In his popular memoirs, the eminent Polish economist, rector of the Jagiellonian University, two-time Austro-Hungarian Treasury Minister and minister in Jan Paderewski's government, Leon Biliński, described Zygmunt Lewakowski as one of the richest Poles and called him a Polish billionaire. Who was Zygmunt Lewakowski - a man whose bold visions were ahead of the era in which he lived?
Lewakowski was born in Snopków in the Lviv district on 15 November 1865. He was the son of Władysław Lewakowski, a landowner, and Zofia Longschamp de Bérier, who came from a famous family in Lviv (of French origin). He was orphaned by his father at an early age. Faced with a family tragedy, her mother sold the estate and moved to Lviv with little Zygmunt. In the Galician capital, Zygmunt attended a state secondary school. After graduating from this school and receiving his high school diploma, he decided to try his hand at the Faculty of Law at the University of Lviv.
After completing his studies, he began working in an oil mine in the famous Słoboda Rungurska (where Stanisław Szczepanowski already had his plant), launched in 1883 by a well-known Galician oilman, Zygmunt's uncle and his legal guardian after his father's death, Karol Lewakowski. It is worth noting that Karol Lewakowski was the owner of a thriving enterprise "Lewakowski i Ska" and went down in the history of the Galician oil industry as the founder and owner of several mines (apart from Słoboda Rungurska, he owned oil fields in Boryslav and Iwonicz).
Under the supervision of his uncle, Zygmunt gained knowledge and experience, which in time helped him take over the management of the Sloboda mine. At the age of thirty-eight, he launched a company registered under the name of Petrolea in Boryslav (the registered office of the joint stock company was in Vienna).
It specialised in transporting oil by pipeline to remote reservoirs, refineries and railway loading stations. This was a truly pioneering solution for the time, although the success of Petrolea contributed to a decline in the price of Galician oil over time.
Because of his professional successes, Zygmunt Lewakowski became a leading figure in the circle of Galician industrialists involved in oil extraction and processing. This led to his election in 1907 to the board of the National Oil Association, a major organisation at the time comprising the largest players in the Galician oil market. In December 1916, he became a member of the presidium of Związkowe Zakłady Gazoliny i Gazu Ziemnego Sp. z o.o. [Union Gasoline and Natural Gas Works Ltd.], a company which soon, in the reborn Poland, was transformed into an enterprise registered under the name of Gazolina Spółka Akcyjna [Gasoline Joint Stock Company].
Still during the war, Lewakowski used his unrivalled position among Galicia's oil workers to create a number of activities to rebuild the eastern Galician oil industry, destroyed as a result of the military operations in the region and the Russian occupation. After Poland regained independence, he established two key companies for the gasification of southern Poland. The first one registered under the name "Gazy Wschodnie" [Eastern Gases] was based in Lviv, operated its own modern refinery and held shares in oil mines located in the Skhidnytsia area. A second twin company was set up in Kraków and was called "Gazy Zachodnie" [Western Gases]. It was involved in the construction of gas pipelines from the Jasło and Krosno areas to Tarnów and Rzeszów.
Lewakowski invested his considerable fortune from oil sales and distribution in other sectors of the economy. For example, he became a shareholder in the sugar factory in Chodorów (Khodoriv), which was launched in the second half of 1913.
Lewakowski's business partners in this project were Count Franciszek Zamoyski and another oilman, the former Austrian Minister for Galicia, Władyslaw Długosz. The importance of this project is reflected in the cost of the investment, which is estimated at a staggering 6.5 million crowns.
Another proof of Zygmunt Lewakowski's entrepreneurial genius was his involvement in the financial and banking sector. He established and managed the banking house "Robert Goldschnid & Comp.", which gained an excellent reputation. In addition, from 1910 Lewakowski was a member of the liquidation committee of Bank Parcelacyjny [Allocation Bank]. In the 1920s he headed Polski Bank Przemysłowy [Polish Industrial Bank] and was one of the initiators of the establishment (in 1922) of Bank Austro-Polski [Austro-Polish Bank].
The bank was established thanks to the excellent business relations between the people of Lviv and, more broadly, of the Malopolska region, and the Austrian entrepreneurs operating in the territory of the former capital of the Habsburg monarchy. He also used his vast knowledge as a director of Towarzystwo Wzajemnych Ubezpieczeń [Mutual Insurance Society] "Wisła" (associated with the Polish peasant movement) before the First World War.
