Shukhov Vladimir Grigorievich

"His technical ideas gave the Russian engineering school world recognition and they remain relevant to this day".
Vladimir Putin, President of Russia

"Thanks to V.G. Shukhov the first oil pipeline, oil pumps, the first pipeline for transportation of kerosene and oil tanks, the first tank barges, oil refining and cracking processing were invented. Today as we increase production, lay pipelines, build a tanker fleet, increase the depth of oil refining, we, in fact, develop its engineering ideas".
Vagit Alekperov, president of the oil company Lukoil

Vladimir Grigorievich Shukhov was born on August 16( 28), 1853 in a small and quiet provincial town of Graivoron, at that time belonging to Belgorod uezd (district) district of Kursk province. His father Grigory Petrovich Shukhov belonged to a family where men ,from generation to generation, served as Russian Army officers.

He graduated from the Law department of Kharkov University, which was ranked as one of the best after St. Petersburg, Moscow and Kiev Universities. Owing to his education, strong and resolute character, honesty, diligence and charisma Grigory Petrovich managed to make a wonderful career for quite a short period.

At the age of 29 he was already assigned to a post of a titular counselor( a government official) and was promoted for his efforts in the Crimean War ( a bronze medal on Vladimir’s cordon braid in commemoration of Crimean War of 1853–1856). It is interesting to note that G. P. Shukhov, being quite a young man, in his mid-twenties served for a while as Mayor of Graivoron for some time. Eight years later he was moved to St. Petersburg, where very soon he was given a post of a counsellor (a government official). Vladimir Shukhov’s mother (maiden name — Vera Pozhidaeva) was a daughter of second lieutenant Kapiton Pozhidaev, who had a small estate in Shigry uezd of Kursk province. Vladimir Shukhov’s parents taught him purposefulness, diligence, insight and thirst for knowledge.

In 1864, at the age of eleven, Vladimir Shukhov started his studies in St. Petersburg gymnasium. The place of his prior studies cannot be indicated exactly, it might be in Kursk or the town of Herson, probably only Kursk. His academic records were good and he showed abilities for exact sciences, especially to mathematics. Once, during a lesson, he proved Pythagorean theorem with a personally invented way. The teacher praised the originality, but he failed the grade for violating the dogma and the textbook’s guidelines. Vladimir finished the gymnasium in 1871 with distinction. His professional choice was beyond any doubt. In addition to his outstanding abilities in mathematics , he had a dream to pursue an engineer’s career and contribute to Russia’s development and prosperity by his practical work.

Following his father’s advice Vladimir Shukhov entered the Imperial Moscow Technical School. Those days IMTS used to be an educational institution, providing fundamental training in mathematics and physics, as well as deep knowledge in other theoretical disciplines, at the same time giving opportunity to acquire necessary practical skills, which could be further applied by a practical engineer. The academic programs were compiled on the basis of training and practical courses of Petersburg Institute of Engineers Corps for Communication Means, a leading European educational establishment. On successful passing his entrance exams to the School, Vladimir Shukhov was admitted as a state supported student and lived apart from his family in the state halls of residence, paying seldom visits to his parents, who lived in Warsaw at that time.

The studying process could not be viewed as simplified, the atmosphere was tense, with strict schedule and discipline, supervision in minor things, infringement of basic rights. However, strictness was not the end in itself, the system encouraged students for more diligence in their studies. The students were required mastering basic knowledge of physics and mathematics, required for further individual development of an engineer. V. Shukhov, a person, used to living simple and modest life, as his parents taught him, worked hard studying physics and maths, spent hours in the reading room, at the drawing table, carpenter’s and metal workshops. Shukhov’s success was appreciated by his teachers, prominent scientists like Nikolay Zhukovsky, assistant — professor in analytical mechanics, Aleksey Letnikov, professor of the Department of mathematics, academician Pafnuty Chebyshev, an honoured member of the Pedagogic Council, universally known by his works in theory of numbers, probability theory and theoretical mechanics.

In 1876 V. Shukhov graduated from the school with distinction and a Gold Medal. In token of appreciation of his outstanding abilities he was allowed not to defend his graduation project publicly. Academician P. Chebyshev proposed to him a job as a lecturer at the Imperial Moscow Technical School, combined with joint research. This kind of offer could flatter a young engineer. However, Shukhov was more attracted by engineering practice and inventions rather than theoretical research. The dream coming true was within reach. He refused the proposal and joined the delegation of Technical School Council to visit the World Fair in America. The Centennial Exhibition of 1876 was honoring the country’s 100th birthday (US independence) and his participation was an award for his successful work. The World Fair took place in Philadelphia, in Fairmount Park near the scenic lakeshore in May 1876.

