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LC-A Big Book Chapter 41: 1900-1914 The First Optical Works of Russia

Production increased quickly and the quality of the optical devices went up almost monthly. More and more workers were assigned and products, ranging from optical lenses and binoculars to spyglasses and periscopes to rangefinders, gained wide popularity with the military and citizenry alike. The attitude of the later LOMO PLC works was already starting to evolve.

48. The LOMO PLC Works at Chugunnaya Street in St Petersburg. LOMO PLC’s main works are still located at the same place today.

At the turn of the 20th Century, the Russian empire’s economy was in good condition and it was the largest financial, scientific and industrial centre in Europe. Russia’s industrial growth peaked at 30% a year. At this time, the empire was ruled with an iron fist by Tsar Nicholas II and the nobility owned most of the land. The working class, the remaining 95% of the country’s population, lived in poor conditions and served to prop up the prosperity of the upper classes. Even though the empire had already seen its fair share of struggles, a faint whiff of revolution was in the air throughout the huge Tartar lands. Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, later known as Lenin, had just been freed from exile in Siberia (where he had been banished for 5 years) and was travelling through Europe; considering how to change the world and dreaming of hot borscht soup in his mother-country. In 1905, in the middle of this brewing period, the Russian Navy was defeated by the Japanese fleets in the Russo-Japanese War and the need came up to re-vamp the outdated Russian battleships with modern equipment. Tsar Nicholas II issued immediate orders to give state grants to the outmoded military industry, but soon realized that money alone was not going to be enough. Russia, like many countries at this time, missed the chance to get aboard the steam train of ground-breaking technical development. At this time, the optical and mechanical industries were being ruthlessly pursued by the Germans. Quickly, the Russians developed an optical and mechanical workshop based at the Obukhovo Steel Mill Works in Sankt-Petersburg (later Leningrad, later still St Petersburg). A.L. Gershun, a professor at the local university, was appointed the head of this emergent optical industry.

Production increased quickly and the quality of the optical devices went up almost monthly. More and more workers were assigned and products, ranging from optical lenses and binoculars to spyglasses and periscopes to rangefinders, gained wide popularity with the military and citizenry alike. The attitude of the later LOMO PLC works was already starting to evolve. In 1909, when a committee was called in to discuss the implementation of new sight-tubes in the Navy, Mr Gershun was not at all satisfied with the proposed English products that featured far too wide magnification and low optical efficiency. He then announced a competition to manufacture the best sight-tubes, and, of course, won the race – only his production plant was capable of performing such a difficult task. As we will see time and again, it is this attribute – the constant will to outrival competitors with LOMO PLC’s own products – that made the optical works a success and still fills the Russian soul with pride and honour. Soon, the capacity and financial capabilities of the small integrated workshop could no longer serve the national demand for optical goods, and A.L. Gershun submitted an application to register the Russian Joint Stock Company of Optical and Mechanical Production (also known under the other melodic name of RAOOMP). As shareholder companies were strictly controlled by the state at this time, it took quite a while before the new company was approved by the Tsar. But in the mild summer of 1913 all papers were signed and the youthful enterprise kicked off with the building of the first optical works of the Russian empire. The main shareholders of the up-and coming firm were the French “Schneider-Krezo” company, the Russian-Asiatic Bank and the St Petersburg Commercial Bank. After evicting the city dump and two graveyards situated there, the four-floored building at Chugunnaya Street was constructed and happily inaugurated on the 14th of February 1914.

From left to right, top to bottom: Lieutenant-General A.N. Krylov and Engineer-General Y.N. Perepelkin were two of the marine military engineers who developed the optical and mechanical industry in St Petersburg by the beginning of the 20th century. They laid the cornerstone on which A.L. Gershun (bottom left picture), a professor of St Petersburg University, erected an optical and mechanical workshop which laid the foundation of the domestic optical industry. Major-General A.P. Meller (bottom right picture) was then one of the founders raaomp in 1910.

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