The Morozovs: A merchant dynasty

August 8

The Morozovs are one of the most famous dynasties of entrepreneurs, patrons of the arts and philanthropists in Moscow. The founder, Savva Morozov, accomplished something that was almost impossible. A serf, he eventually started a business which proved to be a success, and soon he was able to buy himself and his family out of serfdom. Having started with a small silk-weaving workshop, by the end of his life, Savva Morozov was a First Guild merchant and owned several factories. His descendants were the richest people in Russia and became prominent in various fields besides industry.

After the 1917 October Revolution, all of the Morozovs’ enterprises were nationalised; the family’s net worth was over 110 million roubles.

Savva the First

Savva Morozov, an Old Believer and a serf owned by landowner Nikolai Ryumin, never sat idle: he worked as a cabman, a shepherd, and a factory worker. When he was young, he got a job as a weaver at a silk-weaving manufactory run by Fyodor Kononov in the village of Zuyevo, Bogorodsky District, Moscow Province. He closely watched how production was organised and dreamed of starting his own factory one day.

However, that path could have been cut off by military service when he was conscripted. Morozov did not want to forget about his dream for 25 years (which was how long military service was for conscripts at the time) and so he did something unprecedented to avoid it. He asked Kononov for a large loan – he needed the money to pay his way out of conscription. Incredibly, he was able to repay the loan in just two years with the piecework wages he earned at Kononov’s factory, even though he did have to work hard and live very frugally during this period.

Savva Morozov

In 1797, Morozov married Ulyana, the daughter of a dye craftsman, who gave him five gold roubles as her dowry. Morozov used the money to open a workshop.

After 14 years, he had 20 hired hands working for him and manufacturing goods worth more than 1,000 roubles a year – the enterprising man’s investment paid off in full. In 1812, when the owners of most Moscow textile factories lost heart looking at the burned down city, Savva Morozov looked for something positive and turned those sad events around for his own good. He knew that Moscow along with the provinces was in dire need of fabric. Shortly before the war, fabric imports from England ceased because of Napoleon. So, Morozov boosted his workshop’s capacity as much as he could to produce more.

In 1821, he paid to free himself and his four sons, Yelisei, Zakhar, Abram and Ivan, from serfdom. The amount the landowner asked for their freedom was unheard of – 17,000 roubles. A little later, the fifth son, Timofei, was born into the Morozov family.

It took Savva two more years to buy land in the village of Nikolskoye (now Orekhovo-Zuyevo). It was there that the famous Nikolskaya Manufactory was built, and the family never had to worry about money again.

ikolskaya Manufactory owned by the Morozovs

Family business moves to the next level

In 1825, Savva Morozov founded a weaving factory in Moscow. At first, things went well, but after the Crimean War of 1853-1856 it had to be closed. In 1830, Morozov opened a factory in Bogorodsk (now Noginsk in the Moscow Region). It included a dye-house and a bleaching-house, as well as an office where weavers were given yarn and where they submitted ready-made fabric.

In 1838, Morozov Sr opened the Nikolskaya cotton-spinning and mechanical weaving factories, and a little later, a spinning house was also built there. Around the same time, the entrepreneur began to have health problems, so he began to transfer his affairs to his sons. In 1842, Zakhar Morozov began to manage the Bogorodskaya factory – he moved production to the village of Glukhovo, and five years later, built a mechanical weaving factory there. Also in 1842, the merchant family was awarded hereditary honorary citizenship.

In 1855, Zakhar Morozov established the joint stock company Bogorodsko-Glukhovskaya Manufactory, and in 1860, the Savva Morozov and Sons trading house was founded – the family business had reached a new level. Savva Morozov died the same year.

1891 Report of the Society for the Dissemination of Practical Knowledge among Educated Women. 1892. Museum of Moscow

Timofei who never knew bondage

Savva Morozov’s sons were renowned across the country – all except Ivan who showed no interest in entrepreneurship. The youngest, Timofei, was most favoured by fame. His father also favoured him more than the others and never even tried to hide the reasons for his special affection. Timofei, unlike his brothers, never knew serfdom. He was born free, a free man – his father believed he would be better at doing business without looking back to anyone.

