Chain-making craft in Nizhny Novgorod Governorate in XIX - ХХcenturies.

Pre-revolutionary chain production in Nizhny Novgorod Governorate ranked first in quantity of manufactured products. The main focus was put on production of anchor chains for steamers and barges. Nizhny Novgorod chains had practically no rivals in that market.

Chain manufacture was mainly localized in two districts of Nizhny Novgorod Governorate – Bezvodninsky district of Nizhny Novgorod uyezd and Krasnoramensky district of Semenovsky uyezd, both located on the Volga river banks opposite each other.

The main reason of growth of chain craft in Nizhny Novgorod Governorate was the meager soil which let the peasants earn their living just by agriculture. The owner of Krasnoramensky district, landlord duke Cherkassky, contributed a great deal to development of handicraft forges, wishing to increase the amount of quitrents collected from his peasants. He brought craftsmen, lent money to equip forges and managed to develop mainly nail making craft. Thanks to the good transport accessibility of that region and smooth shipments of iron and coal on the Volga the сhain-making manufacture stroke roots and only started to decline in the beginning of 1870-s when factory-made nails began to oust nails made by handicraftsmen from the market. Blacksmiths, following the market demand, retrained for different products, comprising among others chains. According to the research by M. Plotnikov referring to 1896, chain-making craft in Krasnaya Ramen mainly involved blacksmiths of Zimenky, Selishtshe and Mezhuiky. According to the same research, peasant G.A. Tarankov can be considered as the pioneer and founder of the chain manufacture on the Semenov bank of the Volga.


Bezvodninsky district had produced chains since 1840. Mr. Yagodinsky, who carried out research of the craft, counted more than 12 active forges with yearly chain output equaling to 15 000 rubles. Eventually the total number of handicraftsmen in the region involved in сhain-making reached 900 people at the end of XIX, but the most part of them worked in Krasnoramensky district.
The scheme of work was simple: handicraftsmen received material from the owner who then collected finished products to found a ready market for them. Sometimes this work-chain could include a merchant from Nizhny Novgorod who lent iron to the owner who distributed material to the handicraftsmen. In that case, the merchant was the one to sell the finished products and get the major profit. At the end of XIX some material-distributors from among those who sold chains to end users, managed to build a great fortune and become “thousanders”,  i.e. they ended up very rich.
As the most important thing about chains is their strength, the blacksmiths of Volga region tested their chains to avoid losses and claims. The tests were carried out in the most unsophisticated way: a chain was attached to a corner of a big izba (wooden house) and it was then stretched with a lever or using horses. If the chain could withhold the stretching load, it was then approved for sale.  Definitely, such tests did not guarantee failure-free service of chains for ship-owners, and frequent accidents with losses measured in thousands of rubles made the handicraftsmen take even more and more serious approach to the quality of their products.
The first chain testing machine was purchased by a merchant from Bezvodninzky district, A.I. Suchkov, already in 1870-s. It was a primitive, non-certified structure. Later on such machines got widespread in Krasnoramensky district as well. However, all those devices did not comply with the technical standards of that time and could not catch up with dramatically growing shipbuilding. Chains made by handicraftsmen turned to be non-demanded by the Russian merchant and military navy that were still ordering chains from British chains factories.
The situation in that field required that a chain testing plant should be founded in Nizhny Novgorod governorate, which could be accredited by European classification and certification unions and acknowledged by the Russian government. In 1902 a factory owner named Luka Lukitch Zotov, who had a chain factory in Ratmanikha village near Nizhny Novgorod, launched the only chain testing plant in Russia equipped with up-to-date European machinery and having all necessary certificates, acknowledged all around the world.  The chains manufactured in Nizhny Novgorod region and marked with that factory brand quickly entered the maritime shipbuilding market, being sold to Caspian and Black Seas. In the beginning of XX century the local products started to compete with the products of the state-owned Izhorsky factory, specialized exactly in maritime chains.
Thanks to Zotov’s test plant the number of handicraftsmen involved in сhain-making grew up to 74 % between 1903 and 1912, because the products of private forges could be tested and could get the longed-for brand mark, which, hence, was a guarantee of sales. However the handicraftsmen were challenged by a serious competitor – Luka Zotov’s factory – due to the fact that customers more and more preferred machine forging to manual one. After 1912 the number of craftsmen was on the downward trend, whereas Zotov’s factory products were occupying more and more market shares.

