Sept/Oct 2006


The beginnings of the mining industry in Russia (Part 2)

By I.V. Toropitsyn

Coins stamped in Ekaterinburg in 1725-1727 according to Swedish pattern

Tatischev's contacts with Swedish scientists and inventors

Vassily Nikitich Tatischev (1686-1750) stressed that Swedish machines surpassed similar ones in other countries that were also interested in these machines. The English bought them from Polheim, who had brought them to England and showed them how they worked. He also insisted that the machines and their drawings be purchased by Russia, and suggested that Russian apprentices be sent to Sweden to learn how to operate these machines. Unlike earthen dams that required a lot of time and effort to be repaired, Tatischev informed them of a dam, designed and constructed by Polheim and made of timber, that could be repaired within several hours.

During the first half of the 18th century, most valuable technical inventions could not be given away by the masters who worked on them because they were under contract with their respective governments. Russian representatives in Sweden, including Tatischev, were told that this applied not only to masters and inventors, but also to high ranking officials. Thus, with permission of Empress Catherine I, Tatischev kept his negotiations with Swedish inventors secret. Though he used different reasoning, Tatischev could not convince officials from the Berg Collegium and the government that it was necessary to buy new machinery. He arranged to have drawings made of Falun mine and of all the machines he was interested in, but the Berg Collegium refused to pay.

At the end of the first quarter of the 18th century, Russia had numerous chances to equip its mining and metallurgical facilities with advanced Swedish technologies. Even coins in Russia were minted in the same pattern as in Sweden. Swedish inventors were ready to sell their machines to Russia and to train Russian specialists. Regardless of Tatischev’s strong recommendation that advanced technologies be used in Russian factories, the Russian government did not feel the same. However, they did agree to allow a wooden dam designed by Polheim to be constructed. Upon his return from Sweden in 1726, Tatischev spoke in detail at the Berg Collegium about the technical characteristics of the dam and its advantages over similar constructions made of earth and stone. Taking into account the urgent need for dams in Siberia and other places, the Berg Collegium asked him to prepare a drawing of the Swedish dam, and a carpenter was ordered to make a model.

The development of mining and metallurgy in the Urals and in Siberia

In the second quarter of the 18th century, considerable results in the technical equipment of metallurgy enterprises were achieved in Russia. Gennin launched steelmaking, tin making, tinplating, and other factories at Ekaterinburg plants. Thanks to him, metal-cutting machines and flattening mills borrowed from Saxony were introduced into the manufacturing process. Ural metallurgists had never used such machines. At the Lyalinsky plant, Gennin launched production of blue stone sulphate of copper).

In the Urals, Gennin built newly designed furnaces; they differed from the ones built under Peter the Great and were several times bigger than the old furnaces in Tula. The design of their upper part was changed completely, as well as the system of bellows in the furnace. The most powerful blast furnaces were installed at the Ekaterinburg plants. They smelted 270 poods (one pood is about 16 kilograms) of cast iron daily, while furnaces at the Nevyansky plant, built in 1701, smelted only 124 poods a day. Blast furnaces at Ekaterinburg were not only bigger than their English and Swedish counterparts, they were also more cost-effective. In Sweden, 300 to 350 kilograms of charcoal were necessary to produce 100 kilograms of cast iron; at Ekaterinburg, consumption of fuel didn’t exceed 172 kilograms per 100 kilograms of cast iron.

Blast furnaces in the Urals were made of fire-resistant stone. This building material was brought from “the Moscow River, which was hard and costly.” According to Tatischev, a mountain was found in Alapaevsk (named Tochilnaya Mountain) from which all the plants took stone. However, since deposits of this stone barely supplied enough for furnace building, it was decided to limit its extraction to only government workers. The important Ural industrialist Akinfy Demidov (1672–1745) objected to such practice, and wrote a claim against Tatischev to the Berg Collegium.

The mining administration in the Urals tried to find alternate sources of building materials for blast furnaces and promised an award of 100 rubles to the person who would find one. A peasant belonging to Baron Stroganov found a similar material nearby, downstream of the Chusovaya River. On June 6, 1736, Tatischev informed the Berg Collegium that a new furnace was to be constructed of this stone at the Utkinsky plant as an experiment. The plant belonged to Demidov and was the nearest to the deposit. A new furnace was built and launched in November 1735 and worked without any damage. However, Tatischev still thought that stone from Tochilnaya Mountain was the best for furnaces, because they only required repairing after seven years of operation. That is why he allowed free use of the stone from the Chusovaya River, while only public workers could get the stone from Tochilnaya Mountain for furnaces.

