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Central Museum of Railway Transport of Russia (Saint Petersburg)

50 Sadovaya Street, St. Petersburg (tel.: +7 812 315-14-76, +7 812 168-80-05, +7 812 457-80-05), Metro stations: "Sadovaya", "Sennaya Ploshchad", "Spasskaya".


In the early 19th century, the developing agriculture, industry, internal and external trade in Russia required new and more reliable transport routes.

On 20th November 1809, the Corps of Transport Route Engineers (the Corps, for short) was established, for the purpose of construction and usage of water and land transport routes. Together with the Corps, the Institute of the Corps of Transport Route Engineers (the Institute, for short) was founded, for the purpose of personnel training for the Corps. The palace and the surrounding garden of Duke Yusupov (115 Fontanka Embankment, designed by the architect Giacomo Quarenghi) were purchased for 350,000 roubles and allocated to the Institute. On 1th November 1810, studies started at the Institute.

At the Institute, a "special room" was dedicated to keeping models of all the most important structures that had already been constructed (or were still under design) in Russia and other countries. In 1813, the "special room" received the first models. This is the year that is considered the birth year of the present-day Central Museum of Railway Transport of the Russian Federation (the Museum, for short). Initially, 5,000 roubles were allocated each year for purchasing and creating models, various devices, and tools.

In the beginning, the collection of the "special room" was enlarged with models acquired in Western Europe. Later, items would come primarily from Russia. A number of models of remarkable Russian engineering structures were made by the workshop of the Institute. Several models were produced by the workshop in accordance with designs of the first rector of the Institute, Agustin de Betancourt. According to some sources, several models were produced by the rector himself; he was a master carpenter, mechanic and turner. Currently, the Museum possesses seven models preserved from the times of Betancourt.

In 1823, two important events in the life of the Institute happened: it (together with the "special room") was relocated to a new building on Obukhovsky Avenue (later known as 9 Moskovsky Avenue) and a new statute of the Institute was adopted. The statute stated that the Museum must be open not only to teachers and students of the Institute, but all the staff of the government agency for transport routes.

In 1829, the position of library and museum keeper (to be occupied by a lower rank officer) was introduced.

When railway construction started in Western Europe and the United States, the Institute also showed a great interest in this new type of transport routes.

In the spring of 1830, Gabriel Lame, a professor at the Institute, was sent abroad for six months "to thoroughly study and describe remarkable structures of England and France." In early 1831, Colonel Lame held a public lecture entitled "Construction of Railways in England" at the Institute. It seems without doubt that the workshop of the Institute used his sketches to produce full-size, wooden, coloured models of small segments of rails from several railways: the Darlington Railway, Liverpool, and Rouen Railway.

Since that time, the holdings of the Museum had been enlarged with models on a regular basis.

Until 1850, the Museum was situated in two outbuildings, very small ones. In February of 1850, it was decided to relocate the Museum to the ground floor of the main building of the Institute previously occupied by an officer school and barracks for lower ranks. In January of 1851, all the works on the new premises were completed; the rooms of the Museum were equipped with mahogany shelves, cabinets, and cases as well as glass covers for models, instruments and tools. The produced covers for models alone amounted to 37. All the furniture was made at the state workshops of the Hermitage Museum.

In 1859, the Institute celebrated its 50th anniversary. As a part of preparations for the anniversary, portraits of all the heads of the government agency for transport routes (starting from the times when the Institute was created) were made as well as a portrait of the first of those rectors of the Institute who also studied at the Institute, A. Gotman; he also happened to be the first student of the Institute's first class. In the documents dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the Institute, it was noted: "... by including models of the most important structures, the museum of the Institute becomes a kind of a pantheon of the Russian art of engineering; it introduces visitors to activities of transport communication officers, in particular, as well as to the state of the construction art in Russia, in general."

After the solemn celebration of the Institute's anniversary, a special decree was issued. According to the decree, all the organizations occupied with construction works in Russia were obliged to send models and sketches of the constructed structures to the Institute. The holdings of the museum started enlarging rapidly with not only models related to transportation, but also models of large civil engineering structures, monuments and cathedrals.

