Abraham Ganz at the Hindukush

Широка страна моя родная, a spacious land is Russia, there is room in it for all peoples. As Araz pointed out in yesterday’s post the photos of Azerbaijan from the Russian imperial photo project of Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky, so I checked and found at least two Hungarian-related photos among the 1902 color pictures digitized by the Library of Congress.

A search for “Hungary” in the database yields one single photo. Its original caption has not survived, but, on the advice of electrical engineer Paul Cooper and foreign area officer Martin Chadzynski, the librarians provided it with the title: “Alternators made in Budapest, Hungary, in the power generating hall of a hydroelectric station in Iolotan on the Murghab river (between 1905 and 1915)”.

This photo in the catalog of the Library of Congress is the result of the automatic reconstruction of 2004 by Blaise Agüeras y Arcas. The other version is the hand-made reconstruction, made in 2001 by Walter Frankhausen.

The Hindukush hydroelectric power station of Iolotan was built in 1909 on the Murghab river, in Transcaspia (Закаспийская область), that is, in the south-east part of modern Turkmenistan. In 1887, Tsar Alexander III purchased from Turkmen tribes here, next to the ancient city of Merv (today a World Heritage Site), a vast desert land, to establish there the modern successor of the legendary fertile Oasis of Merv. By moving khokhol – Ukrainian – settlers to the Tsar’s estates, they established a huge modern model economy, a kind of a Technopolis, with extended irrigation, thriving cotton processing and other industries. The Hindukush power plant, which, with its production of 1350 kW, was the hydroelectric plant with the highest output in tsarist Russia, was built to provide the area with electricity. (As a comparison, in 1917, the combined output of the thousands of hydroelectric plants in Russia was 19 MW.)

The Hindukush power plant on a postcard sent on 24 January 1911. From the “Sights of Turkestan” series

Prokudin-Gorsky visited the region twice, first in 1906-1907, then in 1911. From the Merv district, we have 68 of his photos: besides the ruins of the ancient city of Merv and the ethnographic pictures of the Turkmen herders, we find mainly images of the cotton lands, cotton processing plants, and the hydroelectric plant. This latter, which he obviously was able to shoot only on the 1911 expedition, is represented by six photos in the Library of Congress. Since the registration album that was composed after the expedition has not survived, the catalog of the Library of Congress does not include the location of most of the photos. They were identified by “The Legacy of Prokudin-Gorsky” International Project.

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In the Hungary of that time, only the Ganz Works was capable of producing such a powerful alternator. The company was founded in 1845 by the Swiss Abraham Ganz as an iron foundry and machine factory, whose original building in Buda has been open since 1964 as a museum. In 1869 his successor, András Mechwart, expanded the company with an electric department, and made it a world-renowned enterprise and one of the largest group of companies in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. The Ganz and Co. Danubius Electric, Machine, Wagon and Ship Factory, Ltd. delivered machines across Europe and Asia. In Odessa, I myself have seen old ship cranes manufactured by them. After the war, the company was nationalized, and in 1959, it merged with the neighboring locomotive and wagon factory as Ganz-MÁVAG. In my childhood, this district-large building block in Kőbánya, the industrial outskirts of Budapest, was a city-within-the-city, which gave jobs to a significant number of local workers. We have already quoted the Song of Lenin by its choir and orchestra. Then, with the change of regime in 1989, the company was shut down and sold at a loss to foreign investors in the name of so-called privatization, in which I myself took part as an interpreter for Italian investors. Ever since then, the building block has served as the largest Chinese market of Europe. Its most valuable part is the small Chinese eatery which I still consider, after so many years, to be one of the best places to get Chinese cuisine in Budapest.

The Hindukush hydroelectric power plant of Joloten, however, was not shaken by the change of regime. It has continuously worked for more than a century with its original equipment, about which in 2011, just a hundred years after Prokudin-Gorsky’s photos, tinmekun published a photo series on yandex.ru. It is clear that nothing has changed in the engine room. The same floor tiles, the same division of the windows, the same machinery, the same glaring lights on the floor. And the brass plaque also has the same inscription as a hundred years ago.

Ганцовская электр[отехническая] комп[анія] въ Будапештѣ – Ganz Electric Works, Budapest

By the way, the importation of Western state-of-the-art equipment was not a rare thing in tsarist Russia. In another photo by Prokudin-Gorsky, we see a sawing machine in the carpentry of the Zlatoust ironworks, which was produced, according to its brass label, in Berlin-Reinickendorf, just a couple of S-Bahn-stops from where I now write this. The factory of Reinickendorf still exists. I wonder if that of Zlatoust also exists, with the machine saw inside it.

About the other Hungary-related photo by Prokudin-Gorsky we will write in another post.

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