One of the many aims of Tsar Alexander II’s Great Reforms was to modernize the Russian economy in order to compete with Western Europe. The Industrial Revolution had recently ushered in an enormous production and population boom in Europe. At the same time, Russia failed to keep up with its western counterparts. Russian infrastructure was severely lacking, with an underdeveloped road network and a deficient railway system that only connected Moscow to Saint Petersburg. This left Russia’s rich (but distant) resources unconnected, forcing them to import resources such as iron, steel, and up to 70 percent of its machinery.
But while the rest of Russia struggled to modernize in the mid to late 1800s, the town of Kasli, Russia had been thriving for years. Located in the South Urals, Kasli was rich in timber (for charcoal) and shallow iron ore, and Kasli’s Iron factory became the reason for the town’s existence.
Kasli originally produced cast iron for weapons and household items, but by the mid-19th century the Kasli plant had become famous for its artistic sculptures. By 1860, the Kasli plant had even become the iron supplier of the royal family. Kasli’s cast iron art had even won gold medals at the world exhibitions in Vienna (1873), Philadelphia (1876), Copenhagen (1888), Stockholm (1897), and Paris (1867 and 1900).
Kasli’s fame was the result of its uniqueness, both artistically and politically. Kasli’s smooth and detailed sculptures had never before been done using cast iron, and before this point they were usually produced using the much more expensive bronze. Kasli had been successful due to its innovation, but its geographic position and proximity to raw resources without a doubt gave it a significant advantage over other Russian cities. Above all, Kasli is a symbol of uniqueness. Just as cast iron is not usually as beautiful as the Kasli sculptures, most Russian cities were not as isolated from the effects of Russia’s outdated economy and infrastructure as Kasli was.
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997. Print. 216