In July of 1862, the first description of the Museum's models was issued. This description was written by Nikolay Sokolov, a captain of the Corps of Transport Route Engineers and a professor of hydraulics at the Institute. In his preface to the description, Sokolov noted: "The Museum of the Institute of the Corps of Transport Route Engineers consists of 6 rooms:
1) the Room of Modelling and Mechanics;
2) the Room of Construction and Work Tools;
3) the Room of Physics;
4) the Room of Geodesy;
5) the Room of Mineralogy;
6) the Room of Construction Material Samples. Among these, the Room of Modelling and Mechanics deserves special attention, being the only Russia's collection of the kind and one of the best Europe's collections."

In the autumn of 1862, the Museum was opened to the public. The rules of the Museum included the following: "The Museum is open to the public on Sundays, from 10 o'clock in the morning until 2 o'clock in the afternoon, all year round except for the summer months: May, June, July and August. At the entrance, a description of the Room of Modelling Mechanics may be acquired for 60 kopecks a copy. When the Museum is open to the public, visitors of all the estates are admitted free of charge, no tickets are required."

Continuous, intensive influx of exhibits led to difficulties with their placement. The Museum's room became cramped, and it became difficult for visitors to have a good view of many models. In order to improve the situation, in 1866 the Museum was significantly extended by receiving two large rooms.

During the last quarter of the 19th century, most items received by the Museum were donations of various organizations, enterprises and individuals. The Museum received personal belongings of two former ministers of transport routes, Pavel Melnikov and Konstantin Possiet; many donations to the Museum were made by Professor Yakov Gordeyenko who served as the director of the museum for several years. A model of a freight steam locomotive with a driving mechanism (used at the Ural Metallurgical Railway) and a model of a steel bridge over the Ranova River (of the Ryazan-Kozlov Railway) were presented as a gift to the Museum by the Society of the Kolomenskoye Mechanical Engineering Plant. A model of the first span of the Alexander Bridge over the Volga River (of the Orenburg Railway) was donated by the engineer Konstantin Mikhailovsky who had built that bridge.

Some items from the collection of the Museum were donated in turn. For example, in 1892 by order of the minister of transport routes, Sergey Witte, the president of France received as a gift 15 models possessed by the Museum and displayed at the 5th International Conference for Inland Waterways.

6th July (25th June Old Style) 1896 was the 100th birthday of Empreror Nicolas I who had played an important role in advent of the first Russian railways. The minister of transport routes, Mikhail Khilkov, proposed to establish (in one of the buildings of the ministry in Saint Petersburg) a museum of various models, structures, tools and machines and to name it after the emperor. On 22nd June 1896, this proposal was approved by the then reigning Emperor Nicolas II. In May of 1897, the State Council allocated 7,500 roubles for the creation of the museum. Duke Khilkov allocated a manege that was situated in the courtyard of the house of the minister of transport routes. However, because of influx of items to the newly created museum named after the Emperor, it soon became clear that the manege could not accommodate all of them.

For this reason, as well as because it was necessary to relocate the archive of the Ministry of Transport Routes from the building of the ministry, Khilkov approached the State Council with a proposal to construct a common building for the museum and archive. In March of 1900, the State Council allocated 90,000 roubles from the state treasury to the minister of transport routes for the construction of this building.

It was decided to construct the building on the public land owned by the Ministry of Transport Routes (the Yusupov Garden), with the faсade facing Sadovaya Street. In the same year, it was decided to provide the Nicholas I Museum with exhibits of the Russian railway and water departments from the 1900 Paris Universal Exhibition. Issue No. 10, 1901, of the Vestnik Putey Soobshcheniya (Transport Routes Herald) magazine noted that among the exhibits that had arrived from the Exhibition "the following items deserve special attention: the model of the Plaisir yacht of Peter the Great, the panorama of the Siberia Railway (by Doctor Pyasetsky), the models of the Baykal icebreaker, of bridges over the Volkhov and Yenisey Rivers and of a new locomotive works of the Nicolas Railway."