 Based on the book by Mikhail Vasilievitch Saveliev “Metal crafts in Nizhny Novgorod governorate”, printed in  "Nizhny Novgorod print industry", 1916.

Luka Zotov’s factory and test plant
6The founder of «Red Anchor Factory» (pre-revolutionary name – “Joint stock society of Smelovsky chain and anchor factory and test plant”), Luka Lukitch Zotov was born in a peasant family in Zarechye village of Makarievsky uyezd, Kostroma governorate in October 1859. The boy was only 6 years old was his father died at the hands of robbers, and little Luka found himself alone with his mother, Natalia Kuzminichna Zotova. After the loss of breadwinner the family began to sink into poverty, so the mother decided to move to Makariev to live with their relatives and at the end of 1980-s – to Nizhny Novgorod, the capital city of the governorate.
There is no information on how the small Zotov family lived in those years. Natalia Kuzminichna could not provide for the education for her son as it was not cheap. Luka Lukitch had to gain the knowledge without any guidance, and the bright young man handled his self-education quite successfully. If he had been illiterate he would not have got a job in a store where he met Alexander Alexandrovich Smelov who had small furniture trading business and marriageable younger daughter, 19-year-old Pelageya. Smelov wanted not just to arrange a happy life for his daughter, but also to pass his fortune to safe hands. Smelov liked 30-year-old Luka Lukitch, and Smelov’s daughter did not mind marrying him. Eventually, the life showed that Alexandre Alexandrovich did not make a mistake in his choice of a son-in-law.
The wedding was celebrated in 1890. After demise of Alexander Alexandrovich Smelov in 1891 his fortune was inherited by his daughter, Pelageya, and two children of her sister, departed by that time, Piotr and Ekaterina Rukovishnikov, bearing the same surname as the family of millionaires well-known in Nizhny Novgorod. Luka Lukitch continued the furniture trade, but the longer his was in this business, the more he was convinced that it showed very little promise. In contrast, chain manufacturing business seemed to be much more promising, taking into consideration the growing shipbuilding. Zotov, having conferred with the family, decided to step into the trade of chains, anchors and similar equipment for Volga vessels.

1A special event in Luka Lukitch’s life was the All-Russian art and industry exhibition held in 1896, which delighted not only the Russian, but the foreign public as well. For an enterprising person the exhibition was a real mine of ideas. This is why very soon Luka Lukitch took a very bold and risky move that changed his life and destiny.

As remembered by his daughter, Maria Lukinichna Zotova, “the father read out from some magazine that there were special plants abroad which were used to test chains for strength. Being a clever and active person, passionate for every new development, he decided to establish such a plant. He started looking for suitable premises and learnt that in Ratmanikha village, not for from the city, close to Moscow freeway in Balakhna uyezd, several buildings of a burnt match factory were put up for sale. He liked the premises – three big stone buildings at a reasonable price – 4 thousand rubles. He held the land where the factory was built on lease from the Peasant Society of Ratmanikha for 99 years”.
The need for such a plant had arisen a long time before in Nizhny Novgorod. Already a couple of decades before the described events took place, i.e. in 1870-s, duke Fedor Sergeevitch Golitsyn (chairman of  the Handicraft committee of the Ministry of agriculture and state property) had call attention of the government in his report to the extreme necessity of establishing a chain testing plant in Nizhny Novgorod in order to ensure better reliability of hand-made chains and to support the handicraftsmen. The duke’s concern was not paid due attention, and the local county council (“zemstvo”) could not find sufficient financing to establish a testing plant. The chain manufacture began to decline. The craftsmen could not withstand the market competition with English manufacturers due to the lack of demand for their products and grew poorer.

