Establishing the University
Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University (SPbPU), more commonly known in Russia and abroad as Polytechnic Institute, was founded in early 1899. It emerged during the period of the economic and cultural boom that took place at the turn of the 20th century and became one of the factors contributing to further successful development of the country. Half a century later, the University was acknowledged not only as a prominent higher education establishment, but also as "a significant Russia's cultural achievement" of the early 20th century.
The industrial boom of the late 1890s, accompanied by massive construction of new enterprises, financial stabilization and going up inward investment, led to a new approach to higher education in society, i.e., awareness of the need to reorganize it by establishing new schools of higher technical education. The Russian Technical Society (RTS) played an important role in raising and discussing this issue.
The idea found support in the top echelons of the country's government. S.Yu. Witte, the Minister of Finance, insisted that it was necessary to set up higher education establishments in Russia "in the form of polytechnic institutes that would embrace various fields of knowledge and be organized as universities rather than technical schools, i.e. such establishments that would have the major potential to develop young people and help them gain broader general knowledge".
This idea was theoretically justified in the program of industrial and commercial development of Russia presented by the Department of Trade and Industry of the Ministry of Finance. The Program stated that training specialists in the sphere of management, science, and engineering was highly significant, and the subsequent establishment of a chain of polytechnic institutes throughout the country was meant to illustrate how the new government policy in the field of science and engineering would be implemented.
V.I. Kovalevsky, Deputy Minister of Finance, and D.I. Mendeleev, distinguished Russian chemist and inventor, were among the most consistent proponents of S.Yu. Witte's ideas; later, they became the actual founders of SPbPU. The three of them were subsequently elected Honorary Members of the University, and their portraits were put on the walls in the Council Hall.
Other outstanding Russian scientists were also involved in establishing this new educational institution. N.P. Petrov, one of the greatest representatives of Russian engineering science, became the head of the Commission for Developing Curricula and Syllabuses. Economist A.S. Posnikov, metallurgist D.K. Chernov, electrical engineer A.S. Popov, shipbuilder and mathematician A.N. Krylov, directors of the Polytechnic Institutes in Kiev and Warsaw V.L. Kirpichev and A.E. Lagorio, and others were invited to take part in the work of the Commission.
Prince A.G. Gagarin was appointed Director of the Institute in January 1900. Along with that he became the Head of the Special Building Commission succeeding to engineer E.K. Ziegler von Schaffhausen. In spring of that year, A.G. Gagarin and architect E.F. Virrikh were commissioned to take a close look at the facilities and functioning of the leading schools of higher engineering education in Europe. As a result, 36 educational establishments in England, Belgium, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary and Switzerland were examined and positive aspects of their organization were taken into account: the methodology of teaching general and special engineering disciplines, numbers and contents of subjects to be taught to students of various departments and specialties, and the curricula. Thus, the most advanced for the time international experience generalized by A.G. Gagarin and E.F. Virrikh served as the model for Polytechnic education.