Dobri Zhelyazkov (1800–65)

In 1834 Dobri Zhelyazkov (also spelled Jeliazkov or Zhelyazkovac) established the first textile factory to be built anywhere in the Balkan peninsula or the Ottoman Empire. He successfully introduced woollen manufacturing to the region but he died in poverty after his company was taken from him.

Zhelyazkov was born in the ancient town of Sliven in eastern Bulgaria when it was within the Ottoman Empire. After attending the local Greek school he began work as a weaver of woollen cloth. He showed an interest in improving techniques and devised a better method for carding wool. During the late 1820s, hostility between Russia and Turkey led to the war of 1828-9. Zhelyazkov took part in an uprising against the Turks and when Bulgaria remained part of the Ottoman-Turk sphere after the war he fled along the Black Sea coast to the Crimea peninsula (then part of Russia). In Crimea he married Mariyka Yanakieva, who was also a refugee from Sliven. He became a merchant trading in wool and cloth, which gave him an opportunity to travel around Russia studying the industrialisation of textile production.

In 1834 he returned with his family to Sliven and set up a small woollen factory with carding machines, spinning machines and looms that he had built for him on models he had observed. Production of woollen cloth was successful and during the next year he sought support from the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mahmud II. He was given a new factory building and machinery in exchange for supplying the Turkish army and administration with cloth at an agreed price. The factory was expanded again in 1842 with long, three-storey buildings. However, in 1845 the factory was taken over as the state broadcloth company. Other factories were established and Sliven became a centre of mechanised textile production. Although Zhelyazkov to lead the company he had built, his reputation was undermined by competitors and in 1853 he was forced out and sent to establish another factory for the government at the city of İsmit in Turkey, 100-km east of Istanbul. Although he returned to Sliven in 1856 he could not get back the rights to his business and he died in poverty. He is remembered in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, by a portrait bust in Borisova gradina park.