There is no
such word as 'impossible'!

Baťa's world in colour

Seen through the lenses of well-known photographers, Tomas Bat'a's Zlin was unimaginably advanced for its time. Almost as unimaginable as colour photography.

Let yourself be drawn into life in Zlín
full of colour!




In the early 1900s, the most respected crafts were those accomplished in a standing position. A cobbler's seated, frequently hunched, posture cast him as a social inferior. Tomas Bata strove to raise the status of shoemaking. Accordingly, most of the processes in his factory were modified over time in order to allow the workers to undertake their tasks upright.

Photo Josef Macháček

Source: SOkA Zlín, Zlín photo archive

Swipe over the photo


The construction of
Building 21


Building 21 was one of Europe's earliest 'skyscrapers.' Like many other Bat'a buildings, it was based on a vision that, at the outset, was technically unrealizable. The design notably included an air-conditioned office in an elevator for the company's director. The challenges were overcome through systematic testing of construction methods and materials. The building was completed in 1940 and remains fully functional today.

Photo Josef Vaňhara

Source: SOkA Zlín, Zlín photo archive, folder 1746, item 1


A visually coherent
factory complex


Tomas Bata's sketch of a factory building that was perfectly suited to its function was greeted with derision: critics said that it had less appeal than a basic Bat'a shoe box. But the buildings worked and the company thrived. Over the years, more than 50 of the modular, brick and concrete structures would be erected in Zlin, giving the city a uniquely uniform architecture and becoming in themselves symbols of national pride and prosperity.

Photographer unknown

Source: Starý Zlín




The pride in a job well done, the confidence gained through achievement, the independence earned through the mastery of a skill... These were among the most important lessons that the Bat'a School of Work sought to teach its students. By the late 1930s, some 6,000 boys and girls ages 14-18 were housed in the school's dormitories in Zlin. A typical day involved eight hours of work in the factory followed by two hours of lessons, with weekends set aside for leisure time, sports and hobbies. Jozef Kratky, shown in the photo, was an apprentice in the company's tannery.

Photographer unknown

Source: SOkA Zlín, Zlín photo archive, folder 14382, item 8


motor vehicle


Tomas Bat'a actively promoted leisurely walks during one's free time but speed was of the essence in any form of movement connected to work. A vast array of mechanical contraptions, including conveyors, elevators and vehicles, served to shift people and materials around the factory complex, avoiding even a minute's wasted time. In the photo, Lister's motor vehicle was dedicated to the transportation of machinery.

Photographer unknown

Source: SOkA Zlín, Zlín photo archive, folder 941, item 1


Installation of a track for window-washers at Building 21


Bata's concept of architecture aimed at the perfect marriage of function, design and technology. Every detail was considered. In this photo, a worker is installing a track intended for the sole purpose of safely carrying window washers and their supplies around the exterior heights of the 16-story Building 21, then one of Europe's tallest buildings.

Photographer unknown

Source: SOkA Zlín, Zlín photo archive, folder 15029, item 4


Young women


In 1930s Czechoslovakia, the concept of a well-educated and financially-independent young woman was inconceivable. A girl's future was determined by her parents. Foremost among their decisions was the selection of a suitable husband, largely based on his ability to provide for her. In turn, her appeal to acceptable candidates depended on the size of her dowry. The girls who graduated from the Bat'a School of Work upset all the norms: capable, self-sufficient and well aware of it. This jolly group is posing in front of Zlin's castle. 

Photo Josef Vaňhara

Source: SOkA Zlín, Zlín photo archive, folder 4572, item 2


Printing workshop


Tomáš Baťa understood the power of the media, both as a useful tool and as a dangerous weapon that could be wielded against him. In 1918 he established a company newsletter, printed in an internal workshop, in order to be able to communicate directly with his employees. Over time, this workshop evolved into a fully-fledged publishing business that produced a wide range of books and periodicals, as well as advertising materials for Bata companies worldwide. 

Photographer unknown

Source: SOkA Zlín, Zlín photo archive


in the gardens


Tomas Bat'a saw the ideal city as a self-contained organism that fulfilled its residents' needs for employment, social interaction and privacy, underpinned by an efficient infrastructure that ensured the provision of amenities such as health care, education and transportation. As an organized medley of shops, parks, offices and factory buildings, Zlin's 'Labour Square' represented the meeting point of the city's social and functional activities.

Photo Josef Vaňhara

Source: SOkA Zlín, Zlín photo archive




One of Tomas Bat'a's theories was based on the notion that a worker would only perform at his best if he had his very own comfortable and spacious home to return to after a hard day. Bat'a built thousands of such homes for its employees, in Zlin as well as in its 'satellite' factory towns. Occupancy was not free of charge but represented a fraction of the worker's income, thus a motivating factor. The photo is of the Letná Garden District in Zlin. 

