by Yelena GINAK, Director of Metrological Museum, RF GOSSTANDART, All- Russia Scientific Research Institute of Metrology named after D. Mendeleev, St. Petersburg
Metrology-the science of measurement-was one of the key areas of studies of the great Russian chemical scientist, Prof. Dmitry Ivanovich Mendeleev (1834 - 1907). The international scientific community will soon be marking his 170th birthday. From 1892 and to the end of his life he was the head of the Depot of Standard Measures and Weights (from 1893 - the Main Chamber of Measures and Weights) - Russia's first metrological institution of its kind which he helped to turn into a truly manifold center of research.
Originally the Chamber was located in only one building which had been built in 1879 for what was then the Depot of Standard Measures and Weights. The architectural design took into account tremor-proof requirements and local temperature variations and the massive foundation of the building was reinforced with piles.
The separate concrete abutments, separated by trenches from the surrounding top soil and passing through the basement up to the second floor, supported rooms for the storage of samples. They were encircled with corridors to provide for unrestricted air circulation. Located along the perimeter of the building along its outer walls were a second "circle" of rooms with hot-water heating. The thick walls of the building, combined with triple glazing of its windows, ensured maximum stability of the environment required for metrological studies.
The original idea of such a center was suggested by Prof. Vladimir Glukhov, Mendeleev's predecessor on the post of Depot Custodian (from 1865
to 1892). And it was he who had selected the building site at Zabalkansky Prospect of St. Petersburg (now Moskovsky Prosp., 19). The chief architect was Prof. Fyodor Bekman of the Institute of Technology who invited as a consultant Nikolai Belelyubsky - a young lecturer in building mechanics and hydraulics of the Engineering Institute of Railways.
The "fruit" of their combined efforts is being used by metrological scientists to this day, being the central building of the All-Russia Scientific Research Institute of Metrology (VNIIM) named after D. Mendeleev. It contains a set of 21 state standards of the basic units of the international system of units, including the meter, kilogram, volt and ampere and a unique scientific -and-technical library containing rare publications on metrology. And there is also the memorial office of Prof. Mendeleev.
When appointed head of the Main Chamber of Measures and Weights Prof. Mendeleev embarked on a program of its reorganization, formulating its central objective as "the preservation of uniformity, authenticity and mutual accordance of the measures and weights within the Empire". And 1899 saw the publication of the Statute on Measures and Weights which served as plan for the future development of the Chamber. Continued studies in this field, including the development of standards, verification and tests of a broad range of measuring devices used in commerce and industry made it necessary to have additional laboratories with modern equipment and skilled specialists. Mendeleev wrote: "The premises of the central building of the Main Chamber looked lavish in the beginning, then good enough, but it has now turned out to be so inadequate that we have to move into the corridors and the basement with no other space available for the future, and the regulations call for doing more and more and we have to produce every new item with great care, providing the necessary space and staff."
After due consideration the Director of the Chamber came to the conclusion that for its successful functioning two more buildings were required: a machine room-for the conduct of experiments and verification of findings and a living premise. The first residential building for the
staff was erected at the initiative of Prof. Mendeleev by architect Alexander Hohen as early as in 1897. It supplemented the impressive list of creations of the famous representative of "northern modern" in St. Petersburg. It was in that "red building", as it was commonly called, the scientist lived with his family (wife Anna Ivanovna and children - Lyubov, Ivan, Maria and Vasily) to the end of his days. He himself drew up the plan of his own apartment which he chose to place on the top third floor to avoid any noise disturbance during work.
With time the number of Chamber staff increased from 8 to 16 and that called for additional living space. In support for his request Prof. Mendeleev wrote: "...the conditions of service of the new recruits should not be different from those of the staff already employed by the Chamber."
In his view the "machine room" was to be used for steam engines, water pumps for studies of water meters, locksmith's and carpenter's workshops, battery room and a room for a large-size comparator * (4x5 m).
But getting the required funds for construction proved to be no simple task even for the Director of the Chamber who relied on the support of the Finance Minister Sergei Witte ** and the Director of the Department of Trade and Textile Mills, Vladimir Kovalevsky. Working on the project they established close business, and later personal links based on their common views on many problems of Russian science and economic development. Until 1904 the Chamber was subordinated to the Ministry of Finance through the Department of Trade and Textile Mills. In his memoirs Witte wrote: "Naturally enough, I could not have overlooked the fact that... the Administrator of the Chamber of Measures and Weights was an outstanding scientist like Mendeleev. Therefore I rendered all kinds of support to Mendeleev himself and the establishment under his administration." V. Kovalevsky also stressed that his work together with Mendeleev was one of the most heartening memories in his life.
* Comparator - device for comparison of a measured parameter with the standard. - Ed.
