Antal Ripka, the forestry assistant's and Mária Szkalka's middle son, Ferenc was born on 1 September 1871 in Isaszeg. The father contracted pneumonia during a hunt and died in December 1877. The impoverished Ripka family then moved to Gödöllő. From here Ferenc Ripka came to Budapest, he studied at the Buda Scientific School, today the Ferenc Toldy Grammar School. For Ripka, who was living in difficult financial conditions, the Capuchins provided free lunch.
Portrait of Ferenc Ripka (Source: FSZEK Budapest Collection)
After graduating, he began his studies at the Technical University and then transferred to the Faculty of Law. His first job was at Ganz és Társa Iron Foundry and Machine Factory PLC (Ganz és Társa Vasöntő- és Gépgyár Részvénytársulat) in 1894, where he initially worked as a Hungarian-German correspondent, then moved up and up the ranks, and finally became the general secretary of the company manager.
At the request of the City Council, he held the position of Deputy CEO of Gázművek from 1910 and CEO from 1912. Prime Minister István Bethlen appointed him government commissioner of Budapest in 1924, and in 1925 he was elected mayor by the general assembly. Miklós Vécsey wrote about the former mayor in a book entitled One Hundred Valuable Hungarians, published in 1931:
“He loves this city the way the mayor of Budapest should love it. Such an enthusiastic, dutiful, social-minded, good person fits into the mayor's chair of Budapest. The valuable qualities of Ferenc Ripka must be recognised by everyone, whether they belong to either right-wing or left-wing parties. His love of justice, selflessness, modesty gives him respect in the town hall, he stands above parties and he cannot even think unilaterally.
There are hardly any simpler people in the capital than the first person of Budapest. He knows no ceremony, he does not pose, he despises fussy arrogance, he is direct, simple, has a gentle manner. A man who wants to do good to everyone and helps everyone he can. His face is encouraging, smiling, the serenity of good people sparkles in his eyes.”
Second inauguration and oath of the mayor Ferenc Ripka on 29 January 1931; recording by Gyula Schäffer (Source: FSZEK Budapest Collection)
Ferenc Ripka considered the consolidation of the capital to be his most important task and introduced several social measures. The public health situation in the capital has significantly improved, the number of hospital beds has been increased by 1,500 and the daycare home network has been established. With the development of health care, the average life expectancy improved by 7.7 years for men and 8.7 years for women, and with the expansion of educational institutions, the average level of education increased by 0.82 years.
On the initiative of Ferenc Ripka, the St. Stephen's Day series of events was introduced in Budapest in 1926. The picture was taken in 1938, at the Holy Right procession, in which Ripka also took part (Source: FSZEK Budapest Collection)
He also placed great emphasis on the development of tourism. On his initiative, the St. Stephen's Day series of events was launched in 1926, to show the Hungarian and foreign audiences the historical and artistic past of the Hungarian people, with spectacular parades, festive games and representative Hungarian plays by the theatres of Budapest. The first St. Stephen’s Day fireworks were also held that year, though not on 20 August, but the 21st. However, the short, few-minute attraction was not a great success at the time.
Ferenc Ripka retired on his own initiative in 1932, assuming social assignments until his death in 1944. Today, his memory is preserved by a small street next to the Óbuda gas plant, and his former residential building in the 1st District at 13 Gellérthegy Street can also be seen. The building was built 110 years ago according to the plans of József Fischer and Alfonz Detoma.
The former residential house of Ferenc Ripka at 13 Gellérthegy Street (Photo: Balázs Both/pestbuda.hu)A memorial plaque to the mayor, who was born 150 years ago, on the wall of his former residence (Photo: Balázs Both/pestbuda.hu)
Cover photo: The former residential house of Ferenc Ripka at 13 Gellérthegy Street (Photo: Balázs Both/pestbuda.hu)