Economic History of European Russia 1796-1917

Note : the following text discusses the administrative history of the European part of the Russian Empire without Finland, Congress Poland and the Russian Caucasus, areas which are discussed elsewhere at WHKMLA.

Transportation Infrastructure
Note : the spelling of gubernias in Belarus, Ukraine applied here follows the English transcription of the Russian names as used in the 19th century.
Russia was blessed with a huge network of navigable rivers - the Volga, Don & Donets, Dnepr, Dnestr, Pruth, Bug, Livonian Dvina, Volkhov-Neva and Northern Dvina river systems, as many of their tributaries, notably the Oka and Kama in the Volga system, were navigable for much of the year; in the winter many rivers were frozen. This river system was complemented by a network of crude, unpaved roads, for instance the Vladimirka, the road connecting Moscow with Vladimir and Nizhny-Novgorod.
Peter the Great began work (1703-1722), on the connection of the Volga and Neva river systems (Mariinsk and Tikhvin Canal Systems, completed under Alexander I. in 1810-1811. In 1822 the Northern Ekaterininskiy Canal was completed, connecting the Kama (Volga system) and Northern Dvina; in 1829, under Nicholas I.,the Northern Dvina Canal, connecting the Neva and Northern Dvina river systems. Steam navigation on rivers such as the Volga developed from the 1850s onward (Falkus p.32).
Only in 1817 to 1834 was the first hard suface road constructed, connecting Moscow and Sankt Petersburg.
Railroad construction began in 1835-1836 with the line St. Petersburg-Tsarskoe Selo; by 1851 it was extended to Moscow. The combined length of the Russian Empire's railroad lines was 1,049 km in 1851, 1,628 km in 1860, 10,731 km in 1870, 22,885 km in 1880, 30,596 km in 1890, 53,234 km in 1900, 66,581 km in 1910, 70,156 km in 1913 (IHS pp.656, 659; data refering to the Russian Empire without Finland; until 1890 the figures relate exclusively, after that largely to European Russia and Congress Poland).

Large stretches of Russia are blessed by the fertile black soil. Traditionally, the main agricultural product was grain (wheat, barley, oats, rye); in the 18th century, potato cultivation expanded. Horticulture produced fruits (apples, berries, vegetables); cattle, horses, pigs, goats, sheep, poultry were kept, there was fishery, in the lesser densely populated areas hunting. Tobacco was cultivated; so was flax, providing the basis for a domestic linen industry, hemp, hop (essential for breweries). In the later 19th century, the cultivation of sugar beets expanded greatly, the basis for a sugar beet industry.
Catherine the Great called in settlers to cultivate vast stretches of land hitherto being used as pastorage, in the Ukraine region and along the middle Volga; many of those who came were Germans, Bulgarians, Greeks, Serbs etc.; this policy, continued into the mid 19th century, greatly affected Ekaterinoslav, Kherson, Taurida, Saratov Gubernias and Bessarabia Oblast. Odessa became the leading port for the regional grain export. The grain production of the Russian Empire from 1870 to 1894 grew by 70 %; potato production more than doubled, sugar beet production more than tripled (IHS p.295); the increase partially has to be explained by the expansion of the area under cultivation.
Certain economic activities were often associated with certain ethnic groups : beekeeping with Mordvinians, animal herding with Bashkirs, mining and metalworking in the Urals or Olonets Gubernia with (immigrant) Russians.
The liberation of the serfs, as decreed in 1861 (everywhere except in Estonia, Livonia and Courland whee the serfs had been liberated in 1816, 1819 respectively 1817, affected agriculture as the estate owners had to give away part of their land, and now had to hire workers. The peasants were unhappy with the land allotment of 1861; in 1906 the government pursued the policy of purchasing land from estate owners and selling it off to peasants (Stolypin's Land Reform).

Industries Processing Crops, Animal and Forest Products
According to statistical surveys taken in the 1880es, in many parts of Russia industries processing crops, animal and forest products, such as beet sugar factories, distilleries, breweries, match factories, sawmills, leather and tobacco processing factories, factories producing tar and tarpentine, dominated.

Textile Industry
The history of textile production in Russia is long; in the course of the 19th century it was more and more mechanized; cities such as Ivanovo emerging as centers of industrial textile production. In 1913, Russia's cotton-spinning industry ranked 4th in the world, her linen industry 3rd (Falkus p.13).

Mining Industry
Peter the Great realized the importance of the mining industry as a supplier of the arms industry. Soon Russia overtook Sweden as Europe's largest producer of pig iron, partially gained from iron ore, partially from swamp iron (for instance at Petrosavodsk, Olonets Gubernia). Discoveries of metal deposits in the Urals resulted in the emergence of a mining industry there, centered on Ekaterinburg (Perm Gubernia) and Slatoust (Ufa Gubernia).
The age of railroad construction required a boost for coal mining. In 1860, the Russian Empire produced 0.3 million metric tons of coal, in 1870 0.7 million, in 1880 3.3 million, in 1890 6.0 million, in 1900 16.2 million, in 1910 25.4 million, in 1913 36.0 million (IHS pp.418, 421; compare Falkus p.51).
In the later 19th century, Russia became a major producer and exporter of oil; as her oil industry was centered on Baku in the Caucasus region, it is not of concern here.