On 2nd June 1901, in the presence of the minister of transport routes the foundation stone of the building was laid. For the purpose of construction work supervision, a special construction committee was formed presided by the director of the Chancellery of the Ministry of the Transport Routes, Privy Counsellor Yermolayev, while an architect of the buildings of the Ministry of Transport Routes, a civil engineer, Actual Privy Counsellor Pyotr Kupinsky was put in charge of the implementation. When the building was under construction, it was decided to build a pavilion for the carriage of the emperor near it. Around 100,000 roubles in total were spent for the construction.

On 6th December 1902, at 2 o'clock in the afternoon the blessing and opening of the Nicolas I Museum of the Ministry of Transport Routes took place. During the ceremony, highest officials of the State Council and Cabinet of Ministers were present. After the prayer service, everybody was invited to see the Museum. The high-ranking guests were presented with a specially issued catalogue of the items of the Museum, with only 2,000 copies printed.

In January of 1903, Mikhail Khilkov signed the visitor rules of the Museum. According to the rules, the Museum was open to the public on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays from 10 o'clock in the morning till 3 o'clock in the afternoon, excluding public holidays. The entrance fee was set at 25 kopecks. Students (wearing uniform) were admitted free of charge. A catalogue of the items of the Museum was sold for 50 kopecks.

On 28th February 1903, at 4 o'clock in the afternoon the Museum was visited by Emperor Nicholas II. After he had visited the Museum, Nicholas II presented the Museum with a desk, an arm chair and an inkwell that were situated at imperial palaces and used by Nicholas I as well as with a number of models including one of a steam locomotive of the Rostov-Vladikavkaz Railway featuring a nameplate stating "Stanislaw Kierbedz. 1894".

In order to commemorate the visit of Nicholas II, at a landing of the main staircase a marble plaque was installed; the plaque contained the following writing: "On 28th February 1903, His Imperial Majesty Our Sovereign Lord Nicholas II deigned to visit the Nicolas I Museum of the Ministry of Transport Routes."

At the request of Khilkov, Nicholas II granted the title of the hereditary honorary citizen to the stone and plaster work contractor Maksim Sinitsyn and to the house painting contractor Sergey Sokolov. It is interesting to note that Maskim Sinitsyn was an avid book collector; he collected everything related to Russia and possessed the Russia's unique collection of all the published Russian fairy tales.

By 1904, the building of the museum was expanded with a two-storey pavilion built on the southern side. In 1905, boats of Peter the Great and Alexander II, two banners of the disbanded Lagoda Battalion of the Ministry of Transport Routes were placed in this pavilion. They used to be kept before that in Shlisselburg. The boat of Peter the Great contained a mast, a wooden gaff with sails and a cast-iron plaque that said: "In September 1724, His Majesty Our Sovereign Lord Emperor Peter the Great deigned to go along the bottom of a canal between the Dubno village and Ladoga on this boat; and the boat was towed by boys dressed like sailors."

By 1909, an expansion design was developed; according to the design, two wings were to be added to the building of the Museum. In 1910, the left wing was completed. In the same year, the 100th anniversary of foundation of the Institute of the Corps of Transport Route Engineers, the main part of the Institute's museum was relocated from the building in Moscow Avenue to this wing. Later, the museum of the Ministry and that of the Institute was merged into one Museum.

During the first years after the 1917 Russian Revolution, because of the Civil War and the devastation left by it, the Museum was not funded, its building was not heated and no work was done at the Museum. The staff of the Museum consisted of a keeper and a guard. However, efforts of the professors, teachers and students of the Institute helped to preserve the unique collection of the Museum.

On 2nd November 1924, the Museum was again opened to the public. On 4th November 1924, the Izvestiya ("News") newspaper wrote: "At the Institute of the Corps of Transport Route Engineers, a solemn opening of the Museum took place; the Museum is unique in the Russian Republic and one of the best in the world. The Museum, which did not function during the 1917 Russian Revolution, is now restored exclusively by the efforts of the students, with intimate participation of Professor Karaulov."

