Industry Among Mennonites in Russia (and Prussia)

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The industrial enterprises of the Mennonites in general have been presented in the article Business, with the exception of Prussia and Russia. Although the Mennonites here were located mostly in rural areas, some significant industries were developed. From the earliest days of the Mennonite settlements in Danzig and Prussia they continually encountered difficulties in finding occupations open to them, since they were not considered citizens. The regulations and edicts issued against them indicate what the occupations were. Among the industries were weaving (Bortenwirker) and brewing. In 1749 Danzig had ten Mennonite businessmen, numerous weavers, dyers, brewers, and small craftsmen like shoemakers, tailors, and merchants. The list of Mennonites who left Prussia to go to Russia after 1788 gives a fairly good review of the occupational backgrounds. There were some large estate owners, small-scale farmers, store owners, laborers, and a considerable number of craftsmen, who could possibly be considered the prospective industrialists in Russia. During the 18th and 19th centuries many of the Mennonites of Danzig, Konigsberg, and other cities were in business and banking. A. Zimmerman (d. 1919) of Danzig owned a foundry.

In Russia industrial enterprises on a large scale originated among the Mennonites during the second half of the 19th century, particularly as a result of a large-scale farming, which necessitated the production of technical, highly developed agricultural machinery in a country where it was not available. Large-scale wheat raising produced a flourishing milling industry. Among the first industries developed by the Mennonites in Russia was silk production, which, however, disappeared when grain raising overshadowed all other branches of agriculture.

The first large-scale industrialist was P. H. Lepp of Chortitza, who started a foundry in 1860, with A. Koop and C. H. Hildebrand as his apprentices. Chortitza remained the industrial center of the Mennonites. Other places were Alexandrovsk, Halbstadt, and New York. In 1911 the eight largest Mennonite factories producing agricultural machinery and implements accounted for 10 per cent of the total output in South Russia and 6.2 per cent of the output of all Russia. The following table lists these factories, showing total annual production in terms of rubles and personnel employed.

Firm Annual Production in Rubles Total employed
Lepp and Wallmann 900,000 270
A. J. Koop 610,000 376
J. G. Niebuhr 450,000 350
J. J. Neufeld & Co. 350,000 200
J. A. & W. J. Classen 241,000 145
Franz and Schröder 209,190 153
G. A. Klassen & Neufeld 200,442 140
J. Jansen & K. Neufeld 200,000 110

(From A. Ehrt, Das Mennonitentum in Russland, p. 91  f.)

The Mennonites played a considerable role in the industrial and agricultural development of the country far beyond their immediate communities. The total number of Mennonite-owned larger factories in the Ukraine was 26. Smaller industries were the manufacture of brick, cheese, sausage, soap, starch, furniture, woven goods, and clocks, brewing of vinegar and beer and distilling whisky, print shops ("Raduga," Halbstadt; H. E. Ediger, Berdyansk; H. A. Lenzmann, Tokmak; A. P. Friesen, Davlekanovo, Ufa), and mill construction.

One of the later industries, which finally surpassed all others, was the milling industry. Over half of all industrial enterprises of the Mennonites in the Ukraine were connected with the milling industry. The foundation for this was the windmill, which had been transplanted from Holland to Prussia and to Russia, having originally been used mostly to regulate the water level of the Low Countries. In the steppes of the Ukraine it was used to grind feed and flour. Some horse-driven mills were also in use. The greater advance came with the introduction of large-scale wheat production, which resulted in the establishment of large motor- and steam-driven mills toward the close of the 19th century. Soon all Mennonite settlements were dotted with large four- to five-story flour mills, in which the wheat was ground into very fine flour to be shipped into all parts of Russia and abroad. By the beginning of World War I Mennonite-owned flour mills could also be found in many railroad centers outside the Mennonite communities. Some of the centers were Chortitza, Alexandrovsk, Halbstadt, Ekaterinoslav, Nikopol, Kharkov, and New York. Some of the largest milling industries were Niebuhr and Co., of Alexandrovsk, J. J. Thiessen of Ekaterinoslav, J. Siemens of Nikopol, and Peter Unger of New York, which had a total annual production of three million rubles. In addition there were many flour businesses, the one owned by Heinrich and Peter Heese, Ekaterinoslav, having an annual turn over of 1.5 million rubles.

