Adam Armstrong and Roman Armstrong: a Scottish directors of ironworks in Russia

(S. Kulibin’s articles in Russkii Biograficheskii Slovar’, c. 1910.)

        ARMSTRONG, Adam Vasil’evich. Ober-Berghauptman 4th Class [Senior Mining Director], chief of the Olonets works; born 13 January, 1762, in the town of Gavish [Russian spelling; is this a corruption of Hawick? - M.C.], near Jedburgh, in Scotland; died 8 November, 1818, in Petrozavodsk.
       Of an ancient Scottish line, he was educated at Edinburgh University in preparation for a religious career, during which his mentor was the then-famous minister, pastor Ricolton. But fate decided otherwise: the young Armstrong had not yet reached the age necessary to take up ministry duties and in the meantime he became the house tutor for the family of Samuel Greig. Shortly thereafter, the Russian government, wishing to improve their navy, invited Greig to serve in Russia, and along with him came Armstrong. In the early 1780s, on this same Greig’s initiative, it was decided to invite to Russia the director of the famous Carron factory, Gascoigne, to improve the casting of cannon at the Olonets works. This task was given to Armstrong, who already since 17 January, 1785, was enrolled in the Olonets Government Finance Office with the civil rank of Provincial Registrar (at that time this office managed the iron works). Armstrong went to England and in September of 1786 he returned with Gascoigne. The two then traveled to Petrozavodsk.
        In 1790 Armstrong was enlisted into the Life-Guards Preobrazhenskii Regiment as a captain-at-arms [a kind of non-commissioned supply sergeant – M.C.], but the next year he was released from the regiment with the rank of lieutenant and again assigned to the Aleksandrovsk Works (in Petrozavodsk) to prepare supplies and materials for it. In 1797 he was promoted to Collegiate Assessor and in 1798, with the establishment of the Mines College [a government department, not a school – M.C.] and the transfer to that body of the mines and metal works, Armstrong was made a member of the Olonets Works’ management.
        In 1806 Gascoigne died. Although Gascoigne had brought from England very skilled and capable coworkers, Armstrong (by now retitled an Ober-Bergmeister) had become so knowledgeable in the works’ business and the local conditions that in 1807, after a short time of Poltoratskii managing the works, he was made chief of the Olonets and St-Petersburg works and occupied this position right up to his death. He was promoted to the rank of Ober-Berghauptman 4th class in 1818. Besides his duties at the Olonets works, Armstrong was elected to serve as the nobles’ representative from the Olonets and Povenets districts from 1805 through 1808, and from 1811 through 1814—as the Olonets provincial representative. Armstrong died from a cold caught while returning from the St.-Petersburg Foundry Works to Petrozavodsk, and left behind him two sons, Roman and Ivan [John].
        During the course of his almost twelve-year administration, Armstrong was not only able to keep the works in that fine condition in which Gascoigne had left it, but he also made many improvements. It is to him that the Olonets Works are obligated for discovering a local source of fire resistant clay near the village of Patrovaya, eight miles from Vytegra. Previously, this material had to be ordered from England at a high price. Armstrong also introduced the use of pine beams in the self-blowing furnaces for smelting pig iron, in place of expensive English coal. As a result, 32 silver roubles were saved for every 100 pounds of iron smelted. During the whole of Armstrong’s time as manager, this amounted to 335,000 silver roubles. His casting of cannons, ammunition, and other iron items was distinguished by the maintenance of previous standards of perfection. Of especially great castings, distinguished by the care and skill used, there may be mentioned: the iron roof of the Anichkov Palace (1813), the railings and whole exterior parts of the Krasnyi, Obukhov, and Potseluev bridges, and of the bridge at the Moscow dam (1814 and 1816). The Konchezersk. works (in the Olonets area), established by Gascoigne, were put into operation again by Armstrong (1809), who rebuilt the main furnace and made necessary improvements. Since that time the works have operated almost continuously.
         One must also credit to Armstrong his sincere concern for the welfare of the peasants assigned to the Olonets works. Thanks to him, their lives became comparatively satisfactory, and the work did not wear them out. Often during poor harvests he provided them with everything they needed and rendered every kind of aid. K.I. Arsen’ev, as an eyewitness, testifies to the love and trust with which the population regarded Armstrong. Many years after Armstrong’s death, his son Ivan’s wife, dying in Dresden in 1882, willed in memory of her father-in-law, Adam Vasil’evich, 3000 roubles to benefit the poorest skilled craftsmen of the Aleksandrovsk Works in Olonets. This legacy was in a way an echo of Armstrong’s warm concern for the works and the people living there.

Sources: Zhurnal Imper. Chelovekolyubivago Obshch., 1819, ch. 7 (January); Syn Otechestva, 1818, ch. 50, No. 47; K.I. Arsen’ev, Opisanie Olonetskikh zav. s samago ikh osnovaniya (Trudy Spb. Mineralogich. Obshch., 1830, ch. I); biography of Armstrong, Manufakt. i Gornozavodskiya Izv., 1843, No. 12; archive of the Mines Department, Dela berg-kollegii 1806-1807, book No. 2701.


ARMSTRONG, Roman Adamovich. Mining engineer, lieutenant general, son of Adam Vasil'evich Armstrong, born in 1791, died in 1864.
     He was educated in Scotland, where he was a friend of Walter Scott at Edinburgh University. He returned to Russia and entered service with the Mines Department in 1811. From 1833 to 1843 he was the metallurgical chief of the Olonets works. Under his tenure as manager there, a mines administration was established with its personnel organization confirmed by the tsar in 1839. From 1843 to 1858, Armstrong was the chief of the St.-Petersburg Mint. Under him the organization of personnel was finalized (1 March, 1850) along with the administrative regulations for the mint, which had been provisionally confirmed in 1845 on a trial basis for four years. These regulations were in effect until 17 September, 1885.
     Overall, Armstrong maintained the efficiency of the mint, which fallen somewhat towards the end of the forty-year tenure of his predecessor, Ellers, who had rendered great service in his time. In 1843, the introduction of automatic weighing and planing machines of the Wurm system significantly shortened the time needed for manually making and reworking coins. In 1845 leverage presses were introduced to replace Bolton's pneumatic presses. Armstrong also installed wire-drawing machines in the mint. Finally, in 1850, the expensive platinum vessels used for the dissolution of silver were replaced with incomparablly cheaper iron ones.
     In 1858, Armstrong was promoted to lieutenant general and named a member of the Expert Committee of the Corps of Mining Engineers.


Translated by Mark Conrad, 1999.