Timofei Morozov

In the early 1850s, his father entrusted Timofei with organising his factories and trade. Seven years later, the resourceful young man began to acquire land for a new factory in the Tver Province. This initiative earned more of his father's approval. The Tver Manufactory was founded in 1859. In 1873, Timofei Morozov renamed the family business the Partnership of the Nikolskaya Manufactory Savva Morozov’s Son and Co. After a while, the company became the best textile manufacturer in Russia.

Morozov bought machine tools in England; the dyes were also imported. His products were difficult to compete with. Timofei made several million roubles every year. The village of Nikolskoye was as good as owned by the Morozovs – all the local residents worked for Timofei Morozov. His contribution to the country's economy was so great that he was awarded the title of Mr Manufacturing Advisor, the first in Russia. In 1882, he was awarded the Order of St Anne for special services at the Russian Industrial and Art Exhibition in Moscow.

In addition to his main business, he was a co-founder of the Moscow Merchant Bank and the Volga-Kama Bank. He awarded scholarships to Moscow Technical School students, and invested in the construction of a gynecology clinic on Devichye Pole.

Savva Morozov and Sons trade seal. Late 19th - early 20th century. Museum of Moscow

The formula for prosperity

The Morozovs often married people of other influential families who were merchants or industrialists. Timofei married Maria Simonova, first cousin once removed of Kozma Soldatenkov, manufacturer, book publisher and owner of the Kuntsevo estate. The couple settled in Trekhsvyatitelsky Pereulok, in a rich estate that included their own prayer house and a greenhouse. The couple generally tried to maintain the Old Believer lifestyle, but could not do without noisy parties and guests.

Maria supported her husband in all his endeavours. For more than 20 years, she helped charities and donated to churches. Those initiatives earned her a distinction – the first among merchant wives in Russia. She helped poor talented girls get an education, and allocated money for scholarships at a Moscow grammar school. After her death, Maria Morozova left the largest fortune in Russia at the time – 30 million roubles.

Maria Morozova

Her youngest son, Sergei, opened the Museum of Handicrafts. At the core of the collection were exhibits he had bought from the handicraft department of the 1882 Russian Art and Industrial Exhibition. Later the patron moved the museum from the outbuilding of his mansion at the corner of Znamenka and Vagankovsky Pereulok to a building specifically renovated for it in Leontyevsky Pereulok.

Savva the Second and forbidden love

Maria Morozova had a difficult relationship with her son Savva, named after his grandfather. The family thought of the overly independent young man as ‘a force of nature.’ He refused the noble title the Tsar himself wanted to award him. Ignoring the discontent of his parents, 26-ear-old Savva married Zinaida Morozova, the ex-wife of his own cousin Sergei. That triggered a scandal – a divorced woman, and a relative on top of that! But Savva was adamant. As a wedding present for his beloved, he built a neo-Gothic mansion on Spiridonovka Street. The mansion was designed by architect Fyodor Shekhtel, and the interior design, by yet little-known Mikhail Vrubel. Fun always reigned in that house – the hostess was brilliant at throwing dinner receptions, social functions and balls.

Savva Morozov Jr was primarily known as a philanthropist. He generously supported the Moscow Art Theatre, sparing no money for its development. With Morozov's contributions, a new theatre was built in Kamergersky Pereulok. His brother Sergei also gave 2,000 roubles to support the theatre.

A graduate of Moscow University and Cambridge, at the age of 29, Savva junior became an elected member of the Moscow Exchange Society. He strengthened the position of the Nikolskaya Manufactory, which he inherited, turning it into one of the largest enterprises in Russia. Out of concern for his workers, he made sure that they were paid decent wages and had good working conditions. Like his father, he helped them improve their skills. Having been educated as a chemist in England, Savva also founded the anonymous society of United Chemical Plants “S.T. Morozov, Krel and Ottman,” which produced fabric dyes in the Urals.

