The sweetest surname: The story of confectionery dynasty of the Abrikosovs

November 23, 2020

Stepan, a peasant serf of landlady Anna Levashova, was a professional confectioner who provided her family with mountains of apricot paste and jams. According to one theory, it was these masterful sweets that landed him the surname Abrikosov in 1811, a name that now speaks volumes.

With Ms Levashova’s permission, Stepan left for Moscow to work and pay off his debt to his landlady. His business thrived, and he was able to pay his tribute to her and save money as well. Stepan soon bought his and his family’s emancipation and opened a small confectionery shop.

After Stepan passed away, his sons Vasily and Ivan, a second-guild merchant, inherited the confectionery shop. They were successful for a while, but soon ran into hard times and went broke. In 1842, they were forced to sell their property to repay their debts. However, the grandson of Stepan Abrikosov, the dynasty’s founder, made the family surname popular all over Moscow once again.

Alexei Abrikosov revives the family business

By 1842, a fateful year for the Abrikosovs, Alexei, the son of Ivan Abrikosov, had barely completed third grade at the Practical Academy of Commercial Sciences when it became clear that his father could no longer pay his further tuition. When Alexei turned 14, his family landed him a part-time job with the Hoffman’s Commission Company, which was engaged in the sugar trade and, by the way, was a supplier to the now-bankrupt Abrikosov confectionery shop. The sharp-witted and bright Alexei started off as a messenger boy. Soon  his boss would entrust him with keeping the books. Four years later, Alexei was promoted to Chief Accountant.

Supplement to the journal World Illustration Valentin Serov. Portrait of Alexei Abrikosov. 1895

The young man led a very modest life and spent only a small share of his salary on essentials while preferring to save the rest. Alexei dreamed of owning his own business, namely, reviving his grandfather’s confectionery. At 23, he left Hoffman’s and started implementing his own plan. His former boss did not mind; on the contrary, Hoffman supported Alexei in every way, helping him obtain a bank loan and even introducing him to some important people.

In 1849, Alexei Abrikosov married Agrippina Musatova, the daughter of a famous perfume and confectionery maker. His father-in-law gave him 5,000 roubles as dowry, which Alexei invested into his own business.  Jams, gingerbread cookies and sweets from Alexei Abrikosov’s shop soon became wildly popular all over town. In 1867, he became a first-guild merchant and, three years later, an honourary citizen.

Alexei Abrikosov’s company expanded steadily and by1872 already employed 120 workers and manufactured over 500 tonnes of sweets annually. He focused primarily on the quality of his ingredients and therefore opened a subsidiary in Simferopol, which would source its own fruits.  

He was determined to carve out his own market niche by offering unique foods. His factory became the first to start making the popular Goose Feet sweets, called Goose Noses at the time. He became the first Russian businessperson to use canning technologies and soon left such giants as Einem and A. Siu & Co. in his wake. As his profits grew, so did the anger of his rivals.


Abrikosov spent a lot on advertising and mostly catered to sweet-tooth children who were attracted by bright things. He started selling sweets in beautiful boxes containing nice-looking inserts, puzzles and lots more. His adverts could be found in local newspapers and magazines, catalogues, posters and booklets.

Maternity home, hospital, clinic

However, Alexei Abrikosov wasn’t only interested in the confectionary business. He was a co-founder of the Moscow Interest Bank, the Moscow Merchant Society and the Yakor Insurance Company. In 1896, he became a State Councilor and donated large sums, including 1,000 roubles toward building a mental institution in the Kanatchikova Dacha District. He then provided financial support to hospitals during the Crimean War of 1853-1856. He also supported the families of soldiers after the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878. His wife, Agrippina, was also no stranger to charitable endeavours. In 1889, she, a mother of 22 children, some of whom did not reach the age of 18, established a maternity shelter for six persons. The shelter accepted pregnant women free of charge and boasted a one-percent maternal and infant mortality rate, which was very low for that period.

Agrippina asked her relatives to donate 100,000 roubles toward the building of a large free maternity shelter in the city. The new facility, which would bear her name, was launched in 1906. In 1918, the shelter was renamed after Nadezhda Krupskaya, the wife of Vladimir Lenin, despite the fact that the Lenins never had any children. In 1994, the maternity ward was renamed after Abrikosova once again.

A purveyor of His Imperial Majesty’s Court

Five of the Abrikosov family’s children, namely, Ivan, Nikolai, Vladimir, Georgy and Alexei, continued the family’s confectionery business. They showed great interest in the business from early adolescence and always tried to help their father. In 1874, he handed over the business to them, a well-deserved gesture. At first, Alexei Abrikosov monitored how his sons were conducting business operations and only offered his advice. Eventually he would come to realise that his sons were doing just fine on their own. The boys continued many of their father’s projects, including sending workers to study in other countries to assimilate the best practices of their foreign colleagues.