The level of technical development of mines in Russia at the end of the 1730s can be evaluated by looking at the list of technical equipment, made at one of Demidov’s plants. The Kolyvansky plant in Altai had six water wheels, which served seven pairs of blast bellows, three ore stampers, and one saw mill. In 1751, there were 14 water wheels at the Barnaulsky plant. They served eight pairs of blast bellows, two hammers, and two flour mill arrangements for grain milling, i.e. about 20 machines. In the middle of the 1730s, new machinery was installed at the Ekaterinburg plant. For example, a machine was made to cut metals in circles for coinage.

Searching for ways to improve Russian technology

Though the Russian mining industry in the second half of the 18th century approached the European level and, in some regards, was even more advanced, technology was still behind. There was no scientifically organized process at the time, and an increase of production was only achieved empirically. While inspecting state mines in 1734, Tatischev found out that at the Polevsky plant, metal was melted using outdated methods and a lot of copper was being left in the ore. He ordered the plant to sort the ore and melt it again. He reported the results of his experiments on smelting old ore dumps to Empress Anna Ioannovna.

Tatischev saw that the plants in the Urals, could not produce high-quality steel from ores. In October 1735, he wrote to the Academy of Science, asking them to study the problem, and suggested that the scientists should prepare and publish a detailed study on metallurgy, because such a book was necessary for Russian specialists. Besides, he asked for a manual or guidelines on steel production technology used in Germany and some samples of German ores. He was aware that the Germans published new books, which were beneficial both for plants and for the state. For example, in the Mining Charter of Saxony, adopted in 1713, it was mentioned that ore was profitable for working even when it had only two ounces of silver. In the Middle Ages, a vein was considered profitable only if it contained at least four marks of silver. Tatischev appreciated European experience, and even used the Bohemian mining charter as a basis for Russia’s.

Unfortunately, Tatischev’s suggestion to prepare a book on metallurgy was not realized because at that period, the Academy of Science didn’t have any scholars who could conduct necessary studies in metallurgy. Only when Lomonosov (1711–1765) came to the Academy, after having studied metallurgy, among other sciences, in Germany with a group of students in the 1740s, the situation in Russian metallurgy improved. He wrote a valuable scientific work entitled

In the first half of the 18th century, there were not many masters like A.K. Nartov (1693–1756) or S. Babin; they not only searched for ore but also smelted it, and even improved the construction of blast furnaces at the Uktussky plant. Many future Russian inventors were still going to schools established by Tatischev at mines and ironworks in the 1720s and 1730s. In spite of the interest of Peter the Great in the technical achievements of Europe, many special technical editions never appeared in Russia. In 1724, for example, two volumes of a fundamental study by Jacob Leipold, General Review of Machines and Review of Water-driven Machines, were published in Russia. Tatischev paid great attention to technical books. Upon request of the Berg Collegium and some other institutions, he brought ore samples and special technical literature from Sweden. He had in his library books on mechanics, mining, hydraulic engineering, optics, etc. Attaching great importance to disseminating technical knowledge in Russia, in 1737 he presented 617 books from his library to  mining schools in the Urals.

Tatischev spent the last years of his life in his mansion in Boldino near Moscow. In fact, it was a house arrest; he was charged with abusing his powers, but it was never proven. While in Boldino he corresponded with the Academy of Science and worked on his book on Russian history, which was published after his death.


The author acknowledges, with thanks, Alexandra Ustyugova of Astrakhan for the translation of the Russian text into English and to Fathi Habashi at Laval University in Quebec City for editing the translation.

Suggested readings

ASTRAKHANSKY, V.S., 1981. Catalogue of Tatischev’s library in Ekaterinburg in 1737. Cultural memorials. New discoveries: Literature, Arts, Archeology, Yearbook 1980. Science, p.17–31.

ASTRAKHANSKY, V.S., 1986. Technical book in the life of V.N. Tatischev. Scientific and Technical Libraries of the USSR, Moscow, N.8, p. 21.

PAVLENKO, N.I., 1953. Development of metallurgy in Russia in the first half of the XIIIth century—Moscow. p. 76.

TATISCHEV, V.N., 1990. Notes, Letters - 1717–1750. Science, 14, p. 103–104.

YUCHT, A.I., 1985. State Activities of Tatischev in 1720–1730s. Nauka Publishing House, Moscow, p. 66.

First Elements of Metallurgy and Mining and established the first chemical laboratory in Russia in 1748. Tatischev had already spoken of the need for such a laboratory when he was in Sweden.
Post a comment


PDF Version