The Scale of Industrial Production
Meyers Konversationslexikon (1885-1892), a German language encyclopedia, refering to Russian statistical publications, in articles on specific gubernias provides data on the number of factories and the number of industrial workers, as of 1883.

Unfortunately some of the entries do not give the sets of data we are interested in. It seems that in most gubernias of European Russia, the average 'factory' has somewhere between 3 and 30 workers; only a few gubernias stand out, with an average of over 100 workers per factory : Vladimir Gubernia (textile industry) and Perm (mining industry), with others reaching figures between 30 and 100 workers per factory, notably Sankt Petersburg and Reval Gubernia, Kiev Gubernia, Tver, Kaluga and Oryol Gubernia (in the vicinity of Moscow, where we have to assume that a numbver of gubernias for which we have no data fall into the same category).
When examining these data, we have to take into account that they reflect the situation of 1882-1883, a point of time rather early in the history of Russian industrialization, as only the liberation of the serfs in 1861 provided them with the freedom to move into urban centers and take up jobs as industrial workers, and that in 1882-1883 the expansion of the Russian railroad network was still in full swing, far from reaching a point of saturation; the gubernias where the average number of employees per factory was high, were blessed by railroad connections, allowing them to export their products to distant markets.

Cottage Industries
The serfs had been liberated in 1861, and given a share of the land previously owned by their owners. This land was not handed out to individual farmers, but instead administrated by peasant communities called Mir. The income from that land was insufficient to feed the peasants and their families, so that many, in adition to working the land of the mir, were active in cottage industries; in Nizhny-Novgorod Gubernia 60,000 peasants alone were engaged in woodwork such as the production of wooden spoons, spindles, doormats; another 70,000 were engaged in metalwork, producing scissors, shaving knives etc. (Meyer on Nizhny Novgorod).

Currency and Banking
Ron Wise's World Paper Money shows images of Russian regular banknotes dating as far back as 1801. The State Bank of the Russian Empire was established in 1860. Russia introduced the Gold Standard in 1897.

Economic Policies
The Russian Empire was a customs union since 1753 (Falkus p.28). In consequence of the Polish partitions, Russia had become a major exporter of grain; the grain exports only increased when the black soil of Ukraine was turned into farmland from the late 18th century onward, with Odessa emerging as the main port for exports. However, technologically Russia lagged behind western and central Europe; the first railroad in Russia was constructed by an Austrian entrepreneur, the expansion of the Russian oil industry centered on Baku is associated with the (Swedish) Nobel brothers. Russia pursued a protectionist policy which, in the tradition of Mercantilism, provided incentives for immigrating entrepreneurs - if they were the first in their field, they had a huge protected market to serve. In the 19th century, Russia was a land of opportunities.
Occasionally, policies not regarded as economic proved harmful to the economy - Russification (1880-1905) alienated ethnic minorities (which in some cases may not even have been minorities in the region they dwelled in) and drove some to emigration; the pogroms against the Jewish population of cities in the Jewish Pale (since 1881) being the most notorious part of this policy. It also questioned the policy of religious toleration introduced by Catherine the Great in 1773.
Autocracy was not only interpreted as the right of the Czar to rule without interference of the people, but also as not being limited by the promises made / obligations entered into by his predecessors : when mandatory military service was introduced in 1887, it alienated groups of the population such as the Mennonites (who had immigrated in the late 18th century on the promise not to have to serve in the army) and the Doukhobors (who rejected the noton of taking an oath of allegiance on the secular state) and drove part of these groups to emigration. Occasionally there was reason for the sentiment that the authorities, be it tax collecting Cossacks or higher echelons, were above the law; the Encyclopedia Britannica refers to the "wholesale plundering of Bashkir lands under Alexander II.". Reports of that kind were not suited to instill potential investors with confidence.
Following the Franco-Russian Alliance of 1891, French investors invested in Russia, and among others contributed to financing the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

Articles Vladimirka, Volga-Baltic Waterway (Mariinsk Canal System) from Wikipedia
Categories : Canals in Russia, from Wikipedia
Kevin Fink, The Beginnings of Railways in Russia (1991)
A Global History of Currencies : Russia
The Cotton Textile Industry in Russia and the Soviet Union, by Dave Pretty
List of Match Factories in the Russian Empire, from The Virtual Matchbox Labels Museum
Ivanovo, from Shrinking Cities
The State Bank of the Russian Empire
DOCUMENTS Banknotes of Russia, from World Currency Museum, from Ron Wise's World Paper Money
Russia Coins, from Don's World Coin Gallery
Russia, from World Coin Catalogue
REFERENCE IHS : B.R. Mitchell, International Historical Statistics : Europe 1750-1988, NY : Stockton Press 3rd ed. 1992 [G]
M.E. Falkus, The Industrialisation of Russia 1700-1914, London : MacMillan (1972) 1984 [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on March 30th 2008, last revised on March 31st 2008

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