Iron Work in the Urals

“Molding of an Artistic Casting” (1909-1915) from Prokudin-Gorskii Collection, LOC

Mountains can have many uses for a nation. They can serve as a form of border between two countries, as a sort of natural defensive wall against invaders, provide incredible beauty to a, and as an important source of resources. This last use is shown in the picture above, entitled “Molding of an artistic casting”. The picture, taking by Sergi Mikhailovich, shows three men working in an iron works in the Ural Mountains making molds for  tools. While the work these men are doing is important, the place where they work is just as interesting and noteworthy for its importance in Russia, then and now. The Ural Mountains are an important landmark in Russia for its geographic and economic importance to the country.

The Ural Mountains, also known as the Urals, are a mountain range that runs through Western Russia from the Arctic Coast to northern Kazakhstan. The range extends for almost 1600 miles and its highest point is on Mount Narodnaya at 6217 ft.  The Urals are also divided into several groups along the chain, the main ones being: Polar, Nether-Polar, Northern, Central and Southern. It is considered the dividing line between Western and Eastern Russia, thus it is also considered the dividing line between Europe and Asia. While the mountains have great geographic importance, it also maybe even greater economic importance for Russia, due to its vast mineral deposits.

Beginning in the 18th Century, the Urals began to play an essential role in the Russian economy, a role it has to this day. Iron and Copper works began to emerge early in the 18th Century during the reign of Peter I and their number would only continue to grow over the the two centuries. The Urals provided more than just iron though. It also provided important sources of oil and gas as well.

The picture of the three men working in the iron works shows the change in the Russian economy at the time. The economy was moving away from being mainly a rural, agrarian economy towards trying to become a more fully fledged, industrial economy. Additionally, the fact that these men were working in this factory at the time showed not only the economic, but also societal change taking place in Russia at the time. Only a generation or two before, these men would have most likely been serfs working for a lord. Instead, they were working in a factory. The importance of the Urals would only continue to grow after this picture was taken, as the resources that the mountains provided would be essential to helping build an industrial economy.

One important point we discussed in class that makes this picture especially interesting. It was noted in class that the Russian elites were hesitant to give the serfs political rights, as they had seen what such decisions had done in other places like Great Britain. Interestingly enough, a picture like this shows the fermenting of the revolution that would take place only a decade after it was taken. Looking at the men in this picture, one sees the place where they would begin to hear the calls to organize, to demand greater rights as workers and to dispel a system that continued to exploit them even after reforms. These men did not know it at the time, but it would be men like them who would be part of the revolution only a decade later. Looking back, it is clear why the Russian elites desire to not give these newly freed serfs political rights, as the revolution they so feared did eventually happen.

This photo allows one to consider the importance of a place in the great scheme of the modernization of Russia and the story of a place. In showing three men at working creating casts for tools, it shows the modernization of Russia, from a more agrarian economy towards attempting to become a more industrialized one. It captures a the importance of the Urals towards Russia and it’s movement into the 20th century. Finally, it captures the place and the people who would be essential in forging the Russian Revolution only a decade after the photo was taken: common workers.  The photo allows one to look at main different aspects of Russia’s attempts to become the nation we know today.

This post earned a Red Star award from the editorial team


5 thoughts on “Iron Work in the Urals

  1. This was a photo I was considering writing about as well. I found it interesting how it showed the change from an agrarian society to industrialism. I did not think about the implications that the mountain range itself could have on a nation. Whether it be for just sheer beauty or for defense. In the United States, we do not have as much of a national security concern compared to Russia. To our south we have the Rio Grande River and the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans to our east and west. To our north we have Canada which does not pose a large threat. Having a mountain range and becoming industrialized would help Russia have better national security during that time.


  2. I was thinking about my own post when I was reading yours and I lot of mine dealt with Russian and mining ore and minerals especially out of the Ural mountains. What I did not know was that the Ural mountains also contained iron and copper; Russia could sustain itself entirely based on its own natural ores. I think that’s awesome and really helped pushed them into an industrialized society and helped with trading.


  3. This was a well written post that linked the picture provided with our course content extremely well. Prior to reading, I knew very little about the Ural Mountains and their importance throughout Russia’s history. You pointed out an interesting point when stating that a few generations before this picture was taken the men pictured would have probably been serfs working the land. This picture identifies a key point in Russia’s history as the country moved from an agrarian society to an industrialized society, which is portrayed by the men working making iron casts in a factory. Your analysis of the picture engaged with our course content and provided further insight into Russia’s economy at the time. Great job!


  4. This was a very interesting post and I found some similar themes talked about in my own post. The importance your picture shows in understanding the shift away from a mainly rural, agrarian economy can also be found in the picture I looked into, of electrical generators. You mention that Russia was working to become a more industrial economy, which is also something I mentioned in my own post while relating it mainly to the reasons why it was behind compared to Western countries.


  5. Nice job this week! I especially like how you emphasize the relationship between the resources present in the Russian empire and management/political changes. You do a good job of illustrating why important reforms were enacted and the significance of these policies.


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