The visit to the USA was decisive for Shukhov’s life. He came to know a Russian-American entrepreneur, Alexander Veniaminovich Bari who took part in the construction of the Main and other buildings in the World Fair, in responsibility for all "metal works" , which brought him the highest awards: Grand-Prix and a gold medal. It was A. Bari, who received the Russian delegation in America, offered his assistance in the purchase of equipment, instruments and samples of the items for Technical School workshops, demonstrated all novelties in American technology including metal works in Pittsburg, railways under construction.

On coming back to Russia in 1877 V. Shukhov joined the drafting office of the Warsaw-Vienna railroad in Petersburg. The bright impressions from the trip overseas were substituted by weekday routines, work over drawings of railway embankment , stations, locomotive depot. These skills proved to be extremely useful in his later career , but the work without the opportunity to create, under managers supervision was depressing. Under the influence of N. I. Pirogov, a prominent surgeon, a friend of a family, V. Shukhov joined a military-medical academy.

In the same year in summer A.V.Bari and his family returned to Russia, keeping a status of US resident. He understood that Russia was on the verge of vigorous industrial development and was planning to achieve a rapid success, relying on his abilities. Assigned to a position of a Head engineer in the Nobel Brothers Partnership he was engaged in tank system of oil transportation and storage.

Driven by the insight, when estimating Shukhov’s creative potential during his stay in the USA, А. V. Bari offered him to head the company branch in Baku, a new centre of rapidly developing Russian oil industry. In 1880 А. V. Bari established his own construction firm and boiler fabrication plant and offered V. Shukhov to assume the office of Chief Engineer and a Chief designer. That was the start of fruitful association between the outstanding manager and an extremely talented engineer, which lasted for 35 years and brought great benefit to Russia.

Inviting Shoukhov to cooperation, А. V. Bari acquired a young man (25 years old), uncharged by any prejudice, with excellent characteristics, decent, fluent in three languages (English, French and German), good looking and well — bread.

And А. V. Bari became V. Shukhov’s exclusive partner — an educated and cultural person, experienced in business in the USA, competent in engineering, able for objective evaluation of ideas and offers, equal communication with foreign businessmen and large-scale Russian producers. Association between V. G. Shoukhov and А. V. Bari was to their mutual benefit, therefore long-term and fruitful.

In 1880 V. G. Shoukhov was the first to fulfill industrial flaring of liquid fuel using his own invention — an oil burner, which allowed efficient burning of fuel oil, which had been thought as a waste from oil refining. A young engineer made calculations and headed the construction of the first Russian pipeline from Balhan oil field to Baku. In 1891 V. G. Shoukhov developed and got a patent for an industrial refining unit with oil fractions decomposition under high temperature and pressure. It was the first time when the unit performed cracking on a liquid phase.

Vladimir Grigorievich was extremely gifted by nature with bright and multi-sided talents. Just listing the fields of his activity sounds astonishing. Steam boilers, oil refining units, pipelines, oil burners, bulk tanks for storage of kerosene, gasoline, spirit, acid etc., pumps, gas holders, water towers, fuel barges, blast furnaces, metal overhead covers for factory shops and public buildings, grain elevators, railway bridges, cableways, lighthouses, tram depots, refrigerating plants, landing stages, boatports, mines etc — all of them were constructed on the basis of Shukhov’s design.

The spreading geography of his brilliant engineering inventions throughout Russia is also vast. His steamboiles and tanks for multipurpose use functioned from Baku to Arkhangelsk, from Petersburg to Vladivostok. V. G. Shukhov is the creator of Russian oil — carrying fleet. Their precise drawings in Moscow were based on his design. 50-130 m long steel barges were assembled in Saratov and Tsaritsyn. 82 barges were constructed before1917.

Research, conducted by V. G. Shukhov and his colleagues (Е. К. Knorre and К. A. Lembke) resulted in inventing of a unique calculation method for water piping. Following the testing while reconstructing of water supply system in Moscow, Bary’s firm constructed waterlines in Tambov, Kharkhov, Voronezh and other Russian towns.

