Discovering the Kuznetsk Coal Basin

The Burnt Hill

Peter the Great initiated some very important reforms that led to an active study of Russia’s enormous natural resources. A special Mining Board called Berg Collegium supervised Russian industry and sent research parties to the most distant areas of the country. Mikhailo Volkov was a member of such a geological exploration crew that worked in the south of West Siberia. Once, when he was going somewhere by boat down the Tom River, he saw dark smoke rising from a strange red hill. He took samples of the black stones he found there and sent the “burning stone” to the Siberian authorities and the Mining Board in St. Petersburg. The report he made in 1721 became the first official document that registered the vast coal deposits of what would become the Kuznetsk Basin. The Mining Board studied the samples and ordered a thorough research of Kuznetsk coal. The main task was to find out whether it was possible to ship the coal by boats to the nearest industrial enterprises.

Little did they know that Mikhailo Volkov discovered one of the largest coal deposits in the world…

Imperial lands

Someone had to start commercial exploration and development of the distant area, so the Mining Board gave the territory away to a rich manufacturer from the Urals, Akinphy Demidov. The future Kemerovo Region became part of the mining and metallurgical empire that Demidov established far away from the governmental control. So promising was the region, that after Demidov’s death in 1747 Empress Elizaveta, the daughter of Peter the Great, confiscated the lands and added them to her own imperial property. The newly formed Kolyvano-Voskresensky, or Altaisky, mining area was managed by a special committee called Imperial Cabinet. Kuzbass remained part of the imperial lands from 1747 up to the very end of Russian absolute monarchy in 1917.

The Kemerovo Mine

In August, 1907 the Imperial Cabinet founded a new coal mine near the village of Kemerovo. Vladimir Mamontov was appointed its director. He was a nephew of Savva Mamontov, the most prosperous manufacturer and philanthropist in the Russian Empire. Mamontov and his assistant, foreman Victor Shalkov, conducted a thorough geological exploration of the local coal deposits. They identified six coal seams and named them after themselves and Mikhailo Volkov: Vladimirsky seam, Viktorovsky seam, and Volkovsky seam.  
In those days coal was extracted mainly from shallow prospect shafts and riverside drifts. The coal was sold to the city of Tomsk, the local steamship line, and villages located along the banks of the Siberian River Ob. Since Tomsk was located downstream from Kemerovo, it was easy to transport coal by steamers, rafts, and drag boats.