Famous People from the Czech Republic
Be it its world-famous politicians, top-class sportsmen, Nobel Prize laureates or globally lauded writers and musicians, the Czech Republic boasts many famous natives who significantly contributed to their diverse fields. Here is a list of some of the world-known Czechs who have earned unparalleled name and an irreplaceable place in the country’s history.
Charles IV (1316-78)
Bohemian king, Holy Roman emperor, and chief patron of Prague. Charles ascended the throne in 1346, and during his reign he made Prague the seat of the Holy Roman Empire and one of Europe’s most advanced cities. Under his reign, several key sites throughout the country were established, including Prague’s oldest university (Charles University), the Charles Bridge, the largest New Town park (Karlovo náměstí), and the spa town of Karlovy Vary.
Gregor Johann Mendel (1822-1884)
The father of genetics and the laws of heredity – Mendel’s Laws – was born in Heinzendorf (now Hynčice, Czech Republic). Mendel’s studies yielded three “laws” of inheritance: the law of dominance, the law of segregation, and the law of independent assortment. Through his work on pea plants, deduced that genes come in pairs and are inherited as distinct units, one from each parent.
Bedřich Smetana (1824-84)
Nationalist composer. After studying piano and musical theory in Prague, Smetana became one of Bohemia’s most revered composers. Internationally he is best known for his opera The Bartered Bride and for the symphonic cycle Má vlast (“My Homeland”), which portrays the history, legends and landscape of the composer’s native Bohemia. It contains the famous symphonic poem “Vltava”, also known by its English name “The Moldau”.
Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)
Neo-Romantic composer and head of Prague Conservatory. Following the Romantic-era nationalist example of his predecessor Bedřich Smetana, Dvořák frequently employed rhythms and other aspects of the folk music of Moravia and his native Bohemia. Dvořák is best known for his symphony From the New World, which was inspired by a tour of the United States. His opera about a girl trapped in a water world, Rusalka, remains an international favorite; it also became a popular film in Europe.
Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937)
Philosopher, sociologist, politician and Czechoslovakia’s first president. Educated in Vienna and Leipzig, Masaryk spent decades advocating Czech statehood. In 1915, he made a landmark speech in Geneva calling for the end of the Habsburg monarchy. He traveled to Washington, D.C., and received the backing of President Woodrow Wilson at the end of World War I for a sovereign republic of Czechs and Slovaks, which was founded in October 1918. During his nearly 17 years as president, Masaryk played the stoic grandfather of the new republic.
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)
Although not Czech by nationality, the “father of psychoanalysis” was born in a town called Příbor, which was then a part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and today is located in the north-eastern part of the Czech Republic.
Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939)
Art nouveau painter, illustrator and poster designer who spent most of his life in France. Mucha produced illustrations, advertisements, decorative panels, and designs, which became among the best-known images of the period.
Franz Kafka (1883-1924)
Franz Kafka was one of the major German-language fiction writers of the 20th century. He was born to a Jewish family in Prague. His most famous works are The Trial, Metamorphosis, The Castle, and Amerika. Kafka often described surreal and suffocating worlds of confusion in his books. Today, many use the adjective Kafkaesque to mean “living in absurdity.” When in Prague, you can visit the Franz Kafka Museum.
Karel Čapek (1890-1938)
Czech writer and playwright. Karel and his brother Josef first introduced the word “robot” in their science-fiction play R.U.R. in 1921. Čapek also wrote many politically fueled works dealing with the social turmoil of his time. Čapek campaigned in favor of free expression and strongly opposed the rise of both fascism and communism in Europe. Though nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature seven times,Čapek never received it.
Jaroslav Seifert (1901-1986)
Seifert was a writer, poet and journalist. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1984 “for his poetry which endowed with freshness, sensuality and rich inventiveness provides a liberating image of the indomitable spirit and versatility of man.” Seifert published over 30 collections of poems and children’s literature.
Milan Kundera (born 1929)
Another Czech writer Milan Kundera reached the international fame by his novels The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1985) and Immortality (1990). He is acknowledged as one of the world’s best contemporary writers. Kundera became a naturalized French citizen in 1981 after going into exile in 1975.
Miloš Forman (1932-2018)
Miloš Forman was a Czech film director, screenwriter, actor and professor who lived in Czechoslovakia until 1968 before leaving the country for the United States. Forman is considered one of the most significant film directors of his time. He received the Oscars for his films One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus. He also directed a film version of the musical Hair.
Václav Havel (1936-2011)
A well-known dramatist, essayist, former dissident and the first president of the Czech Republic. The central theme of his literary texts is human identity and the mechanisms of dehumanized power. In the 70’s and 80’s Havel became a leading figure in the pro-democracy movement Charter 77. During his lifetime, Havel received numerous state honors and awards. The international airport in Prague was renamed to Václav Havel Airport Prague in 2012.
Martina Navrátilová (born 1956)
Navrátilová is a former tennis player. She was world No. 1 for a total of 332 weeks in singles, and a record 237 weeks in doubles, which makes her the only player in history to have held the top stop in both singles and doubles for over 200 weeks. She won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, 31 major women’s doubles titles and 10 major mixed doubles titles. Navrátilová holds the records for most singles (167) and doubles titles (177) in the Open Era. She is considered one of the best female tennis players of all time.
Jaromír Jágr (born 1972)
Jágr has the second-most points in National Hockey League (NHL) history, after Wayne Gretzky. He is the most productive European player who has ever played in the NHL and is considered one of the greatest professional hockey players of all time. Jágr is a member of the Triple Gold Club, individuals who have won the Stanley Cup, the Ice Hockey World Championships and the Olympic gold medal in ice hockey.
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Ester Ledecká (born 1995)
Ledecká is a professional Czech snowboarder and alpine skier. At the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, Ledecká won gold medals in the super-G in alpine skiing, and in the parallel giant slalom in snowboarding, making her the first person to win two gold medals at the same Winter Olympics using two different types of equipment. She was the second woman to win Olympic gold in two separate disciplines, but the first one to do so at the same Winter Olympics.