Prokudin-Gorskii photograph collection: Steam Engine “Kompaund”

This train symbolizes a unique time in Russian history and more importantly focuses on greatly needed infrastructure initiative. Around when this photo was taken, this train was one of the fastest trains produced by Russia. It’s maximum output allowed a top speed of 115 kilometers per hour [1]. This particular train car was produced at the Briansk locomotive factory in 1909 as the number “Ab 132” indicates. This specific type of locomotive, “Ab”, indicates that it comes equipped with a Schmidt super heater [1]. This was at the time an extremely powerful steam engine that provided maximum output for transportation and carriage needs. I believe this photo captures a crucial turning point in Russia’s shift to developing a sustainable domestic infrastructure system. This photo also highlights the strong efforts of Sergei Witte. Witte was the Minister of Finance from 1892-1903 and established his infrastructure initiative from Fredrich List, a German economist who claimed state support is required for creating stronger domestic markets [2]. Witte’s system put railroads as the top priority claiming that these systems were inevitably the “Flywheel of the Economy”. These railroads are crucial to connecting such a large country like Russia. By making it easier and faster to transport goods and connect people across the country, Russia could start creating a stronger domestic market.

Prokudin-Gorskii took this photo in 1910 as part of a large photography initiative to capture the empire in color. This initiative was a large push by Tsar Nicholas II and the Ministry of Transportation to capture all the corners of the empire using the newer forms of transportation. While the precise location is unknown, the style of tracks indicate that it is on the Ural Railway line. Other intriguing parts of this photo are captured in the background. The yellow train car in the back was most likely Prokudin-Gorskii’s “mobile darkroom” which was used to process the color photos. Also, it is hard to notice but part of the train conductors head and body is seen sticking out of the cabin. This photo is a cool reminder of how transportation and photos were captured at this time.

Expansion on domestic infrastructure was key at the time to expand the financial reach of the Russian Empire. While the political reforms were not expanding as fast as the financial reforms, these were crucial steps that required enormous social change from all classes of people. This photo helps to capture this unique shift in such a monumental time in Russian History



(Source [1] : )

(Source [2] : )


10 replies on “Prokudin-Gorskii photograph collection: Steam Engine “Kompaund””

Hi Paul,
I agree with you that railroads were necessary during the late 19th century and early 20th century in order to connect people and expand markets. Looking at Russia’s environment and weather, it would be hard to travel between communities or cities for long distances in just a carriage. However, I believe the reason why railroads connecting people did not go so well was because the Russian government did not want the people to be able to correspond with each other so much. That could lead to an increase in riots or a chance of the government being overthrown. I find it interesting that Gorskii could have had a mobile darkroom, I did not think they had those during his time. Overall, your post was very informative and it was fun to read.


It is cool that Prokudin-Gorskii chose to include his dark room in this photo as it gives a glimpse into how he traveled around Russia. I appreciate you including that in your post as well as more detailed information about the train itself. I think it would be interesting to know how many of these locomotives were being produce at this time and how long they had been in production, and then seeing how Witte’s policies might correlate.


I found this post especially interesting in terms of how important the locomotive was in terms of infrastructure and travel throughout such a massive empire such as Russia. It’s astounding how far mankind has come in terms of technology and how today’s fastest train exceeds 430 km/h. I find it interesting if someone 100 years ago pitched an idea of a train being able to travel that fast.


Hey Paul, great post.
I was wondering if you knew anything about the effect of the Russian Revolution on this large push to establish a more concrete infrastructure. I would imagine that it would have been difficult to financially support large projects like these while the Empire could barely keep a handle on the revolution.


You offer a wonderful tie in from the photograph of the steam engine to the broader goals and challenges of the Witte system here. And you’ve really leveraged the material from lecture to flesh out the information in the Prokudin-Gorskii collection nicely. I enjoyed reading this. Thanks!


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