During the years of Galician autonomy, he sat on the boards of the Lviv Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which decided the direction of economic development in Eastern Galicia. In this institution, he represented large industrial companies: he looked after the interests of the oil circles connected with the Boryslav-Drohobych basin. Levakovsky had his permanent residence precisely in Borislav, where he was deputy director of the Chamber of Employers. On behalf of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in March 1919 he attended a conference in Warsaw organised by the Ministry of Public Works and devoted to the rebuilding of Poland from war damage.
After achieving professional and financial success, Lewakowski devoted much of his energy to public life. He became involved in political affairs: his first success in this field was his election in 1908 to the Diet of the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria. In the regional Sejm assembly, he represented the Sambor district. Five years later he sought re-election, however this time he was unsuccessful. A little earlier, in 1911, he was preparing to run for the Austrian parliament.
Initially, his opponent in the Gródek-Sambor constituency was the prominent politician Władysław Dulęba. Not wishing to compete with the Austrian ex-minister, he withdrew from the race for a seat on the Imperial Council. In the end, Dulęba won a seat as an appointed life member, and from the Gródek-Sambor constituency the long-time secretary of the Lviv Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Władysław Stesłowicz was elected to the parliament.
Lewakowski's political sympathies tended towards the Polish People's Party (PSL), with which he had been associated since the beginning of the 20th century. He was a close friend and collaborator of Jan Stapiński. Therefore, when the PSL split, he joined its left-wing faction. He continued his adventure with politics after Poland regained independence. In the parliamentary elections of 1922, he successfully ran for the Senate from the list of the Christian Union of National Unity. In Parliament, he represented the voters of Stanisławów voivodship. After two years as a senator, he resigned his seat. The reasons for this step are unknown, although they may be linked to his frustration with Polish politics as from then on he ceased his political career.
Lewakowski continued his pro publico bono activities, which he also carried out back in the Galician period. His activities were characterised by great sensitivity to national and humanitarian issues.
Fascinated by his uncle Karol, he also supported financially and organisationally one of the fundamental institutions for the Polish nation operating in Western Europe, namely the Polish Museum in Rapperswil, Switzerland. Zygmunt Lewakowski was even a member of its supervisory board. In the years of the Great War, he supported the idea of Polish legions. This was reflected in systematic donations to the Polish Legionnaires and the Supreme National Committee. Lewakowski also went down in the history of the Polish Sokół society. In May 1914, he donated a two-morgen plot of land at the sanatorium and health resort in Pustomyty (near Lviv), with a brick building that could be used to organise summer camps for children and scouts from Lviv.
During the Great War, he served as an officer in the Austrian cavalry. Almost as soon as one war ended, he found himself caught in the midst of another. Together with his sons, he took part in the Polish-Ukrainian war for Lviv and Eastern Galicia, for which he was awarded the Cross of the Defence of Lviv, as well as the "Orlęta" [Eaglets] medal.
One of Lewakowski's greatest passions was flying. He was forward-thinking and turned his dreams into action. In 1909, together with several other prominent figures from Galicia, he initiated the "Aviata" association, which was part of Związek Techniczno-Lotniczy [Technical and Aircraft Association]. Its purpose was to promote and develop the balloon and aviation movement in Lviv and Galicia in general. Since 1910, "Aviata" initiated the first balloon and aeroplane flights over Lviv.
In 1929, he decided to withdraw from public life. Such a radical decision was influenced by a looming economic depression, which shook the financial foundations of Polski Bank Przemysłowy that he managed. Shortly afterwards, he moved to his son's, Karol in Zakrzów near Wadowice. During his well-deserved retirement, he devoted himself to collecting antique weapons.
During his stay at the manor house in Zakrzów, he pursued his love for painting and art. This passion traced back to the times when he was involved in the work of the local Society of Fine Arts in Lviv. He was even a member of its board for some time.
He died in Kraków in April 1941. He was buried in a family tomb in the Rakowicki Cemetery. In addition to his son Karol, he had four other children: sons Jakub and Ignacy and daughters Oktawia and Stefania. A dramatic fate befell his son Ignacy, who was imprisoned by the Germans in the Kraków prison on Montelupich street, and later sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in June 1942, where he died on 16 July the same year. Speaking of his family, it is worth noting that Zygmunt's uncle was August Lewakowski, a participant in the January Uprising, a member of the Parliament in Vienna, and a distinguished mayor of Krosno, who had one of the streets of this city named after him.