The first traces of settlement at the location where the industrial town of Kopřivnice later grew up can be dated back to the Bronze Age. There is clear evidence of a settlement of the Lusatian urn field culture during the late Bronze Age (around the 9th century BC) at the site of a well (now known as ‘Šutyrova Studánka’) on the slopes of the Červený Kámen hill. Archeologists have also found traces of an urn field settlement dating from the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age (1200–1000 BC), as well as remnants of an early Iron Age Celtic settlement from the 2nd century BC.
The village of Kopřivnice was founded shortly after the construction of the nearby castle of Šostýn (Schauenstein), between 1280 and 1290. The castle only existed for a relatively short time, from the late 13th century to the first half of the 15th century; the oldest surviving written mention of it dates from 1347. It was established by Count Heinrich von Hückeswagen. The surrounding estate remained in the hands of the Hückeswagens until 1307. The castle belonged to the Archbishopric of Olomouc (Olmütz), and it was often granted as a fief to feudal lords. One of its best-known custodians was the Bishop of Olomouc Nikolaus von Riesenburg (around 1389), who took a liking to the castle and frequently stayed there. In 1404 the castle was besieged by Polish soldiers, but shortly after 1420 it was retaken by the Bishopric’s forces, who returned the castle – by now devastated by fire and partly demolished – to its rightful owner. However, the ruined structure was never repaired, and it fell into dereliction.
Almost no part of the Czech lands escaped the tumultuous military conflicts of the 17th century, and Kopřivnice was no exception. On 5 October 1621 the village was attacked by rebels from Wallachia. In 1626–27 it suffered greatly during a Danish invasion, and in 1642 and 1645 it was plundered by Swedish forces. In an attempt to increase agricultural production, the local lord imposed much heavier compulsory labour duties on his subjects, which ultimately led to revolts. The first such uprising broke out on 19 May 1643 near Váňův Kámen, but it ended peacefully. Another uprising followed in 1695, when subjects revolted against the governor of the estates, Maximilian Harasovský z Harasova; on 26 June a total of 1500 serfs gathered to protest against his harsh rule. After protracted negotiations, compulsory labour duties were eventually reduced – though the lords soon once again began to increase the burdens placed on their subjects.
In the following decades the local people continued to suffer numerous privations – natural disasters, poor harvests, epidemics, poverty and hunger. The turning point in Kopřivnice’s history came in 1812, when Ignác Raška – a member of the local gentry – established a factory producing pottery and earthenware goods. The works initially produced plates, vases, jugs and mugs, and the range was gradually expanded to include wall and floor tiles and tiled stoves. The factory built up a reputation for quality, becoming renowned throughout the entire Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was finally closed down in 1962 after a century and a half of production.
In 1850 a new factory was established by Ignác Schustala to manufacture carriages and buggies. Initially based in the reeve’s house, the factory soon launched a major programme of expansion – starting in 1860–1862 and culminating in 1873. Schustala also began manufacturing railway carriages, and Kopřivnice enjoyed a dynamic industrial boom.
In 1891 Schustala came to an agreement with the Viennese banker David von Gutmann to transform his business into a joint-stock company and issue shares. However, Schustala died in Vienna on 29 January 1891 before the details of the transformation could be finalized, and the company passed into the control of his sons. The golden age of the Kopřivnice carriage works came to an end with the production of the first motor car at the end of 1897. Besides constantly expanding its production of railway carriages, the company also began to branch out into new areas, inspired by the invention and development of the motor car. The first car made in Kopřivnice became known far beyond the borders of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the ever-growing workforce brought the need to build new residential blocks in the village. Kopřivnice soon lost its rural character, and in 1910 it officially gained the status of a township.
In 1919 the company’s ‘Type U’ car was tested in the High Tatra mountains of Slovakia. The state-of-the-art new vehicles were sometimes likened to the majestic local peaks, and the name ‘Tatra’ eventually stuck. In March 1919 the first Tatra-branded cars left the factory gates, and the company embarked on its meteoric rise to global fame.
On 10 October 1938 Kopřivnice was occupied by Nazi forces. The eventual liberation by the Red Army on 6 May 1945 kick-started a period of rapid growth, and in 1948 Kopřivnice was finally granted full town status.