Savva Morozov Jr supported the 1905 revolution. He donated money to the illegal newspaper Iskra, and sponsored Novaya Zhizn and Borba publications.

The most eccentric Morozov

Despite his rejection of a title and his scandalous marriage, Savva junior was not the most eccentric member of the family. That merit went to Arseny Morozov, his nephew. This young man was never interested in family affairs or business; he preferred charity, various spiritual practices and travel.

Once in Portugal, he saw the Palacio Nacional da Pena and became obsessed with building a pseudo-medieval house in Moscow. The eclectic mansion began to be openly ridiculed even during construction. Arseny's mother, Varvara, popularised a sharp phrase: “Before this, I was the only one who knew you were a fool, but now all of Moscow will know.”

Arseny Morozov even died stupidly. Once at a party, he said he could shoot himself in the leg and not feel any pain due to his esoteric exercises. No one believed him, so the young man grabbed a gun. Whether he felt physical pain or not, he still died of blood poisoning.

Varvara Morozova was also known for her patronage of the arts. She also insisted on building a psychiatric clinic on Devichye Pole. She supported Moscow University, provided scholarships, and several schools were built with her money. Varvara Morozova founded the Ivan Turgenev Reading Room – the first free library in Moscow. She was extremely fond of books and even opened a literary salon at her estate on Vozdvizhenka Street, which she inherited from her husband, Abram Morozov. Its guests included poets Valery Bryusov, Andrei Bely, Alexander Blok and others.

 Ivan Turgenev Reading Room

A passion for impressionism

The Tver Manufactory was for some time managed (and very successfully) by Ivan Morozov, the son of Abram Morozov. He was also involved in the Moscow Merchant Bank, and was one of the founders of the Russian Joint Stock Company of the Coking Coal Industry and Benzene Production.

Valentin Serov. Portrait of Ivan Morozov. 1910

But Ivan’s real love was art. He admired the French impressionists. Ivan Morozov collected over 600 paintings – one of the largest art collections in the world. He did not care about the price of those masterpieces – the only thing that mattered was to be able to admire them whenever he wanted. The paintings were stored in his eclectic mansion on Prechistenka Street, which miraculously survived the 1812 fire and was later rebuilt. When rebuilding the house, Ivan Morozov ordered one room built with thick stone walls and a concrete ceiling. In case of emergency, the entire collection could be packed in it.

After the 1917 revolution, his art collection was nationalised. Morozov was offered the position of deputy director at a new museum, which never opened. A little later, the collection was moved to the Museum of Modern Western Art, and now can be seen at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts and the Hermitage.

A hospital and a porcelain museum

The founder of the famous Morozov Children's Hospital is Alexei Morozov, the son of Vikula and grandson of Yelisei Morozov. Alexei Morozov continued the family tradition of charity and patronage. He was discontent with the healthcare situation in Moscow in 1900 – children suffering from whooping cough, diphtheria and other diseases without proper treatment. Morozov decided to build his own hospital where children would be treated free of charge. He invested the 400,000 roubles he inherited from his father in the construction; the new hospital was named after his father, Vikula Morozov.

Three years before that, Morozov led the Association of Vikula Morozov's Sons, but then gave up chairmanship in favour of his brother Ivan. The founder of the Morozov hospital had more passion for his collection of icons, porcelain and engravings, which took up an entire mansion on Vvedensky Pereulok, specifically renovated for that purpose. Incidentally, architect Fyodor Shekhtel and artist Mikhail Vrubel cooperated on this project as well. After the 1917 revolution, the Porcelain Museum (now the Museum of Ceramics in Kuskovo) was opened in that house, and Alexei Morozov became the curator.


Portrait of Alexei Morozov. Valentin Serov. 1909


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