The photograph above was taken by Russian photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. It was a photo of the Headquarters of the Urals Railway Administration building in the City of Perm in 1909. Railroads were first introduced in Russia in the 1830s. By 1951 Russia had its first commercial railway that went from St. Petersburg to Moscow. By 1866 the country had over 5,100 km in railway network. In 1866 the Russian government set up an expansion plan that required railway companies to get authorized and become apart of the government expansion plan before continuing railway plans and production. This plan helped increased domestic production, especially steal rail factories that had produced hundreds of thousands of steel tons by 1899.
As the decades went on and as the century was coming to an end, Russia focused on an international railway through Siberia to the Pacific. This line was called the Trans-Siberian line and was designed to help protect Russia against foreign powers and would allow for greater immigration. Tsar Alexander III and Sergei Witte were the mass minds of this project. “He [Witte] saw the railway as part of a bigger scheme involving emigration and economic development and coordinated railway construction with other projects such as building a line from the Urals for metal products and re-equipping waterways crossing the route to deliver materials.” This project was difficult and had multiple interruptions but by 1911 the Trans-Siberian line was up and running.
Leading up to the fall of the Romanov dynasty in 1917, the government had growing concerns about the railways. The railways were losing money even though traffic was increasing. Along with decreased income, the railways in the early 1900s also brought corruptions and a rise in supply cartels. The government also saw benefits from the railways which included the transportation of goods and supplies including coal, grain, flour and timber. Russia also had more railways in 1913 than Great Britain which was important leading up to the first World War because it made Russia an important industrial power within the world.
The railways had a big contribution to the hundreds of thousands of peasants that were now living in cities that were built around the railways. These people were living in horrendous living circumstances. The people were beginning an up rise against the government. The railways were not the main cause for the 1905 Revolution but did have a great influence on it. Issues addressed in the 1905 Revolution include food shortages, worker strikes and a military uprising. According to Gregory L. Freeze the same issues continued to the quick fall of the Romanov in 1917. “Mobilization of manpower, industries, and transportation inevitably caused disruptions in the production and distribution of food with dire consequences at the front and at home” (Freeze 172). These were issues that Freeze said also contributed to the uprising in 1917.
1900s trans siberian railway line of russia
Russia, A History by Gregory L. Freeze (3rd Edition)
5 thoughts on “From Railways to Revolution”
I thought your perspective on the relationship between the revolution in the early 1900s and the railway system was really interesting. I think that the railways probably did help in terms of advancing and industrializing Russia, but it is interesting how the cities that grew up around cargo stops and area for supply pick-up were such terrible living conditions. Perhaps that is more the result of the country industrializing and growing, and not directly of the railways themselves, but I did think your perspective relating the railways with the growth of unrest in Russia interesting.
I like how you provide the reader with a brief history of the railroad and the positive impacts and benefits that it provided for the emerging Russian society. I definitely think that the railroad system was a major catalyst in the modernization and industrialization of the Russian empire because they increased the speed at which people could transport and acquire goods, especially since Russia was an extremely agricultural society before the railroad systems.
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I appreciate the fact that you brought up immigration as a major part to the Trans-Siberian railway. I feel like that was overlooked in many cases and the focus was more on expansion and industrialization. I really love the photo you chose- the architecture is beautiful! Also, well done with talking about how this affected peasant life rather than Russia as a whole. Great job!
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You’ve got insightful comments here so I’ll just add that I agree with Katelin – the architecture of the railroad HQ is pretty intriguing. I like how that suspended walkway (bridge) defines the industrial skyline in the background. And that photograph of the bridge on the Trans-Siberian is awesome!
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Interesting post! Considering Russia’s enormous size and richness in natural resources, it sounds like it would have been impossible for them to modernize without a railway system. I was surprised to hear that the cities around the railways were in such poor shape, considering that the railways were able to transport so many goods.