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The Role of Forests in Witte's Industrialization Drive

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Russia's forests played a crucial role in the industrialization drive that Minister of Finance Sergei Witte led beginning in 1892. While most histories of Imperial Russian industrialization understandably concentrate on heavy industry, railroads, and coal, the main focii of Witte's industrial policy and rhetoric,1 this essay argues that forests contributed crucial sources of income and industrial fuel for Witte's campaign while providing the material for the expansion of a distinct forest industrial sector. The forest income of the Ministry of State Domains became a growing source of revenue for a government that needed all the money it could get as it financed railroad construction to propel heavy industry through a period of rapid growth. Forests also provided charcoal and fuel wood for industrial and non-industrial consumption throughout the 1890s. Wood provided all or most of the fuel for Urals metallurgy, the textile industry, still Russia's largest, and a growing forest industrial sector. Forests even helped satisfy the fuel demands of the showcase areas of rapid industrialization, the railroads and southern metallurgy. This essay demonstrates that the rate at which timber was being felled outstripped forest exports and population growth. It argues that industrial consumption of wood fuel, including charcoal, spurred the development of a timber industry which was to remain in place to satisfy the steep increase in forest exports during the second industrialization spurt before 1914. Forests' importance to Russia's industrialization should not be ignored.

Affiliations: 1: University of Chicago, Chicago, U.S.A.


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