After the Museum had been opened, its exhibits were placed in five departments (the General Department, the Department of Bridges, the Department of Railways, the Department of Water, and the Department of Architecture) and sorted historically. The Museum was open to the public two days a week: on Thursdays and Sundays from 11 o'clock in the morning to 3 o'clock in the afternoon. The issue of enlargement of the Museum's holdings was very acute at that time. The Museum composed the letters that told about the opening of the Museum, contained some information about it and asked to help the Museum with historically and technically valuable materials, and these letters were sent to the People's Commisariat (Ministry) for Transport Routes (PCTR), trade unions, directorates of railways, transportation and construction organizations. However, as an answer to these letters the Museum received only several albums, sketches and photographs. In 1925 and 1926, the Museum could not afford purchasing anything due to the lack of funds. In these years, the Museum successfully insisted on returning the models that had been relocated previously to offices and lecture halls of the Institute.

Only in late 1926, the first funds (1,000 roubles) were allocated by the PCTR. However, these funds were far from enough. It was only possible to use them to purchase a portrait of George Stephenson (the "Father of Railways"), 12 engravings, an album; 500 roubles were spent to repair some models. At the same time, the Museum needed at least 15,000 roubles for setting the models on display in order!

Thanks to energetic work of the president of the Museum Committee and the scientific keeper of the museum, Professor A. N. O'Rourke, the funding of the Museum was gradually increased. Starting from 1928, this helped to enlarge holdings, repair models and create new exhibitions. A new department, the Department of Local Transportation, was created. An inventory of the holdings and property of the Museum was taken, the first one since 1917.

The Museum played an increasingly important role in the life of the Institute, now renamed the Leningrad Institute of Transport Route Engineers. In the academic year of 1929/1930, visits to the Museum (3 hours) were included to the class schedule for the first year students. The number of visitors was growing rapidly. In 1931, the first Soviet Brief Guide to the Museum (by Professor O'Rourke) was published.

After a number of faculties and departments (related to water, air, road and military routes) had been removed from it, the Institute concentrated on training mainly railway transportation personnel. In connection to this, the Institute was renamed the Leningrad Institute of Railway Transportation Engineers in 1930. The newly founded Leningrad Institute of Water Transportation received all the items of the Department of Water including the Sub-Department of Hydraulic Structures amounting to 500 items, which have not been preserved to the present times.

On 15th December 1931, the Institute was divided into two independent educational institutions, the Leningrad Railway Construction Training Centre for Railway Transportation Engineers and the Leningrad Electromechanics Training Centre of Railway Transportation. In connection to this, the authorities of the Leningrad City decided to transfer the Museum under direction of the People's Commisariat (Ministry) for Transport Routes, but this decision has never been implemented. The heads of the training centres decided to liquidate the Museum and to distribute the exhibits among classrooms and lecture halls. Invaluable items were loaded in bulk onto carts, moved, and piled in various rooms of these educational institutions. A number of exhibits were given to various Leningrad museums. This way, the oldest transportation museum ceased to exist. Its rooms were occupied by the Electromechanics Training Centre. All this caused resentment not only by railwaymen, but also by many inhabitants of Leningrad.

A story about destruction of the Museum that was published on 27th September 1932 by a Leningrad newspaper, the Krasnaya Zvezda ("Red Star"), was considered by the Praesidium of the Region and City Control Committee of the Communist Party. The presidium asked the directors of the training centres to have the Museum re-established by 1st November 1932. However, this decision has never been implemented. It took another story in the newspaper (published in May of 1933) to force the training centres to free the rooms of the Museum and to return the exhibits. However, it then became clear that a significant part of the exhibits had been destroyed or seriously damaged.

