Establishing the University
Peter the Great Saint-Petersburg Polytechnic University (SPbPU), more widely known as the Polytechnic Institute in Russia and abroad, was founded in early 1899. Having emerged during the period of the economic and cultural boom that took place at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, it 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 Russia's significant cultural achievemnt" of the beginninng of the 20th century.
The industrial boom dating back to the late 1890s, accompanied by the massive construction of new enterprises, financial stabilization and an increase in inward investment, led to a new approach to higher education in society, i.e. awareness of the need to reorganize it by establishing a chain of polytechnics. Russian Technical Society (RTS) played an important role in bringing up and discussing this issue.
Providing further details of this idea that was approved by numerous supporters from the upper echelons of the Empire's government, S.Yu. Witte, the Minister of Finance, remarked that it was necessary to set up higher education establishments in Russia "in the form of polytechnic insitutes that would contain various fields of knowledge, but would be organised as universities and not as technical schools, i.e. such establishments that wold have the biggest potential to develop young people and help them gain broader humanity knowledge".
This idea was theoretically justified in the program of the industrial and commercial development of Russia presented by the Department of Trade and Indstry of the Ministry of Finance. In this paper it was stated that training specialists in the sphere of managemnt, science and engineering was higly significant, and the subsequent establishment of a chain of polytechnic institutes throughout the conutry was destined to demonstrate how the new government policy in the sphere of science and engineering was to be implemented.
V.I. Kovalevsky, the Deputy Minister of Finance, and D.I. Mendeleev, a distinguished Russian research chemist, were among the most consistent proponents of S.Yu. Witte's ideas, and they later became the actual founders of SPbPU. The three of them were subsequently elected Honorary Members of the University, and their portraits were put up in the Council Hall.
Other outstanding Russian scientists were involved in establishing this new educational institution. N.P. Petrov, one of the greatest representatives of the 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, the 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.L. Gagarin was appointed Director of the Institute in January 1900. At the same time he became the head of the Special Building Commission, his predecessor being engineer E.K. Ziegler fon Schaffhausen. In spring that year A.G. Gagarin and architect E.F. Virrikh were commissioned to conduct a thourough study of the facilities and functioning of the leading higher engineering schools in Europe. As a result, 36 educational establishments in England, Belgium, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary and Switzerland were examined and the positive aspects of their organisation were taken into account: the methodology of teaching general and special engineering disciplines, the number and the coverage of subjects that were supposed to be taught to students of various departments and specialties, curricula. Thus, the latest international experience generalized by A.G. Gagarin and E.F. Virrikh served as the foundation for the project.