Nikolay Ivanovich Putilov (1820–80)

Nikolay Putilov was an important figure in defence, industry and engineering in Imperial Russia during the mid-nineteenth century. As a metallurgist and engineer for the state he developed munitions and defence facilities and later, as a businessman at St Petersburg, he advanced Russia’s iron, steel and transport industries.

Putilov came from a noble family near Novgorod in western Russia. He trained at the Sea Cadet Corps at St Petersburg. When he graduated at the age of 20 he became a mathematics teacher at the Corps and started research on ballistics. In the next few years he worked for the engineering corps in the Crimea and for the naval shipbuilding department at St Petersburg. During the 1850s he built floating docks, designed improvements to the gunpowder factory at Kronstadt on the Baltic and directed a marine engineering workshop, producing 67 steam gunships and 14 corvettes.

In 1857, when he was in his late thirties, Putilov left the military to develop business interests. He organized iron smelting in Finland using bog iron deposits transported on the Saimaa Canal. He set up iron foundries, made technical improvements in refining metals and manufacturing artillery shells and was the first manufacturer in Russia to produce steel from scrap metal. In 1863, in partnership with the engineer Pavel Obukhov and entrepreneur S. G. Kudryavtsev, he established a specialist foundry to produce naval and field guns, armour-piercing shells and crucible steel. He bought the Kirovsky ironworks at St Petersburg in 1868 (renamed Putilovsky) and expanded it to employ 2,000 people. It became the largest producer in Russia of rails and freight cars, aiding the expansion of the railway network vital to the empire.

He planned to develop integrated water and rail transport at St Petersburg in the 1870s, establishing a new joint-stock company for the purpose. He built a new commercial harbour at Gutuevsky Island in St Petersburg and a railway to link his factories to the docks. Connected to this, he began a major project for the 30-km Morskoy ship canal to allow large sea-going vessels to enter St Petersburg’s ports. When he died in 1880, before the canal was completed, he was buried at his request close to his engineering works on Gladky Island, in a place with a view over his plant, his port and the Morskoy Canal.