Industrial Historical Geography

Russia's Industrial Revolution began during the 1700s. Before this time, manufacturing was done at home by hand, using simple machines.Most pre–Industrial Revolution artisans and skilled laborers worked in rural areas. They made the products needed by their family, friends, and those who lived in their village. The use of complex, expensive, and large power-driven machines took manufacturing out of the home and brought it into factories or mills. Factories were designed to bring together raw materials, machines, and workers to produce a marketable product. The factory system enabled more things to be produced at less cost. In two centuries, the Industrial Revolution changed Russia from a rural-agricultural society into an urban-industrial one. Russian workers were skilled and hardworking, but poorly paid. Products were sold at high prices. Profits were huge. Many early investors, bankers, and even noblemen became very rich. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Russian factory owners were called “capitalists,” or in some cases, “robber barons.”

The first of the six phases in industrial development occurred during the reign of Peter the Great (1696–1725). Numerous ironworks and factories were established with the aid of western European technicians. The two major centers of metal production were the Urals and Tula-Moscow. Imperial Russia became the world's leading producer of iron. Copper was mined and smelted in the Urals. Metal fabricating works were set up in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Nizhni Novgorod. Linen and woolen textile mills were established at Moscow, Yaroslavl, and Ivanovo. Glass, paper, and leather goods were manufactured in small factories throughout the empire. After Peter the Great's death, industrial growth and technical progress slowly fell behind that of western Europe and North America.

The second phase of industrial development began more than 100 years later. It lasted from 1860 until 1913. The American Civil War helped spark this period of rapid industrial expansion. Discovery of vast deposits of minerals and precious metals, combined with the world's need for foodstuffs, fueled the growth. Overall industrial production increased to 10 times its starting level. The most dramatic increases occurred between 1895 and 1913. Coal production increased by 100 times from 300,000 tons in 1861 to 29 million tons in 1913. Pig iron increased from 484,000 tons to 4.5 million tons. Steel production reached 4.6 million tons. In 1861, oil output was 30,000 tons. In 1913, it was 300 times larger, at 9 million tons.

At the dawn of the twentieth century, imperial Russia was the world's leading oil-producing nation. Moscow became one of the largest textile centers in the world. It produced nearly 30 percent of Russia's industrial goods. Tula and Lipetsk were the largest metal-fabricating centers. Riga became an engineering and shipbuilding center. The Eastern Ukraine Industrial Region was second only to the Moscow Region. By 1913, eastern Ukraine produced 70 percent of Russia's iron and fabricated more than half of its steel. Almost 90 percent of Russia's coal came from eastern Ukraine. By 1913, the Urals Industrial Region made only about 20 percent of the country's total iron and steel.

The third phase of industrial development began in 1928 with the first Five-Year Plan. It ended with the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.World War I, the Russian Revolution of 1917, the civil war, and the impact of War Communism destroyed large sectors of the industrial base. As a result, during the mid-1920s, much debate took place over how the Soviet economy should be rebuilt and developed in the future. It became apparent that, to survive, the Soviet Union needed industrialization on a scale far beyond anything ever before achieved. The Communist Party decided to begin a rapid industrialization program that concentrated on heavy industry. The long-term interests of the Soviet state were considered more important than consumer needs. This governmental decision defined the Five-Year Plans from 1928 on.

Little investment went toward consumer needs or agriculture. The first Five-Year Plan (1928–1932) strengthened preexisting industrial regions. The Five-Year Plans that followed expanded industrial production in the Ural Mountains and in the Kuzbass (Kuznetsk) region of western Siberia. Industrial growth during the 1930s was tremendous. By 1941, the Soviet Union was again one of the most powerful industrial nations in the world.

The fourth phase of industrial development was triggered by the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. A wholesale evacuation of industrial plants was undertaken in 1941 and 1942. An estimated 1,360 major industrial plants were relocated: 455 were sent to the Urals, 200 to the Volga River Valley near Kazan, 210 to western Siberia around Omsk, and 250 to Kazakhstan and central Asia. These relocated plants and the plants constructed during the 1930s primarily handled war material production. The Urals Industrial Region and the Kuzbass Industrial Region provided 75 percent of the country's coal, iron, and steel toward the war effort. A number of significant industrial shifts took place at this time, notably the development of the Volga-Ural oil field. It replaced the German-threatened Caucasus and Baku oil fields. The invading German Army destroyed the industrial base of Ukraine, the Baltic states, Belarus, and western Russia. Industrial recovery after World War II was difficult. In 1946, total industrial production was only 75 percent of the 1940 level.

The fifth phase of industrial development began in 1946. It continued unevenly until the Soviet Union broke up in 1991. Stalin insisted on maintaining the focus on heavy industry laid out in the first three Five-Year Plans. After Stalin's death in 1953, Soviet planners slowly increased the growth of consumer goods industries. Khrushchev and Brezhnev continued rapid industrial development. Between 1954 and 1974, industrial output increased more than 700 percent.More than 60 percent of all industrial growth since 1917 actually took place during the 1960s. The 1970s and 1980s brought the Soviet Union to industrial maturity. The country progressed beyond coal, iron, and steel production. It developed new sources of energy, new raw materials, and new products. Continuous technological advances boosted the economy. In the 1980s, the Soviet Union was the world's second-most powerful industrial nation.

The sixth phase of industrial development began in 1991, and continues to evolve. Russia is the most industrialized of the former Soviet republics. Still, Russian industrial output declined sharply after 1991. The 1993 level of output was less than two-thirds the 1989 level. The decline in Russian industrial output was related to:

  1. fewer defense contracts and military hardware needs;
  2. disruption of trade related to the breakup of the Soviet Union;
  3. decrease in demand for manufactured consumer goods;
  4. huge price increases; and
  5. decline in Russian consumer income.

Russia's industrial base (factories and mills) is technically old and generally run-down. It must be modernized if the country hopes to compete in the international market. In 2006, about one in five Russians was employed in industry (21 percent of total employment). Great internal struggles to transfer industry from a socialist, planned system to a capitalist free-market system continue to plague Russia.

In spite of all its problems, Russia remains one of the world's major industrial nations. Competing in a global economy, Russia manufactures products that include:

  1. a complete range of mining and extractive industry products such as coal, oil, gas, chemicals, and metals;
  2. machines that build machines (steel-rolling mills, high-performance aircraft, space vehicles, mills, and fabricators);
  3. shipbuilding;
  4. road and rail transportation equipment;
  5. communications equipment;
  6. agricultural equipment such as tractors, combines, and implements;
  7. construction equipment such as special trucks, earth-moving equipment, and road-paving equipment;
  8. electrical power generating and transmitting equipment (atomic electrical plants, dynamos, and pylons);
  9. medical and scientific instruments;
  10. consumer durables such as radios, television sets, refrigerators, and stoves;
  11. textiles;
  12. foodstuffs; and
  13. handicrafts.

Russia is a vast country with a great wealth of mineral resources. It has a well-educated workforce, a diverse industrial base, and eventually, it will make the transition to a modern world market economy.