Zotov, having already built his own factory, visited several European countries, found the required equipment and brought the plant in Russia. Besides, Zotov bought four electric welding machines in Europe, which was a very forward-looking decision.

And thus, in 1898 the factory released its first tested chain products. This date was the birthday of the company. 9

Later a marine architect named Alfred Boreman wrote in the “Shipbuilding materials” magazine issued by the “Marine Technician” bureau (Saint-Petersburg, 1906): «a Russian craftsman and peasant, who received his education from a village psalm reader, understood the great importance of a chain testing plant and was not afraid to spend up to 20 thousand rubles to establish it. Luka Zotov, now the citizen of Nizhny Novgorod, put enormous efforts and energy to study chain production, he visited the whole Europe and the result of work of the acquisitive and original mind of a Russian peasant was a chain testing plant ranking in its equipment with the plants of the English chamber of commerce and classification associations”.

The author of this publication highlighted that Zotov summoned not only a representative of the Head Office of the Merchant Shipping for verification of the test plant, but also agents of classification associations – Bureau Veritas and German Lloyd. In this respect, the Head Office of the Merchant Shipping could not but pay attention to Zotov’s good undertaking, so they officially recognized the status of the test plant and assign a state inspector in charge of it. Handicraftsmen learnt that the chain testing plant was open shortly after, and then endless strings of horse-drawn carts went to Ratmanikha, because river transport workers no longer wanted to be buy untested chains. The plant was overloaded both for manufacture of chains and anchors and for their testing. The factory was working without failures and its reputation was growing.

16You surely paid attention to the fact that the factory was founded by Zotov, but the title of the enterprise had only the surname of his deceased father-in-law, Alexander Alexandrovich Smelov. You would ask: “Why?” The Zotov family has no clear-cut answer to this question. In this story there are two equal components – legal and moral. Giving his furniture business in will, Alexander Alexandrovich Smelov could not imagine that seven years after on the basis of his capital his son-in-law would create such a successful enterprise which in the end reversed situation in the Russian chain and anchor market in favor of Russia, having withstood fierce competition with English manufacturers. Luka Lukitch Zotov could legitimately name a new plant, which he founded, after himself, but he had reasons to act differently. Remembering what role his father-in-law played in his life, he decided to name the factory only after Smelov.
Everything changed in 1907 when one of the heiress, Smelov`s grand-daughter, Ekaterina Rukavishnikova, married. Her new family asked for a share of her heritage. Financially the share was large, but Zotov did not have any available funds because all his capital was invested in the plant, new equipment and chain-testing machine. He probably thought it risky to borrow such a big sum of money from someone else. The family council decided that they had to sell that successful factory. The family history still keeps in memory how difficult it was for Luka Lukitch to this decision, but he could not break the word given to his father-in-law. In 1910 the factory was sold to Englishmen for 100 thousand rubles. They decided not to change anything in already known brand. The factory stayed unchanged before the nationalization.
It should be specially noted that the foreigners were very pleased with situation on the plant and even suggested that Luka Lukitch should work as a hired director. Zotov agreed and gave two more years to the factory. He received a large salary for those times – 600 RUR, and his family had everything they needed. Zotov family continued to benefit a factory country house which they loved very much. The last time visited it in 1912 and in the autumn they finally said goodbye to the factory.

«English» pre-revolutionary period of the Joint Stock Company of Smelovsky chain and anchor factory and test plant requires separate archival research. It is known only that the company had a sales office in St. Petersburg, and during strike actions the factory in Ratmanikha became one of the disorder centers.