In 1933, the People's Commisariat (Ministry) for Transport Routes took the Museum under its immediate authority. After that the staff of the Museum expanded significantly, and funds were allocated for restoration of models and acquisition of new exhibits. The employees of the Museum did a hard job of restoring the Museum. In 1934, the Museum was again opened to the public. The exhibitions of the Museum were organized into the following departments: the Introductory and History Department, the Department of Locomotives, the Department of Carriages, the Department of Usage and Maintenance, the Department of Signalling Control and Communications, the Department of Railway Tracks, the Department of Bridges, the Department of the Revolutionary Movement, the Department of Annexes, and the Department of Railway Reconstruction. At that time, the holdings of the Museum contained 11,843 items including 490 models.

For the first time ever, the Museum started activities outside its building. Branches of the Museum were established in pavilions at the two largest parks of the city, mobile exhibitions were arranged. In 1935, the Museum prepared and issued a guide to the Museum, with 3,000 copies printed.

In 1938, the Museum again became a part of the Leningrad Institute of Railway Transportation Engineers. In 1938 and 1939, new subjects were covered by the exhibitions of the Museum such as "the Stakhanovite movement" and "the successful development of the socialist railway transportation." Starting right from the facade, the Museum was stuffed with portraits of Joseph Stalin and Lazar Kaganovich, the People's Commissar of Transport Routes. A great event in the life of the Museum was a creation of functioning models of a gravity hump and a railway section equipped with electric interlocking and an automatic block signal system. In 1941, the holdings of the Museum occupied the whole ground floor of the Museum's building.

When the German troops invaded the Soviet Union during the Second World War, the most valuable collections were evacuated to Novosibirsk. The Museum was shut down. For the purpose of guarding and keeping things in order, a team of four employees lead by a vice-director of the Museum, I. I. Khipagin, remained at the Museum. In 1941–1942, the premises of the Leningrad Institute of Railway Transportation Engineers experienced severe artillery bombardment. The exploding shells shuttered all the windows of the Museum's building. The employees of the Museum covered the windows with wooden boards. A direct hit of two shells destroyed the ceiling of the central foyer. During the 1941–1944 Leningrad Blockade by German troops, two employees (a father and a daughter of the Maksimov family) died by starvation.

After the Leningrad Blockade had been completely lifted, the holdings of the Museum returned from Novosibirsk in March of 1944. A new team of employees was formed; model repair works started and the exhibitions were being restored to their pre-war condition. All this was done under the direst of circumstances. On 9th December 1946, the Vecherny Leningrad ("Evening Leningrad") newspaper published an editorial entitled "The Museum is shut down". This article noted: "...The renovation works started two years previously have not been finished by the time of publication. The Central Directorate of Educational Institutions at the Ministry of Railway Transport allocated 80,000 roubles to the Museum, but the Museum received only 15,000 roubles. It is necessary to open the Soviet Union's only museum of railway transport. Its invaluable materials must be available to everybody who is interested in the history of development of our railways." The newspaper's voice was heard. In 1947, as much as 461,000 roubles had been spent for the Museum.

However, by the end of 1947, when the Museum was about to receive an official approval of its exhibitions and a permission to open them to the public, the head of the Institute ordered to clear the three rooms on the ground floor of the Museum's building of the items of the Museum and to hand them over to the newly created Research Institute of Bridges at the Ministry of Railway Transport. This handing-over process postponed the opening of the Museum and frustrated prospects to expand its exhibitions.

On 18th May 1948, the Museum was open to the public. V. Laptev, I. Khipagin, Z. Kudryavtseva, P. Semyonov, P. Taran and L. Maykova were among the employees who had contributed a lot of work to make this happen. During seven months of 1948, the Museum was visited by 12,000 people and 144 tours were given. In the summer of 1948, the first postwar exhibition dedicated to the Railwayman Day was arranged in the Leningrad Central Park of Culture and Leisure. In 1948, the first postwar inventory of the holdings was taken. At that time, the holdings of the Museum contained 2,001 items, out of which 760 items were on display.

