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Why the Mining University was named after Catherine the Great 130 years ago

Горный университет
© Горный институт

On November 6, 1896, the oldest technical institute in Russia held a solemn meeting on the occasion of the centenary of the death of Catherine the Great. The Minister of Agriculture and State Property Alexei Ermolov read out the decree of Nicholas II, according to which the educational institution was to be named the "Mining Institute of Empress Catherine II".

"In commemoration of the hundredth anniversary since the decease of the blessed memory of Empress Catherine II., the great Foundress of the Mining Institute, and as a reward for the useful activity of this educational institution in the exploration of mineral riches of Russia and the development of mining and mineral industry in Russia, the Emperor hath deigned imperiously to name this institution the "Mining Institute of Empress Catherine II." Announcing this Monarch's favour, I cannot fail to recall that the Mining Institute, one of the glorious monuments which the Great Empress left to herself, in the course of its 123 years of existence supplied the fatherland with several generations of learned and useful workers, whose knowledge and labour helped to advance and enrich mining science and to expand and improve Russian mining science. (...) Encouraged by success and in conscious of the necessity of further strenuous efforts and steady care for the development and prosperity of mining enterprises in the Empire, may the Mining Institute continue to serve as a breeding ground for such enlightened and useful figures, who by their knowledge and love of the mining profession would always meet all the requirements Thus, the Institute will become worthy of the name of the Empress Catherine II, as well as of the high favors bestowed upon it by the now reigning Emperor Nicholas Alexandrovich," announced the minister.

According to witnesses, the speech was greeted "with enthusiastic applause of the students and professors present at the Institute, as well as dignitaries and honorary guests invited to the meeting." Among them were Konstantin Posiet, a member of the State Council, comrades (deputies - ed.) Minister of Agriculture and State Property Alexander Naryshkin and Minister of the Interior Alexander Ikskul von Guildenbandt, Chairman of the Russian Technical Society Nicholas Petrov, the chief head of military schools Nicholas Makhotin, the manager of the Cabinet of His Imperial Majesty Paul Gudim-Levkovich, St. Petersburg Governor Count Sergei Tol and Director of the Mining Department Nicholas Denisov. In addition, the meeting brought together miners and scientists from among the former pupils of the Institute. Her Imperial Highness Princess Eugenia Oldenburgskaya also graced the event with her presence.

© Торжественный молебен в Церкви Макария Египетского Горного института в 1896 году/ Церковь в наши дни

The name of the Empress in the name of the university was not only a tribute to Catherine the Great, but also an appreciation of the scientific and educational activities of the institution.

"The whole XIX century was a period of rapid development of the country's mineral industry - extensive work on the study of the geological structure of Russia was undertaken, laws and reforms were implemented, which contributed to the emergence of new mining enterprises and the expansion of the existing fields and factories. Drawing of a general geological map of the Empire, research in the Donetsk coal and Apsheron oil basins, explorations along the Great Siberian Route, expeditions to the Far North and East of the European and Asian continents, as well as search for new deposits of various minerals - these are the main scientific works, in which the Institute graduates participated", - Minister of Agriculture and State Property Alexei Yermolov enumerated the successes of the graduates.

The solemn meeting of the Institute was continued by a speech of the Inspector and Lecturer of the Mining Institute, actual state councilor Apollon Loransky, who in a prepared historical essay described the contribution of Catherine the Great to the development of the mining industry and explained assigning her name to the educational institution. In her notes, Catherine the Second repeatedly expressed the wish that:

"Russia should flourish in industry, art and science, that she should take an honorable place among European countries, but that all this should be done by the Russian people."

The establishment of a higher school of mining was not a whim, but was caused by the urgent needs of the mining industry, which at a time when in Russia there were almost no other manufactures, represented, according to the Government itself,

"one of the most important sources of state and national wealth of the Empire and one of the most extensive branches of industry."

That is why Catherine II undertook a large number of political, legislative and administrative measures aimed at its development.

Thus, the Empress drew attention to the plight of the workers at the mining plants, especially at the state enterprises, transferred by Elizabeth to various nobles - Shuvalov, Vorontsov, Chernyshev and others. She ordered to return the factories back to the treasury, to determine the compulsory work for the workers, the order and timing of its performance, to double the wages, to eliminate the right of the factory workers to punish the workers at their own discretion.