Photo Josef Vaňhara

Source: SOkA Zlín, Zlín photo archive, folder 1909, item 1


the boss's son


Tomas Bat'a's only child, Tomik (aka. Thomas J. Bata), attended the Bata School of Work and was trained in the company's factories along with his classmates. The lessons served him well: under his management (1945-1985), the Bata company became the largest footwear business in the world. But he never forgot his origins as a shoemaker, and until his death displayed with pride his 'cobbler's thumb', which he could bend to a right angle as a result of his work 'skiving' (trimming) the edges of leather shoe uppers as a youth.

Photo Josef Vaňhara

Source: SOkA Zlín, Zlín photo archive, folder 354, item 1




The modular, brick-and-concrete design of Bata's buildings in Zlin was replicated in the company's factory towns in Europe and abroad. A bolder, more welcoming look was needed, however, for Bata's multi-story 'Houses of Services', essentially footwear department stores which, in addition to shoes, also offered pedicures, hosiery, polishing and repairs. The striking, signature design that evolved proved attractive to customers in its own right. A century later, many of these buildings are still occupied by Bata stores. The photo shows the team from the House of Services in Brno.

Photographer unknown

Source: SOkA Zlín, Zlín photo archive, folder 14650, item 14


The Bata School
of Work


The principal aim of the Bata School of Work was to supply the company with a reliable stream of employees at all levels, from factory workers to executives. While vocational training occupied the greater part of the curriculum, the students were also taught basic life skills such as languages, personal accounting - and the importance of relaxation. According to Bata's Personal Department, "We have no problem teaching people to work, we have a problem teaching them to rest." Everyone connected to the company was expected to have a leisure-time hobby. The photo shows the school's studio for model aircraft enthusiasts. 

Photo Petrůj

Source: SOkA Zlín, Zlín photo archive, folder 2327, item 1




Tomáš Baťa was fascinated by air travel, notably for its ability to move both people and goods quickly. The first plane was purchased in 1924. By 1931 the company owned eleven aircraft and was developing a 66-hectare airport at Otrokovice. It was from here that Tomas Bata travelled to India and the Far East, according to the New York Times "the longest and most ambitious business trip ever made by plane." A flying school was established in 1932, at which time the company also launched its own production of sports aircraft. In the photo mechanics conduct a pre-flight check on Bata's De Havilland Dragon. 

Photographer unknown

Source: SOkA Zlín, Zlín photo archive, folder 15466, item 18




Zlin's exponential growth and its reputation as 'America in Bohemia' brought visitors from all parts of the world to see the phenomenon for themselves. Among the visitors were ordinary tourists as well as politicians of every stripe and internationally recognized scientists and artists. They toured the factories, schools, housing developments and, after 1933, the 2000-seat cinema - Europe's largest. In this photo Tomáš Baťa is hosting the Chinese Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Tsiang Tsao Ping at his villa. 

Photo Josef Vaňhara

Source: SOkA Zlín, Zlín photo archive, folder 77, item 2




As Bata's operations expanded into different countries and regions, promising young men from these areas were invited to Zlin to be educated at the Bata School of Work. Founded in 1925, the school was Bata's approach to fighting poverty. Its teaching equipped the students with all the tools they would need to establish themselves as successful, independent professionals, including a familiarity with hard work. The photo shows students from the then Yugoslavia. 

Photo Josef Vaňhara

Source: SOkA Zlín, Zlín photo archive, folder 4533, item 1




Tomáš Baťa was a great admirer of science, technology and innovation in general. Any discovery that contributed to mankind's standard of living fascinated him, and he had temendous respect for those whose work pushed the boundaries of knowledge. He is pictured here with František Křižík, a pioneer in electrical engineering who electrified the Austro-Hungarian empire and built its first electric railway.

Photo František Evják

Source: SOkA Zlín, Zlín photo archive, folder 67, item 2


Manage a city
as you would a company


Tomáš Baťa, by far the largest employer in Zlin, first ran for its mayorship in 1923. His platform centred on the improvement of living standards in Zlin, particularly relating to public education, housing and health services. Detractors accused him of wanting to control the public administration entirely for the benefit of his company and his own personal wealth. He proved them wrong and, in fact, served as mayor for three terms. The photograph documents a demonstration shortly before the mayoral election in 1927, the communist candidate having just stabbed a fellow Zlin resident in the back. 

Photo František Evják

Source: SOkA Zlín, Zlín photo archive, folder 820, item 2


and trendy


Life in Zlin wasn't all about work. By 1937 the city included some 6,000 students, all of them keen to discover various kinds of sports and spend their free time doing 'modern' things. The photo shows a boy testing roller skates. 

Photographer unknown

Source: SOkA Zlín, Zlín photo archive, folder 6536, item 3


in the gardens


Tomáš Baťa was convinced that attractive, well-kept working and living environments had a tremendous influence on the calibre of an employee's output. To that end, Bata's factory complexes included gardens and lawns where there was never a leaf out of place, and the windows on all buildings were washed from top to bottom, every month, rain or shine. 

Photo Josef Vaňhara

Source: SOkA Zlín, Zlín photo archive, folder 1762, item 1