** See: S. Pshirkov. "Loyal Servant and Reformer", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2000. - Ed.
The allocation of large subsidies had to be approved by the State Council then headed by Grand Prince Mikhail Romanov. The first lady-laboratory assistant, Olga Ozarovskaya describes in her book about Mendeleev how he arranged for the Grand Prince a tour of the central building in order to show the lack of space: "For two days they brought out from cellars all kinds of heavy antiques - the remnants of grandiose and clumsy structures for the experiments of the former guardians." But Mendeleev was afraid that even that "show" would not be enough and insisted that the pieces of equipment be left right in the visitor's way: "Leave them right under their feet! So that they would have to step over them! They won't appreciate the lack of space unless they stumble upon these things!" And the Grand Prince was convinced by what he saw.
The first allocations were received in 1899 and a special commission was set up under the chairmanship of D. Mendeleev for the supervision of the construction. He was authorized to make all necessary changes. At another meeting with S. Witte later that year he again raised the problem of financial support because the approved allocations were clearly not enough. The chief metrologist of the country proposed setting up a lab for scientific appraisal of the methods of assessment of the quality of grain and timber which was important for the promotion of domestic and foreign trade.
He also suggested setting up a small astronomical observatory.
Prof. Mendeleev explained his initiative in the following way: according to the Regulations on Measures and Weights, the center of which he was in charge was responsible for the whole of the technical side of the project involving the measurements of the unit of time-second, and that was impossible without accurate astronomical observations.
S. Witte fully sided with Prof. Mendeleev. He supported in the State Council the importance of launching new construction without delay: "As the high school of precision measurements, which have acquired such importance in science and in technology, this establishment... should be put into special
conditions... Because of the very specific nature of precision measurements and because people capable of doing them and capable of conducting them with dedication are but few... is it necessary to put them into conditions which would offer advantages in comparison with others... Of importance in this respect can be providing them with apartments at government expense..."
The decision on additional subsidies was passed, but the grants were slow in coming. In this situation Mendeleev decided that instead of two houses as planned, only one should be built of five storeys which was less expensive. This decision was final.
That was the beginning of construction of what Prof. Mendeleev called a special building housing research labs, workshops and an observatory as well as apartments for the staff. Various problems associated with the project were resolved at meetings of the aforesaid commission. Invited to the post of the architect was civil engineer Sergei Kozlov, who gained his reputation in St. Petersburg for a reconstruction of the Passage shopping center.
After a little more than a year, in October 1902, Prof. Mendeleev sent a report to the Director of the Department of Trade and Textile Mills, V. Kovalevsky: "... the construction is over... and the staff are already accommodated in the new building which has many distinctions... fire safety... the beams and trusses made of iron and steel, the ceilings and partitions made of concrete and only the floors, doors and windows made of wood... passing through the whole building is a twin iron pipe under which there is an iron-clad deep well. The building is topped with a 3-storey tower with a clock for astronomical observations. Located on its ground floor is a big concrete room for a large compara-
tor and a separate section for adjustment of water meters equipped with the necessary beams and pumps for maintaining constant water pressure..."
Also located there were the new sections of the Chamber established by Prof. Mendeleev: astronomical, for gas and water measurements, a unit for absolute measurements of the physical constants of gravitation, a chemical lab and mechanical workshops. In the pavilion on top of the tower observations were conducted for accurate time measurements. In 1905 it was equipped with a watch with three dials (Neiger & Sons, Munich, Germany) and one of the dials was divided into 24 segments. Prof. Mendeleev wrote in this connection: "The tower clock of the Main Chamber can be used for regulating not only the minute, but also the second hand- something that does not exist, as far as I know, at any other tower clock. This innovation can be most useful for rapid and independent verification of marine and other chronometers."
From the mechanism on the tower electrical time signals were transmitted to all city clocks, including that under the arch of the General Headquarters. During the Nazi siege of Leningrad (September 1941-January 1944) the only clock which did not stop for a single day was that on the VNIIM tower...
The completion of the construction in 1902 was a great occasion for Prof. Mendeleev and his staff. Invited to the inauguration ceremony were 70 guests beginning from the top officials of the Ministry of Finance (Minister S. Witte, unfortunately, could not attend) and down to common workmen, firemen, etc. Mendeleev's personal secretary A. Skvortsov, later recalled the feast as a great success: "After the guests took their good share of drinks and refreshments, the atmosphere became really cheerful and informal. People started singing and dancing... Prof. N. Egorov, hoary with age, went dancing Russkaya (Russian folk-dance) with laboratory assistant Vera Selyankina. But the celebration went on in good taste until late in the evening."
That ends up the "tale" of the construction of the "house with the tower" as it is known among old residents of the Northern Capital. It fitted well into its architectural ensemble and became a real eye-catcher.
Opened for visitors in 1928 was the Mendeleev Museum (now Metrological Museum of RF GOSSTANDART) organized in the personal study of Acad. Mendeleev. The exposition which is currently on display was set up in 1984 for the 150th birthday of Acad. Mendeleev and is located at his former private apartment. Its unique collections trace the origins of the Russian measuring units, the establishment of our national standards, adoption of international standards and metro-logical studies of Acad. Mendeleev and other prominent scientists who worked at VNIIM over the years.
That ends the story of the formation of the historical-architectural complex which marks its 75th birthday in December of 2003.
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