Today in Transportation History – 1910: The Croatian Driver Becomes the Master

It was a unique case of a student teaching his instructors… In the Croatian city of Zagreb, Ferdinand Budicki took a driving test so that he could become eligible to operate an automobile in his native country. (Croatia, which was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time, eventually ended up  under the rule of Yugoslavia for much of the 20th century and in 1991 gained independence as the Republic of Croatia.)

Budicki, who was born in Zagreb in 1871, had learned how to drive an automobile in 1901 while living in Vienna and received his license there that same year. He even managed to leave a strong impression in Zagreb during that time when he returned to his hometown from Vienna in an 1899 Opel automobile. Motor vehicles were still very rare in that region of Croatia, so the arrival of Budicki in his Opel was indeed a novelty for many of Zagreb’s residents. He is generally considered to be one of the first – if not the first – to drive an automobile into Zagreb.

Over the next several years, Budicki re-established himself as a resident of his city where he was born. The era of the “horseless carriage” more fully caught up with Zagreb in 1910, when the city began requiring its own driver’s licenses for motor vehicles. Budicki, despite having already received such certification in Vienna nearly a decade earlier, was required to apply for a Zagreb-issued license. This led to an interesting dilemma: none of the civil servants assigned to handle the driving tests for the license knew how to drive. Consequently, seasoned motorist Budicki taught those civil servants how to operate an automobile so that they could then administer the driving tests to himself and others. Unsurprisingly, Budicki passed his own driving test; he was issued a license with serial number 1.

Budicki proved to be an automotive pioneer in other respects as well. In 1906, he founded the Croatian Automobile Society with about a dozen charter members; it was the first group of its kind to be established in that region of Europe. From 1910 to 1928, Budicki worked in the region as the general distributor for Ford Motor Company. Budicki’s other endeavors included launching both a taxicab service and bus line between Zagreb and the town of Sveti Ivan Zelina in 1929.

Budicki, who died in 1951 at the age of 80, likewise embraced other modes of transportation. He once assembled a bicycle that he then used for touring parts of both Europe and Africa, for example, and in 1905 he took to the skies above Zagreb in a hot-air balloon.

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