How much money did the richest people in tsarist Russia earn at today’s exchange rate?

Hello dear friends. Today I invite you to the past in order to find out who was the richest man in Russia under Ivan the Terrible and Nicholas II.

The history of the Russian oligarchy began a very long time ago. Even in the XII-XV centuries, merchants played an important role in the Novgorod province. During the time of Ivan the Terrible (16th century), the richest entrepreneur was Anika Stroganov , who was closely associated with state power.

He received millions of hectares of land from the tsar, built his enterprises on them and sent explorers and settlers to the Urals with the money he earned.

The fusion of capital with power reached its peak under Catherine II. Her favorites disposed of the millions given to them by the queen, and the less successful courtiers fought real palace battles for the title of favorite of the empress. Wealthy people at that time owned thousands of estates and vast lands.

By the 19th century a great split had emerged in feudal relations, and a class of industrial capitalists had emerged in Russia. By 1914, some of them managed to overtake many old noble families in wealth. However, close ties with the state remained. Railway tycoon Polyakov squandered the treasury, “vodka king” Smirnov carried drinks to the imperial court

19th century

Savva Morozov’s mansion Savva Morozov’s mansion

Samuil Polyakov(1837–1888) was “the most famous railway ace”, as the finance minister Sergei Witte called him. His specialty was the introduction of modern and fast management in construction. Polyakov received concessions for the construction of new roads, created commercial banks. However, according to contemporaries, Polyakov was not averse to squandering public funds. “In order to get a concession for the Azov road, he promised the local authorities 300,000 rubles and to build a plant for the production of rails, but did not build a plant and did not give money to the administration,” the well-known economist Skalkovsky (himself a well-known bribe merchant himself) was indignant. Polyakov died, leaving a legacy of 31 million rubles. Such a great success is doubly surprising, considering that it was achieved by a Jew, and Jews were oppressed in the Russian Empire. By the way,

Pyotr Smirnov (1831–1898) is a representative of the most famous family in Russia.

He went from a serf to the “vodka king” of all Russia. After his release, Smirnov opened a wine shop, and three years later, a small factory. The businessman always put the quality of the goods above all and did not lie. His liqueurs, vodkas and wines won awards at international exhibitions, and profits grew like mushrooms after rain. Smirnov developed his empire on vodka, and after his death, he left a fortune of 8.7 million gold rubles.

Two decades later, his son, Vladimir Smirnov, immigrated to produce and sell vodka under the now famous Smirnoff brand.

Pavel Tretyakov ( 1832–1898) was sometimes called the Russian Medici.

A hereditary merchant, Tretyakov built weaving factories, traded in fabrics, cotton and wool, and was a member of the board of the Commercial Bank. In 1898, his fortune was estimated at 3.8 million rubles. However, this entrepreneur is known primarily as a very generous philanthropist. For almost 40 years he collected paintings and built a national gallery.

“For me, a true and passionate lover of painting, there is no greater desire than to create a public repository of art objects,” the merchant wrote in his will. Today, the Tretyakov Gallery (Moscow) has 180,000 exhibits. This is one of the largest museums of Russian art in the world.

20th century (until 1917)

Felix Yusupov (1887–1967) is known not as a wealthy nobleman, but as the murderer of Rasputin.

A reveler and a playboy, Felix became the sole heir of 21 million rubles: the Yusupov family owned houses, mines, 23 mansions and shares. Yusupov earned a small handful for a living, and more than half of the income came from his personal expenses. But the mad aristocrat Felix desperately dreamed of great things, and this led him to murder. In his memoirs, Yusupov wrote: “After meetings with Rasputin, I became convinced that all the evil and the main cause of Russia’s troubles lurked in him.” Ironically, it was Rasputin who helped Yusupov regain financial stability after fleeing revolutionary Russia. In the film Rasputin and the Empress, Yusupov’s wife was portrayed as a victim of Rasputin’s rapist, and in 1933 Yusupov then sued the MGM film company for 250 thousand dollars. The headline “all characters are fictional and coincidences are coincidental” appeared in Hollywood after this story.

Nikolai Vtorov (1866-1918) – according to Forbes, in 1914 he was the richest entrepreneur in Russia.

Unlike many capitalists of the 19th century, Vtorov did not start from scratch. He was the son of a merchant and inherited 8 million rubles. Vtorov built a five-story shopping center in Moscow, loaned factories, traded in tea, mined gold and grew cotton. During the First World War, he founded the first chemical paint factory in Russia and the first electrometallurgical enterprise. In 1914, Vtorov’s fortune exceeded 60 million rubles.

According to the State Control in 1913, a secondary school teacher received 85 rubles, a porter – 18 rubles. The average family spent 20-25 rubles on groceries.

In 1913, the exchange rate of the ruble against the dollar was 1.94 rubles to the dollar; today we pay about 70 rubles to the dollar. Consequently, the ruble of 1913 is worth almost 800 modern rubles.

From 1898 to 1913, the ruble exchange rate did not change much (it was pegged to gold), so the 1913 exchange rate was used in the calculations. At the same time, today Tretyakov will own about 52 million dollars, Smirnov – 119 million. Polyakov died before the introduction of the gold standard, so his capital should have been about 583 million. Yusupov will receive 250 million, Vtorov – more than 716 million dollars.

For comparison:

To date, in the Forbse list among Russians, the first place is occupied by the chairman of the board of directors of Severstal Alexei Mordashov and his family, whose fortune is estimated at $ 29.1 billion – this is $ 12.3 billion more than a year earlier. He is followed by the leader of last year’s rating, the main beneficiary of Norilsk Nickel, Vladimir Potanin, with a fortune of $27 billion. NLMK owner Vladimir Lisin closes the top three with $26.2 billion.

Modest, isn’t it?


The Romanovs were among the richest people in Russia for centuries and did not always spend this money wisely. Catherine II wildly sprayed herself and gave thousands of dollars to her pets. At the same time, however, she specifically named her fifth granddaughter Olga so that her birthday and name day coincide, so that her grandmother would spend less on holidays!

Later, the Romanovs only amassed wealth. The uncle of Nicholas II recalled: “The dead capital of the royal family [in jewelry] was estimated at 160 million rubles.” According to the historian Igor Zimin, by 1917 the wife of Nicholas II “hid” 600-700 diamonds. The tsar had a multi-million share in the bank and shares in the railways. During the failed revolution of 1905, Nicholas played it safe and transferred millions of his personal savings to German banks. According to various estimates, by 1917 they kept from 2 to 15 million rubles.

The imperial family had villas in France and palaces in Denmark. In Russia, she owned vineyards, farms, luxurious mansions and palaces, mines, villas worth 100 million rubles. The income of Nicholas II reached 20 million rubles a year. But even this was not enough for the king.

Witte remembered: once Nikolai gave a man from “his entourage” a loan of two million rubles at the expense of the State Bank.

And we all say, “Servants of the people.” It turns out that even in the last century even God’s anointed ones could serve in this way. What can we say about the present …

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