Aware of the need to introduce iron smelting using fossil hot metal, Catherine Alekseevna built the Lugansk factory, which became the first attempt to establish iron smelting in the southern part of the country.

Луганский литейный завод
© Луганский литейный завод в XIX веке
© Форпост Северо-Запад / Каменноугольная копь в Юзовке (Донецк), конец XIX века

In the north of Russia at her will was created the Alexandrovsky metallurgical plant, which became the center of the Olonetsky district. In this way the empress was able to restore the "iron industry" that had developed quickly and successfully in the north under Peter the Great and had fallen into a deep decline after his death.

Well aware of the importance of the coal industry, Catherine II brought from England masters familiar with the development of coal deposits, and she began mining fossil fuels in Novgorod Province and the Urals.

Often the Empress had to personally intervene in the management of this or that mining district or enterprise, to understand the situation and to appoint managers. Moreover, she always acted quite independent of the influence of her advisers. As Alexander Brickner, the compiler of the History of Catherine II, wrote, "she was her own minister, she exclusively owned the initiative in both foreign and domestic policy," said Apollon Loransky.

© Конференц-зал Горного института в конце XIX века
© Форпост Северо-Запад / Конференц-зал в наши дни

The industrialist and scholarly guests in attendance also cited numerous examples of the monarch's involvement in the development of the mining industry. One of the most vivid illustrations of the sovereign's enterprising nature was shared by Nikolai Yossa, professor emeritus of the university and a state councilor.

When in 1785 the mining operations at the Altai Plants were in decline, Catherine sent the first director of the Mining School, Mikhail Soymonov, and the manager of the Mint, Gavriil Kachka, who she knew personally to inspect them. Upon his return, she appointed the latter head of the Kolyvano-Voskresensk plants. The result of these orders was the rapid recovery of production, with silver smelting reaching 1,000 poods, instead of the 400 and 600 poods that the enterprises had previously produced.

The mining industry achieved tremendous success in the nineteenth century and received in many countries of the world a level of development that the most ardent minds of the technicians of the last century could hardly dream of. As if foreseeing this, by establishing the School of Mines, Catherine II helped the development and prosperity of the mining industry in our country. "The importance of this step could not hide from her perspicacity", said the scientist.

As recalled the director of the school and a member of the Mining Council, Valerian Meller, in 1773, as a sign of communication with the Empress of the first 54 students of the school received the right to wear scarlet coats with white lapels, on the silver epaulettes which had her official monogram. They were trimmed with gold trim on the lapels, collar and cuffs. In addition, the costume of the student included a dirk in a white bone scabbard with a silver knot.

Горный институт
© Форма студентов Горного училища/ Горного института

"Our Institute has always sacredly honored the memory of its august, great Founder, whose glorious, immortal name is now inseparably linked to his by the highest will. He could not have expected a better reward for his 123 years of activity. On behalf of the council and of all the employees and students of the Mining Institute of Empress Catherine the Great, I take this opportunity to express to the Emperor our gratitude for the kindness shown to the Institute which will remain indelibly imprinted on our hearts and will encourage us with redoubled zeal to continue to serve the mining industry and Russia, so dear and immense to us all." - Valerian Meller, the director of the school, summarized.

Горный институт
© Горный институт

Unfortunately, the Mining Institute bore the honorary name only for a little more than twenty years. The revolution of 1917 made inevitable adjustments - in keeping with the spirit of the time and its realities, the institute was named after Georgy Plekhanov. The reasons were purely formal - the Marxist theorist studied at the university until his second year, when he was expelled.

Today, on the eve of the 250th anniversary of its founding, the idea of returning to the traditional version - "St. Petersburg Mining University of the Empress Catherine the Great" was more and more clearly heard. As a tribute to history and to the founder, "by whose sovereign will the university was founded", and also as a reminder that the extractive industry, as in the "golden age" of the Russian Empire remains a fundamental branch of the state economy.

On April 21, 2023 the Academic Council of the Mining University voted for the renaming of the university to "St. Petersburg Mining University of the Empress Catherine the Great."

Екатерина II
© Форпост Северо-Запад