From the early inventions to the international group
When he created his very first surface lift, did Jean Pomagalski imagine that POMA would establish itself as one of the world leaders in ropeway transport by offering ever more innovative and leading-edge solutions? That these solutions would leave the mountain peaks to find their place in many fields, for various applications: sports, tourism, urban mobility or in the service of science and industry?
Relive the history of POMA through that of its creator…
Creation of Pomagalski company
First ski lift
First cable car
Pomagalski becomes POMA
Jean Pomagalski, born in 1905 in Poland, arrived in France with his family at the age of two. Fleeing Polish repression, Jean Pomagalski’s family found refuge in the Grenoble region, where his father quickly found a job in industry, which was booming during this period.
Jean Pomagalski adapted perfectly to his life in France, so much so that he chose French nationality. He was an exemplary student at “Vox”, the Vaucanson vocational school in Grenoble, in the “Building” section.
The first company, the first ropeway transport systems
In the 1920s, he created his own masonry company, “Entreprise Générale de Travaux Jean Pomagalski” and carried out the structural works for buildings in Isère.
An inventor at heart, he created his first ropeway in 1927 on one of his construction sites. Long before transporting skiers to the top of the slopes, this first aerial conveyor was used to transport materials more easily to the site of a hard-to-reach chalet in Saint-Hilaire-du-Touvet (France).
The creation of POMA
Passionate about skiing, Jean Pomagalski designed a new way of operating a “ski lift”.
In February 1934, after several years of research and testing, the first surface lift with a tow rod was installed in Alpe d’Huez (France), on the slopes of Eclose. It didn't look anything at all like today’s surface lifts! It was made using telegraph poles, an old truck deck and a used Ford engine. A system that looked wobbly but which nevertheless worked, marking an important milestone in the world of ropeways.
Jean Pomagalski worked to make the tow rods detachable so that they could be stored in the station and made available on request. In 1944, after several years and several stages of improvement, the engineer developed the bushing fastener, based on the principle of an elongated ring locked in line by lever effect. He then filed the patent “Improvements to traction or ropeway systems using endless cable”. This efficient system became popular and is still used today on most surface lifts with detachable tow rods.
Following the success of his invention, Pomagalski refocused the activity of his public works company on the assembly and marketing of his fixed and detachable surface lifts.
Faced with growing demand, on 11 December 1947, he created the public limited company Pomagalski, named after himself (which would become POMA in 2014).
of new ropeway products
The first chairlifts
In 1955, he embarked on the creation of a new, rather unusual system: a single-seat chairlift that could take skiers to the top of the Vioz slope, on the Planpraz plateau in Chamonix (France). Until the late 1970s, this system was the only way to access the Altitude 2000 restaurant from the Planpraz cable car station.
With the help of the army, two test chairlifts were installed in Les Arcs (in Savoie) before Pomagalski delivered his first two-seater chairlifts for the general public in Chamonix in 1960 at the Bossons Glacier.
The first gondola lift
Driven by innovation, he installed the first gondola lift in Val d’Isère (France) six years later, in collaboration with SIGMA Plastics, a manufacturer of polyester cabins (now a subsidiary of the Group). This first version of the gondola lift opened by hand. 50 years later, the Daille became the first gondola lift to be fitted with Symphony cabins in France during its renovation. It was not until a year later, in 1967, that POMA unveiled its first automatic gondola lifts in Les Menuires, in Savoie (France).
Pomagalski did not stop with the conquest of the French peaks. His first inventions quickly generated interest around the world, and many other countries began to order ropeway transport systems.
In the 1960s, Pomagalski SA was the leading supplier of surface lifts and chairlifts in Europe and generated 82% of its turnover through exports: United States, Canada, Middle East, North Africa, but also New Zealand, Australia and South America were turning to POMA inventions.
Jean Pomagalski’s death
His business was only at the start of its rise to prominence when Jean Pomagalski passed away on 8 July 8 1969 at Grenoble hospital, in a room with, at his request, a view of the Bastille de Grenoble and its aerial ropeway. A few years later, in 1976, the ropeway was renovated by POMA.
Jean Pomagalski left the reins of his company to Gaston Cathiard, an athlete and mountain lover, just like him. As the new face of POMA, the latter continued its development by following the same vision as its founder: an innovative company that works for the benefit of users and remains resolutely international. In 1977, POMA became the world leader in ropeway transport with 80 gondola lifts, 300 chairlifts and 3,500 surface lifts installed in 39 countries. In 1980, he was succeeded by his son Jean-Pierre Cathiard.