Transformation of the Industrial Revolution in Russia

Generally with Russia at the turn of the century, one would assume that it would be in the national interest to keep up with the industrial, economic, and political development of the rest of Europe. While factories and industrial development was rapidly expanding in the culturally central region of the Russian Empire, namely Moscow and Saint Petersburg, most provinces in the outskirts of Russia saw little development and still relied on farming methods that have been around for centuries such as the mills seen below in 1912 in the Tobolsk (Тобольск) Province in Siberia.

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. Mills in Ialutorovsk Uyezd of Tobol´sk Province, 1912. Digital color rendering. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-03965 (23)

Tobolsk is located roughly halfway between Moscow and Novosibirsk and is the historical capital of Siberia. What’s interesting about this photo is it shows a couple of old worn mills traditionally used to crush grain. The steps in the back could be lifted and the entire upper structure of the mill would be rotated to face the wind. By this time, however, steam-powered factories where grain could be milled mechanically already existed. Tobolsk isn’t a random city either, with its own Kremlin and major fishing centers near the Irtysh river, so to see such outdated structures just on the outskirts of the city is unusual. Additionally, it would become the prison for the Russian Imperial family during the Russian Civil War prior to their execution.

“Russia Travel Blog | All about Russia in English.” Russian Cities and Regions Guide Main Page,

Perhaps it was this usual sight that attracted Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii to take the photo. It could have also been his desire to preserve that part of Slavic culture, a piece of ancient engineering that lasted centuries. To this day this particular style of mill is considered a staple in regions such as Ukraine, Belarus, and Poland.

8 thoughts on “Transformation of the Industrial Revolution in Russia

  1. Hi Tim, what a cool picture to blog about! I’m really glad that you noticed how out-of-date these mills seem, your post does a great job of showing how industrialization was a gradual process rather than something that happened overnight. What reasons might explain why these mills hadn’t yet been updated? Also, great job citing your images!


    1. I still would think that it was the focus of the Russian monarchy to deal with political unrest both at home and abroad than to upgrade agricultural systems. Even if such upgrades were underway Tobolsk probably wouldn’t be very high on the list either seeing as it is fairly isolated.


  2. I like how you connect this old photograph from Tobolsk with the impending imprisonment of the Tsar’s family there! As for the windmills, I think they are pretty impressive! Yes, mechanization had come along way, but I’m wondering if motorized wind production was happening anywhere else (Holland?) in the early 20thc? I’ve always thought that swiveling design is pretty ingenious. I’m glad to hear that these kinds of windmills are still to be found!


    1. I grew up around these kinds of windmills, although now they’re more cultural icons than anything else. Part of me is curious if the construction of the Tobolsk Kremlin drew resources away from improving and upgrading farming tools in the area.


  3. The second photograph is beautiful! I am curious about how the progression and industrialization affected the use of these windmills, or if there was a “why fix what isn’t broken” mentality.


    1. I would partially say that it is the mentality you mentioned, but also just that time period specifically Russia was focused more on military and political changes than re-designing agricultural tools.


  4. I really like how you chose this picture as it gives a different perspective of what different farming methods were like before more places had been industrialized. I also enjoyed the additional facts you gave about the Russian Imperial family and how the worn mills operate. Thanks for also giving everyone a geographic description of the photo that really helps us gain better context!


    1. Thank you for the feedback. I grew up around these types of mills so their history always fascinated me, especially when I saw how different they were in the west.


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