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How a White Guardsman Obtained the Stalin Prize and Became Director of MISIS Institute

© Фото: Моисей Наппельбаум

The number of people who left Russia after the Civil War of 1917 reaches 2.5 million. For the most part, they were military, scientists, doctors, teachers, engineers, in general, intellectuals - creative, humanitarian and technical. A year later, the Soviet authorities faced a personnel famine and announced an amnesty for "persons who had participated as ordinary soldiers in White Guard organizations." All those who had been "deceived or forcibly drawn into the struggle against Soviet power" were forgiven. The state needed educated people capable of raising the ruined industry.

Probably for this reason, the red terror, which broke out after the White Army left Crimea against the remaining officers, soldiers and civilians, did not affect the head of the Mining Department in the Office of the Government of Peter Wrangel - Alexander Terpigorev. He did not want to leave his homeland, consciously went over to the side of the Soviet power and later became one of the greatest scientists in the field of mining in Russia.

Alexander Mitrofanovich was born in 1873 in Tambov in the family of an impoverished nobleman who squandered his fortune and abandoned his offspring. As a result, the boy spent his childhood in a small outbuilding in the garden of his relatives, helping his mother to earn a living by stuffing cigarettes and mending linen for the Zemstvo hospital. Soon the parent died of consumption, and Sasha was enrolled in a boarding house "Society for the benefit of poor gymnasium students and realists". In fact, in an orphanage. It seemed that inherited from his father's surname as if an evil fate haunted him.

After the parochial school Terpigorev graduated from the Tambov real school and, having saved money by tutoring, went to St. Petersburg to enter a higher educational institution.

© Из книги Розентретера Б.Л.

The young man chose the Mining Institute, the only one providing the country's industrial enterprises with highly qualified mining engineers. Out of 300 applicants, only 30 were enrolled, including Alexander Mitrofanovich.

сулинский завод
© Сулинский завод, 1900 год

He first came to the enterprise after his third year of study when he asked the university director to make an exception and let him go to the mines of Donbass for three months instead of the usual 4-5 weeks for practical training. At the Sulinsky Mining and Metallurgical Combine he was engaged in the survey of the most remote deposits and determination of those suitable for exploitation. Besides, Alexander Mitrofanovich familiarized himself with production techniques and peculiarities of miners' work in underground conditions.

The working conditions made an indelible impression on the student. In dark mine workings miners manually beat out coal, shoveled it into "sledges", which moved on skids in the mine face by the effort of one worker, crawling on all fours to the nearest drift. There the coal was shifted into wagons, which were rolled back to the shaft by hand or at best with the help of horses blinded from long stay in the darkness. Later in his book "Memories of a Mining Engineer" he wrote that what he saw underground "turned out to be much worse than what my imagination had created". Even then, the ambitious young man wanted to make every effort to make the miners' labor easier and more efficient. At the time, of course, he lacked experience, knowledge and influence. But this thought was firmly lodged in Terpigorev's head.

The management of the Sulinsky plant invited the trainee to work at the end of the institute. In 1897 he became the assistant manager of the plant's mining enterprises, and a year later he replaced his boss.

At the end of the XIX century a new fuel and metallurgical industry was actively forming in the region, which was promoted by the construction of railroads, development of ferrous metallurgy on the basis of rich local ores and coals, as well as the inflow of foreign and Russian capital. Concentration of production and coal mining were constantly increasing. In 1900 Donbass gave 68% of the total figure for the country. Moreover, within 10 years this figure increased by 20%.

© Коксовый цех, 1900г. (сейчас Донецкий коксохимический завод)

But the enrichment of investors had no effect on the situation of workers and modernization of processes. Any aspirations of Terpigorev to introduce innovative measures into the technique and organization of mining were met with the stubbornness of entrepreneurs. The engineer languished in the technical backwater of the Russian mining industry and thought about changing his job. The workers of the plant, having learned about the manager's departure, wrote to him: "You were for us an equal member of the mine army, bringing light into our gray mine life". Terpigorev considered these lines as the highest evaluation of his three-year activity at the enterprise.

From the newspapers Alexander Mitrofanovich learned about the search for teachers at the Ekaterinoslav Higher Mining School (now - Dnepropetrovsk National Mining University), which was purposefully built to provide technical personnel for the South of Russia. A graduate of the famous St. Petersburg university was gladly invited.

Given the fact that the school opened its doors a year earlier, it did not have its own educational programs, and Terpigorev volunteered to eliminate this gap. He prepared new programs for the discipline of "mining art" and "metallurgy", providing in them the need for mandatory organization of student practice at the nearest mining and metallurgical enterprises, wrote and published a series of textbooks and manuals on mining, which became the first in Russia in the early XX century.

