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Imperiia: a spatial history of the Russian Empire

Premonitions of Russian Industry: A Brief History of Novo-Nikolaevsk

West Siberian Novo-Nikolaevsk, the original name of modern Novosibirsk, was hardly an Imperial city at all. Novo-Nikolaevsk was founded around the construction of the Trans-Siberian railway, when the original candidate for a railway stop in this region, Kolyvan, was deemed geographically unsuitable for a large station. Its population thus skyrocketed from essentially zero in 1893 to in excess of 100,000 inhabitants in 1917. However, Novo-Nikolaevsk is crucially set apart from most of the other railway cities because of the massive industrialization efforts that come to this city at the end of the Imperial period.

Novo-Nikolaevsk’s grain mills produced an astounding thirty percent of the Russian Empire’s processed grain by the end of the Imperial period. The city was paved in 1910, telephone wires came to it in 1906, and it received electric power in 1912. Industrialization allowed for an even more dramatic economic boom here than was seen in almost any other industrializing Russian city of the early twentieth century. However, the city was still relatively young and without administrative importance in the Imperial period. Fridtjof Nansen, on his academic journey to chronicle the major cities of Siberia, did not even pay a visit to Novo-Nikolaevsk in the early 1910s. Similarly, though it was nicknamed ‘the American City’ due to its rigorous grid planning, it did not receive a lot of attention from foreign entrepreneurs as a potential transport hub for their goods through Russia because of its incredibly young age. While this city happened to be founded as a Trans-Siberian railway stop, by the 1917 revolution its character was undoubtedly much more industrial.

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