Based on the memories of Luka Zotov’s granddaughter, Honoured Cultural Worker of Russia, Irina Leonidovna Dorozhnova.

Milestones of development in the Soviet period

After the Revolution of 1917 workers became heads of factory management. The economic situation got considerably better when in the middle of 1927 the Supreme council of national economy of RSFSR prohibited import of ship chains with diameter less than 80 mm.

Pages from an accounting book of the Joint stock company of Smelovsky chain and anchor factory and test plant, 1918.






During the period of first “5-year plans” the production was quickly gaining momentum and the number of workers increased from 300 till 1000. During this period an electric welding, straightening and drawing and machine-assembly workshops were built as well as a test laboratory. Implementation of electric chain welding, which was a new technology in Russia, reversed the character and conditions of labor, raised productivity and quality of the products. To 1933 there 864 tons of chains were produced with help of electric welding. The factory had its own manufacturing complex including chain-forging shop with 42 furnaces, anchor-forging electric-welding shops.

14With the beginning of the Great Patriotic War the plant started to manufacture military products under the slogan "Everything for the front, everything for the Victory!". Urgent defense orders for production of ammunition, laying devices for mountain artillery, pontoon anchors for engineering troops and snow-chains for cars were introduced into production and manufactured in a short time. Mechanization of assembly operations helped to increase output of chains by 5 times. For the excellent execution of front-line orders, the plant repeatedly received letters and telegrams of gratitude from the command. Such results were achieved due to active mobilization of forces and means, dedication and teamwork.

During the postwar period, Red Anchor Factory JSC gradually became the leading enterprise in the field of chain production. The plant management developed a plan of actions to increase capacity of the forging shop, rearrangement of electrically welded chain lines and development of new types of chains. At that time the plant significantly raised output of specialized products: anchor, cargo and tractor chains, chain devices, rigging elements, introducing progressive automatic lines, new jigs for the equipment.

131949 is important for the factory as in this year a new chain-making line for production of 10,000 tons of chains of grade 22-40 mm per year was launched, and the decision to build a block of shops for welding large diameter chains was taken. Due to the highly mechanized facilities, the company increased chains output by 15 times for the post-war years. Since completed a number of big projects: creation of the second stage of a combined production line for chains manufacturing with diameter of 28-40 mm, introduction of thermal processing in the electric furnaces, opening of a new tool shop, creation of three specialized workshops with a closed production cycle: light, medium and heavy chains. The process was improved by introduction of teamwork. The tradition of constant improvement of the products quality is firmly entrenched in the plant life and has survived to this day.

One of the most important goals was implementation of active social policy aimed at improving housing situation of workers, cultural life of the factory and improvement of the territory and production aesthetics introduction.
In the mid-1960s the plant was transformed into a production association Red Anchor, which included two branches located in the Gorky region. By decision of the government of the USSR, the association became part of the USSR Ministry of Coal Industry, opening the possibility of increasing production of high-strength chains for conveyors and combines for mining industry.

In 1991 the factory was privatized and a joint stock company Red Anchor was created. In the period of 1992-1995 a project was realized for modernization and purchase of new chain welding equipment, calibrating and testing machines, manufacture of stands for selection of chain pairs up to 27 meters. During those years contracts with leading firms of Germany, Holland, Spain and France were concluded.

The chain factory nowadays

10In 2002 Dmitry Barykin became the CEO of the factory and his activity helped the enterprise to overcome the crisis, pay the debts, increase production speed and output and as well raise the factory to the new level of quality.
The products of Red Anchor Factory JSC are on demand between shipbuilding and ship repair companies, machine-tool factories, mining companies, fishing, logging and agricultural enterprises, construction materials manufacturers.
The company is one of the largest national manufacturers in its market section. The Red Anchor Factory counts more than 500 employees. The factory products are certified with Russian marine and river register of navigation, Lloyd`s register, State Mining and Technical Inspection, State Committee for the Russian Federation for Standardization and Metrology.