The Abrikosov brothers set up a trading house and later the Abrikosov & Sons Company. They quickly moved to expand production and bought a land plot on Malaya Krasnoselskaya Street in order to build a chocolate, caramel and biscuit factory there.

In 1882, they patented a machine that simplified how marmalade was made. They recruited specialists for the factory’s laboratory who would later come up with a way to make glazed fruits, which at that time were very popular but only available from abroad.


An advertisement of the Abrikosov & Sons Company. 1896

The Abrikosov family’s sweets were displayed at international fairs and exhibitions. In 1899, the family company was named an official purveyor of his Imperial Majesty’s Court and allowed to display the state emblem on its labels. This served as the best advertisement, with people crowding to buy sweets at shops on Tverskaya Street, Kuznetsky Most and other popular locations. The company shipped its goods to regions throughout Russia.

Many Muscovites dreamed of working at the Abrikosov Factory where employees received worthy wages, and the needy were provided housing and food. Of course, all employees could buy corporate goods at a discount. The Abrikosov brothers opened a small hospital and church at the factory. Anyone could test their musical skills by joining the company band.  Factory management held open houses where customers could visit factory floors in order to be sure that all production facilities meet sanitary norms.

Panorama of the Suvorin Publishing House and the Abrikosov & Sons Company. St Petersburg, 1901

The brothers had diverse interests. For example, Nikolai Abrikosov was a member of the Moscow Psychological Society and contributed articles to the journal Questions of Philosophy and Psychology. Vladimir Abrikosov was elected to the Moscow City Duma and also headed the Moscow subsidiary of the Russian Musical Society. He was a member of the commission tasked with building the new Conservatoire, which the brothers financed together. Georgy Abrikosov, another Moscow City Duma member, also headed the management board of the steam machine carpentry factory, Shemyakin & Co, together with Alexei Abrikosov, the fifth brother.

In 1918, the Bolsheviks nationalised the Abrikosov Brothers’ Confectionery Factory, which would became State Confectionery Factory No. 2. In 1922, it was named after revolutionary Pyotr Babayev.

Abrikosov’s tea trade

Alexei Abrikosov, the father of the five brothers, gradually left the confectionery business when he decided instead to engage in the tea trade. Quite appropriately, the Abrikosovs grew quite close to a famous Russian dynasty of tea merchants. Glafira, the sister of Agrippina Abrikosova, married Konstantin Popov. Alexei Abrikosov decided that it would be more profitable to enlist their services for importing Chinese tea by sea via Odessa, rather than via land routes.  Despite the fact that sea-going routes saved plenty of time, no one had used shipped goods before.

Abrikosov decided to guarantee safe shipping with the help of the Yakor Insurance Company, a very reliable company, having its articles of association signed by Emperor Alexander II and possessing corporate statutory capital in excess of two million roubles.

Alexei Abrikosov’s intuition did not let him down; his new business became highly popular and profitable, although not quite as successful as his confectionery factory.

Alexei Abrikosov and his granddaughters

In parallel, Abrikosov looked after the Practical Academy of Commercial Sciences, his alma mater and the institute he was forced to leave after his father could no longer pay for it. In 1862, Alexei Abrikosov became the head of the Academy’s Council and saw to it that the institution invited practical specialists, rather than ordinary theoreticians. For example, the head of a local bank taught academy students. Alexei Abrikosov also insisted that the Academy’s faculty pay more attention to the study of foreign languages.

Nobel Prize winner and People’s Artist

The Abrikosov dynasty also has prominent scientists and cultural workers. Alexei Abrikosov, the son of Ivan Abrikosov, was the medical examiner who embalmed Vladimir Lenin’s body for the first time. In 2003, his son, Alexei Abrikosov, received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his fundamental works on the theory of superconductors and super-fluid liquids.

Alexei Abrikosov. 1897

Ilya Abrikosov, the grandson of Nikolai Abrikosov, became an Honoured Geologist of the RSFSR and was the first to discover the Olkhovskoye oilfield. His father, Khrisanf Abrikosov, was Leo Tolstoy’s personal secretary and a person whom the great writer called a dear friend.

Andrei Abrikosov, the grandson of Alexei Abrikosov, was a People’s Artist of the USSR, an actor and director of the Vakhtangov Theatre. He starred in the 1930 film And Quiet Flows the Don, the 1939 film Stepan Razin, the 1964 film The Light from a Remote Star and others. His son, Grigory, followed in his footsteps, becoming an actor and starring in the theatre with his father. His filmography includes A Wedding in Malinovka and Marshal of the Revolution.


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