About 200 originally designed towers were built by Shukhov’s design in this country and abroad, including famous Shukhov Tower in Moscow. It is interesting to know, that in 1919 when given the order of the Council of National Commissioners, Vladimir Grigorievich originally offered the design of the radio tower consisting of 9 sections, 350 meters high. The tower was higher than Eiffel tower (305 meters high), however it was three times lighter in weight. Sharp deficiency of metal did not allow the original design come into reality, otherwise the tower could enter a history of engineering art. The design had to be changed. The existing tower made of six hyperboloid structures, 152 meters high was built with a unique method of telescopic assembly, invented by V. G. Shoukhov. The tower remained the highest structure in Russia for a long time.

Under V. Shukhov’s guidance around 500 bridges across (the Oka, the Volga, the Enisey and others) were designed and built. Few people know that he designed the rotating stage in Moscow Academic Drama Theatre. He took part in saving and stabilization of an architectural memorial of ХV century — Minaret of the Madrasah Ulugh Beg in Samarkand. The tower was severely rolled after the earthquake and there was a threat of falling down. In 1932 a design contest was announced with an appeal to save the tower. Shukhov presented an original design and became not only the award winner, but the head of all works aimed at saving the Minaret.

However, let us come back to XIX century. During 15 years of work in the "Drafting office" (1880–1895) V. G. Shukhov received 9 privileges (patents), still having significance nowadays: horizontal and vertical steam-boilers, oil loading barge, steel cylinder tank, hanging overhead gridshells for buildings, arch overhead covering, oil pipeline, industrial racking unit, hyperboloid steel gridshell tower, which found a great response throughout the world after All-Russian exhibition in Nizhny Novgorod in 1896.

This exhibition became a major event in cultural, industrial and technical life in Russia and a real triumph of V. Shukhov’s engineering thought. The area over 4 hectares with buildings and exhibition halls was covered and built on the basis of his design, making each of them a new achievement of Russian science and technology. The total number of exhibition halls designed by V. Shukhov was 8, covering the area of 27000 м². Four exhibition halls were covered with tensile structures, the same number with gridshells with 32 span. V. Shukhov’s structures were at least 50 years ahead of their contemporaries. Suspension roof of grain elevator in Albany, USA appeared only in 1932, and roof covering shaped as overturned truncated cone, like exhibition pavilions in France and in Zagreb (Yugoslavia) appeared in 1937.

The main attraction of the exhibition in Nizhny Novgorod was V. Shukhov’s water tower (32 meters high). For the period of 15 years V. Shukhov’s towers appeared in more than 30 Russian cities, and during the first Soviet five-year economic periods about 40 of them were built in Russia, Transcaucasia and Central Asia. V. Shukhov’s towers , reliable and functional, were also extremely attractive in appearance. According to V. Shukhov himself: «A thing that looks beautiful is strong. The human vision is used to natural proportions, and the anything, able to survive in nature is always strong and useful». V. Shukhov, who first in the world calculated and designed tensile steel gridshells, initiated a new trend in construction art. Landing stages in Kiev (Bryansk) and Kazan railway stations in Moscow, translucent structures in the State Central shopping mall (GUM upper trading rows), Fine Arts museum, Petrovski Passage, Central post office, glass dome of Metropol hotel — all these and many other structures in Moscow (no huge construction site worked without V. Shukhov’s participation) today also arise astonish people by their beauty, elegance and still remaining up-to-date as newly built. And some of them are over 100 years old!

The more you learn about V. Shukhov’s work, the more you admire the genius of this prominent Russian engineer and scientist. It seems that we have listed all his numerous and unique inventions and projects. But this vast list is to be continued. We did not mention lighthouses, drydock floating gateway, platform for heavy artillery pieces, tram depot. However, even if the author did his utmost to make the list complete, it would not be able to embrace everything. Even if many of V. Shukhov’s developments were the only design he made in his life, anyway, his name would be forever commemorated in the history of science and engineering art.