In 1908 the Chortitza and Molotschna settlements had a total of 73 motor- and steam-driven mills, 26 factories of agricultural machinery, 38 brick factories, and 20 other industries, making a total of 157. In addition there were 105 flour mills and 54 other smaller enterprises, making a total of 316 industries. In addition there were 69 industries in the other Mennonite settlements of the Ukraine and an estimated 200 in the eastern provinces of Russia, making a total of about 585 industries. Of this total nearly 60 were located in the Chortitza and Molotschna settlements. The milling industry was the largest among the large-scale industries of the Ukraine (51.8 per cent). The next largest was the production of agricultural machinery. This indicates that before World War I there was a definite trend toward industrialization among the Mennonites of Russia, particularly in the older settlements. The number of industries and large farm estates on one hand and the constantly growing laboring class on the other hand were indications of a shift in process which endangered the predominant rural pattern of life among the Mennonites of Russia. According to Ehrt one third of all Mennonite capital was invested in capitalistic enterprises (for profit) and two thirds in the traditional smaller farm and home industry. Two and eight-tenths per cent of the population had 34 per cent of the total capital in their hands. The average property ownership among the Mennonites of the Ukraine was 8,000 rubles per person, and in the later settlements 3,300 rubles. In Siberia it was only 1,400 rubles.

In connection with the industrial development among the Mennonites of Prussia and Russia it should be stated that many inventions were made by industrial leaders. Naturally in most cases the industrialist used patterns of western European agricultural machinery. Their inventions were possibly more or less limited to the adaptation of these machines to their particular environment and needs. Originally many of the industries developed from smaller home industries. Later the characteristics of the modern capitalistic developments became more evident. Many of the sons of the industrialists who had started on a small scale went to schools of engineering in Germany, Switzerland, and Russia in order to be better qualified to continue the enterprise of their fathers. During the last decades the Mennonites of Russia had numerous engineers in various branches of industry.

See also Agriculture among the Mennonites in Russia and Business among the Mennonites of Russia


Bonwetsch, A. Der Handel mit landwirtschaftlichen Maschinen und Geräten in Russland . . . Berlin, 1921: 35 ff.

Ehrt, A. Das Mennonitentum in Russland. Berlin, 1932: 89 ff.

Epp, D. H. "P. H. Lepp." Der Bote (1928): Nos. 10-13

Krahn, Cornelius. "Agriculture Among the Mennonites of Russia." Mennonite Life (January 1955): 14 ff.

Krahn, Cornelius. "Mennonite Industry in Russia." Mennonte Life (January 1955): 21 ff.

Mannhardt, H. G. Die Danziger Mennonitengemeinde. Danzig, 1919.

Niebuhr, Jakob J. "Jakob G. Niebuhr Fabriken." Mennonite Life (January 1955): 25 ff.

Quiring, Horst "Die Auswanderung der Mennoniten aus Preussen, 1788-1870." Mennonite Life (April 1951): 36 f.

Rempel, David G. "The Mennonite Colonies in New Russia." PhD dissertation, Stanford University, 1933: 275 ff.

Unruh, Benjamin H. Die niederlandisch-niederdeutschen Hintergrunde der mennonitischen Ostwanderungen. Karlsruhe, 1955.

Author(s) Cornelius Krahn
Date Published 1957

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Krahn, Cornelius. "Industry Among Mennonites in Russia (and Prussia)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 27 Sep 2020.

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Krahn, Cornelius. (1957). Industry Among Mennonites in Russia (and Prussia). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 27 September 2020, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 33-34. All rights reserved.

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