Obtaining the title of professor required the defense of a thesis, and in those days it was possible to do it only at the St. Petersburg Mining Institute. However, in the process of preparation of the qualification work unforeseen happened - Terpigorev was arrested for financial support of the local strike committee and exiled to Ryazan. The defense of the dissertation, in which the author for the first time in the world mining practice proposed ways of mechanization of labor-intensive processes in coal and anthracite mining, as well as calculation and analytical method of determining the effectiveness of systems and methods of field development, was disrupted. Fortunately, on April 1, permission was obtained from the Police Department for Terpigorev to go to the capital.

The defense was successful. The ideas laid down in the monograph became the foundation of the main sections of modern mining science. The professor returned under police supervision to Ryazan. In 1906, he was allowed to resume work at the Ekaterinoslav Mining Institute, where the scientist headed the department of mining art and later became the first elected rector of the university.
In parallel, Terpigorev as an expert took part in the investigation of accidents and disasters in the coal mines of Donbass together with Alexander Skochinsky.
During the Civil War, the scientist served as head of the Mining and Fuel Department in the governments of Anton Denikin and Peter Wrangel, but refused to emigrate from the Crimea with the Whites.

In 1920, due to pogroms during the Civil War and foreign intervention, the coal industry in Donbass was in the most deplorable condition. The region, which only a few years before had been the main fuel base of the country, was in crisis. Immediately after the liberation of the territory from the Whites, Vladimir Lenin called on the best mining specialists and scientists to actively restore the mines and coke-chemical enterprises of the Donetsk basin, calling coal "the real bread of industry".
There was a lot to renovate: almost 65% of the mines had no artificial ventilation, water in the mines was dealt with by means of low-performance pumps, some of the mines were still equipped with horse-drawn gates, although in the West steam hoisting machines were already in full use.

© Плакат Московского государственного Издательства, 1921 год

To fulfill the task set by the leader, in 1921 a Special Commission was established to inspect and analyze all the mines in Donbass, technically assess new deposits and develop a general plan to achieve maximum production. Alexander Terpigorev became one of the members of this working group. Under his leadership, work was carried out in the anthracite areas of Donbass (anthracite is the coal rock with the highest energy value). In particular, he surveyed more than 200 mines and, based on the results, drew up projects for rehabilitation work and new construction. In total, the Commission studied about 1000 production sites, not counting small and unproductive ones, and identified 200 new sites.

The mines selected for initial rehabilitation were able to provide 9.6 million tons of coal by 1923 - one third of the amount of coal produced in Donbass in 1916. To optimize the situation, equipment was needed to pump out water, sink additional shafts and deepen the existing ones. The introduction of mechanization of notching, excavation, conveyor and scraper delivery, the use of cutter and transport machines played a major role in solving the problem. The initiator of innovations was Terpigorev. He not only proposed to use the technique, but also prepared the fundamental basis for it. The main idea of Alexander Mitrofanovich's researches was creation of scientific bases for choosing a complex of machinery for effective coal mining in different mining and technical conditions.

As a result, in 1926 Donbass gave already 24.5 million tons of coal. This figure was the result of 22 years of the scientist's activity in the south of Russia.

He was invited to Moscow, where he became dean of the Mining Faculty and pro-rector for academic affairs at the Moscow Mining Academy.

© А.М. Терпигорев со студентами Московского горного.1948 г.

After leaving the industrial activity, the professor continued to develop the topic of mining automation in the scientific and educational space - he created a laboratory of cutting machines, introduced a new discipline "mechanization of excavation and transportation of minerals" and created textbooks on it, which were used by students of all mining universities of the USSR and some foreign countries. After the Academy was divided into 6 separate universities, Terpigorev moved to the Moscow Mining Institute (now the Mining Institute of NITU "MISIS"), soon becoming its rector.

Subsequently, the scientist obtained the Stalin Prize for outstanding services in the field of science and technology and headed many specialized departments and bureaus, including committees of the USSR Academy of Sciences on the problems of underground gasification, explosive engineering and technical terminology. However, the most important thing for him was always the idea of restoring Donbass, the place where he started his journey.

© Из книги Розентретера Б.Л./Репродукция картины К. М. Максимова. 1953 г.

As of today, the talk about the rise of the coal industry in Donbass is still relevant. In early 2024, it became known that Rostechnadzor of the Russian Federation will establish a permanent supervision regime over coal mines in the Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics, which have fallen into disrepair during the years of management by the previous Ukrainian owners. In addition, the agency is preparing programs to modernize them and is working with potential investors in this direction.

The trends laid down by Terpigorev back in the first quarter of the 20th century are still relevant. Mechanization of all coal mining and transport processes, which the scientist insisted on, has now transformed into automation and robotization of mine workings. Over time, the sector of unmanned coal mining will continue to expand due to the introduction of fully autonomous, remote-controlled machines and systems that require only control from the operator. Such machinery is already produced not only by Western companies (Caterpillar Inc and Komatsu Limited), but also by Russia-friendly Belaz.

Terpigorev died in 1959 in Moscow.