Early spring of 1696 Peter the Great took a trip to the Russian town of Tula famous for its armouries. Numerous wars revealed all the weak points of Russian weapons: domestic industry yielded too much to European and the major part of weapon was imported from Holland and Sweden. The necessity to develop domestic metallurgy sector and related industries had appeared long time ago. In Tula Peter the Great inspected the metallurgical plant and its production and asked the workers to fix the gun made by a foreign craftsman. Surprisingly, one armourer repaired the gun as well as he managed to make its exact copy. The name of the master was Nikita Demidovich Antufyev.
Nikita Antufyev (also known as Demidov) was born in 1656 in a common peasant family. He came to prominence after Peter the Great visited that metallurgical plant in Tula. The Emperor didn’t forget about the talented craftsman and ordered to grant him some land and money enough to start his own business. Antufyev (Demidov) build a big iron-processing plant on the Tulitsa River and soon after that Russian arsenal received new guns of excellent quality and 12 times cheaper than those of Europeans. Demidov supplied iron and cast iron to St. Petersburg construction works along with other products necessary for army and fleet.
Here, it should be mentioned, that Peter the Great introduced several Acts providing domestic entrepreneurs with particular privileges. E.g. they were allowed to take interest-free loans to start business, were exempted from taxes and duties on production for a long period and didn’t have to go to the army (this privilege applied to all the members of the family).
The entrepreneur asked the Emperor to lease him a plant built in 1699 in the Ural on the Nevya River. The land was rich in minerals and gem stones, so the plant started to work as soon as the deal was made. Weapon and ammunition produced at the plant Demidov supplied to the Russian army during the North War of 1700-1721.
Later Demidov built Shuralinsky (1716), Byngovsky (1718) and some other plants in the Ural. In 1720 the Emperor gave the entrepreneur and his descendants the title of nobility.
Demidov proved to be a very successful businessman of his time: his fortune grew quickly and he became more famous with every passing year. By the end of the 18th century the industrial empire of the Demidovs included 55 plants and factories producing one third of the total amount of iron and cast iron Russia manufactured then. Besides obligatory deliveries of weapon and ammunition (amounting to 20% of all production) Demidovs’ plants provided the Russian market with sheet iron and various metal wares: mugs, jars, kettles and samovars.
After the death of Nikita Demidov, the family business devolved to his son Akinfy, who turned to be the true Demidov. His workers went up to the Altai Mountains and found rich deposits of silver; they learnt to work malachite and other Uralian gems, turning them into wonderful decorations, vases and caskets.