprising.

Stanisław Konopacki (1891-1963) was managing his pre-war wood commercial depot until 1948. Thereafter was working as a warden. Died in Warsaw.

Barbara Kłosowicz-Krzywicka

Web site designed by Barbara Kłosowcz
English translation Janusz Czamarski and Maciej Dubenski
© Photographs: archives Konopacki