In 1950s, the employees of the Museum made a lot of effort to enlarge the Soviet period collection with models of Diesel locomotives, electric locomotives and other contemporary technology as well as to drive workshops of the Research Institute of Bridges, which being extremely noisy caused fair complaints of visitors, out of the ground floor of the Museum's building. A lot of effort had also to be spent on household issues, because the war years were still taking their toll. In 1957, the Museum was shut down for a major renovation whereby all the exhibitions were dismantled and repairs of the models were organized. The vice-director I. Khipagin and the methodologist L. Maykova developed several variants of subject-related plans. The Museum Council decided to create exhibitions divided into the following departments: The Beginnings of the Russian Railways, Construction of Railways in the Pre-Revolutionary Russia, Rolling Stock and Usage, Maintenance and Communication Equipment of Railways in the Pre-Revolutionary Russia, Soviet Railway Transportation, Construction of Railways during the Soviet Period, Rolling Stock of the Soviet Railway Transportation.

Having overcome numerous obstacles and in the shortest possible time, the personnel of the Museum created exhibitions in accordance with the new exhibition-related plan.

On 5th November 1957, the Museum was again opened to the public.

In 1968, the personnel of the Museum were awarded with certificates of the USSR Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (as a part of the USSR). The Gudok ("Locomotive Whistle"), the official newspaper of the Ministry of Transport Routes, noted that these successes were in a great part due to the following employees of the Museum: the director Kudryavtseva, the methodologist Maykova, and the assistants Zakrevskaya, Ushakova and Taran.

In 1970, a mobile exhibition dedicated to the history of the Russian railway transportation was created by the Museum. The first trip of the exhibition was to a station of the Murmansk Section of the October Railway. Constantly updated, until 1991 this exhibition had visited many railways of the USSR.

In 1971, 40,000 copies of the new Guide to the Museum of Railway Transportation were printed; the guide was written by G. Zakrevskaya. The guide noted that the holdings of the Museum contained 4,000 items (including 800 albums) that reflected the construction of railways in the pre-revolutionary Russia and the USSR.

In 1974, Zarkevskaya, a young and ambitious employee, was appointed the director of the Museum; she managed to enhance the activities of the Museum even further. In 1975–1976, the exhibitions of the Museum were updated whereby the following new departments were created: Railway Transportation during the Second World War and Baykal-Amur Mainline.

The prestige of the Museum was growing not only in the USSR, but also in the world, which was reflected by the fact that in 1977 the Museum hosted the transportation session of the 11th General Conference of the International Council of Museums.

In November of 1979, the Ministry of Railway Transport assigned the director G. Zakrevskaya with the task of organising the project of searching and preserving the locomotives and carriages that deserved to be considered monuments of the history of railway transportation. The result of this project was a rolling stock collection, which contained over 50 items.

In 1987, a very important event happened in the life of the Museum: the Museum was reorganized and renamed the Central Museum of Railway Transport at the Ministry of Railway Transport. This change of status facilitated the tasks of exhibit acquisition, helped to enhance the quality of research in the field of the Russian railway history, to enlarge exhibitions, to expand exhibition-related and other educational activities and to become a science and methodology centre for the railway museums at the Ministry of Railway Transport.

In 1990s, the Museum created two branches: Russian Engine Engineering and Rolling Stock in the Open Air.

At present, the holdings of the Museum contain over 50,000 items. Lately, the Museum has prepared and published 5 catalogues of museum objects including The Heads of the Railway Agency in Russia and the USSR (1797–1995), a catalogue of artistic portraits, which also includes biographical information. Currently, a database of museum objects is under development; the database will include the objects possessed by the Museum and by the network of railway and road museums of the Ministry of Railway Transportation. Each year the Museum arranges from 10 to 12 exhibitions. The very rich holdings of the Museum are used by various Saint Petersburg and Moscow museums for their exhibitions. Books, cinema and TV films on the history of Russia's transportation routes.

As a science and methodology centre, the Museum have discovered and registered around 250 museums of the network of the Ministry of Railway Transport. The Museum supports exposition updates at existing museums and foundations of new museums with consultancy and materials, organises seminars and conferences of railway and road museums and offers internships for museum employees.

The Museum enjoys influence among the museum community, historians, and railway enthusiasts from Russia, the CIS and Baltic states.

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Central Museum of Railway Transport of Russia