Paper delivered at the History of Science Society Annual Meeting, Chicago, 2014 Panel: Science that Materially Changed the World
Founded in 1929, Magnitogorsk quickly became a powerful industrial center for steel production in the Soviet Union. Architecturally it is one of the most important cities of the 20th century. It inspired groundbreaking projects conceived by a number of architects such as Ivan Leonidov and the OSA team, Ernst May and Mart Stam.
A so-far neglected aspect in the history of Magnitogorsk are the investigations of the site by Dimitri Mendeleev the inventor of the Periodic Table, a geologist, engineer and economist.
In the summer of 1899 Mendeleev travelled to the Urals region to survey its industry and geology. Commissioned by the Ministry of Finance, his primary task was to investigate the natural resources of the region and conduct a geological survey. This included ascertaining the causes for the stagnation of the iron and coal industry.
Upon his return to St Petersburg he published his findings in the book “The Urals Iron Industry”. In it he stated that: “The Urals will provide Europe and Asia with huge quantities of iron and steel at a production cost which would be quiet inconceivable in Western Europe”. In his report he emphasizes a specific location in the southern tip of the Urals: the so called Magnetic Mountain with its rich iron ore. At that time called Magnitnaya, the area was just a small settlement. This mountain was constituted by a semicircular group of five low hills; they were a geological anomaly, consisting almost completely of iron.
This essay provides a close reading of the previously untranslated book and connects Mendeleev’s intellectual pursuits and how they affected the growth of the steel industry and the urbanization of Magnitogorsk during the later Soviet Era. By examining the Measures and Maps that Mendeleev produced for the book, I argue that the book and work of Mendeleev as scientific artifacts contributed to Stalin’s urban and industrial vision thirty years later.