When speaking about V. G. Shukhov and his works, all the time we have to repeat such words as "pioneer", "first", supplemented with the brightest epithets. Talking about V. Shukhov’s personality also requires superlative degrees. His colleagues, partners, coworkers, friends, talked about Vladimir Grigorievich with great warmth and respect. His life, which seemed to be dedicated only to work, in reality was very bright and diversified. For many years he maintained contacts with his outstanding contemporaries, involved in different spheres — scientists, engineers, architects, doctors, artists. He was keen on cycling, playing chess, photography. Among his friends were O. Knipper-Chekhova with her noisy community of actors, he liked listening to V. Shalyapin, reading poetry, designing furniture. In 1910 his colleagues addressed him as follows. "We are not speaking of your inventions at the moment: they are widely known both throughout Russia and far across its borders. But we cannot conceal the fact, that notwithstanding your significant role in the performance and development of the whole company, to us you always stay open and caring, like a boss and a friendly teacher. Each of us had confidence to address you with personal trouble and joy to share...".

All huge construction sites emerging with the introduction of five-year economic planning system are connected with V. Shukhov’s name. Among them are Magnetic anomaly and Kuznetskstroy, "Dinamo" tractor works in Chelyabinsk , restoration of objects ruined during the Civil war, construction of the first trunk pipeline and many others. In 1928 Vladimir Shukhov was elected a correspondence member of the USSR Academy of science, in 1929 — its honoured member. V. Shukhov’s attitude to the new power and to events happening in the country after 1917 was mixed, to put it mildly. However, still being a real Russian patriot, he refused many attractive and honourable offers of moving to Europe and the USA. He passed to the state all rights to his inventions and fees gained from them. As early as 1919 he put down in his diary: "We have to work regardless of politics. Towers, boilers, rafters are in demand and therefore we are going to be in demand too."

The last years of V. Shukhov’s life were clouded with the inquisitions, happening in the 30-s , endless concern about his children, unfair blaming, his wife’s death, retirement because of the bureaucratic regime he hated so much. All these deteriorated his health making him disappointed and depressed. During his last years he led a secluded way of life. He met only close friends and old colleagues in his house and spent time thinking and reading.

In February 2, 1939 V. G. Shukhov died and was buried in Moscow, at the Novodevichje cemetery.

On October 3, 2001, the centre of BSTU campus (former name — Belgorod state technological academy of building materials) became the place of a ceremonial event, dedicated to opening a memorial sculpture to V. Shukhov, an outstanding engineer of ХХ century, our fellow countryman. The authors (sculptor A. А. Shishkov and V. V. Pertsev, the architect) created the monument at the request of the local community and government to commemorate the prominent fellow countryman. In spring 2003, almost right after the academy was given a status of the university, the head of the oblast government made a decree to name the university after V. G. Shukhov.

V. G. Shukhov’s polytechnical activity, represented in his brilliant engineering developments in different fields cannot be compared with anything in the world. Our fellow countryman belongs to the brilliant pleiad of Russian engineers, whose inventions and research were far more advanced compared with their contemporaries. They changed the trends in technological progress decades ahead. The scope of V. G. Shukhov’s engineering achievements can be compared with the contribution into science made by M. Lomonosov, D. I. Mendeleev, I. V. Kurchatov, S. P. Korolev. The above names made Russian science world-known and respected. During his lifetime V. G. Shukhov was already called "Russian Edisson" and "engineer number one in the Russian Empire", nowadays V. G. Shoukhov is included into the list of top 100 world outstanding engineers. And even in this list he has the right to take the top position.

T. Edisson, the name of an American inventor, is known almost to everyone in Russia these days, but very few are familiar with V. G. Shukhov, whose engineering and inventor’s gift has considerably higher value and significance. This ignorance resulted from an inexcusable sin — keeping silence over his name for many years. We are obliged to eliminate the lack of information concerning our outstanding fellow countryman. For us and the whole of the world V. G. Shukhov is a personified genius of engineering art, like A. S. Pushkin in Russian poetry, P. I. Chaikovski as a top music composer, and M. V. Lomonosov as a scientific genius. V. G. Shukhov’s creative work integrated the insight and fundamental scientific background, fine artistic taste and ideal engineering logic, sound calculation and deep spirituality.

Now, in XXI century, the memory about Vladimir Grigorievich Shukhov, an amazing person and talented engineer. Every generation of Russian engineers and researches honour V. G. Shukhov like a symbol of engineering genius and an example to follow as a person dedicated to his work and his own country.

From now on the square of the university campus is decorated with the V. G. Shukhov’s sculpture. This monument made of metal will remind the future engineers of the great deeds of the outstanding sons of Russia, and the constant need for talented engineers and devoted patriots. It will also be a symbol of thought that can never be destroyed and inevitable revival of Russia.

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