The Strength of Magnetism

A “New Soviet Man” working in Magnitogorsk in the 1930’s.

In Josef Stalin’s ever increasing vision to build an industrialist nation that could catch up to the West in only ten years the city of Magnitogorsk came forth in 1929. This massive steel and iron works was modeled after the great iron cities in the United States such as Gary, Indiana and Pittsburgh. These foundries in the US were already huge and Magnitogorsk was planned to be even bigger and it was, becoming the largest steel plant in the world.

Reference of where Magnitogorsk lies in relation to Moscow. 1500km = 937.5mi

So why was Magnitogorsk selected to be the master key for new Soviet industrialization? Well it was known since the mid 18th century that the mountains surrounding the area had some of the richest iron ore deposits in the world. Later with geological surveys they would be proven to be the densest and richest of anywhere in the world, hence where the Seventeen Moments article gets its title “Magnetic Mountain.” This proved as an excellent foundation for which to spur industry.

By 1932 the city’s population had risen to over 250,000 as Stalin called for “New Soviet Men” to flock to the area to work in the foundries. These early years  of rapid growth in the city featured appalling living conditions for the workers in tent cities that became known as “Shanghais.” Quarters were often so cramped that bed space was assigned in shifts (Freeze 353). These conditions would later stand in stark contrast to the many imposing structures in the city and even the foundry itself. Stalin’s vision of building an intimidating center to push forward Soviet industrialization was most definitely achieved. However, like many Soviet dreams the realization was not quite as wonderful. Although it was designed to have a linear layout of streets, by the time the steel mill and massive cooling lakes had been completed the design was a little more haphazard.

In the fine tradition of caring for its people the smoke stacks that towered over the city soon brought a lower quality of air and life to the citizens. This was eerily similar to what happened in Gary and Pittsburgh, though Russia has not made the attempts that the US has to reclaim the area and it remains one of the most polluted cities in the world. This was not discovered until the late 1980’s though because the city was closed to foreigners for much of the 20th century. As with many other Soviet projects the greater good took priority over the individual and it is hard to argue with the growth that was attained in the 5 Year Plans, but Stalin called and the people answered drawn like iron filings to a magnet.



Freeze, Gregory. Russia: A History. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Leah Bendavid-Val, editor: Propaganda & Dreams: Photographing the 1930s in the USSR and the US. Zurich and New York: Stemmle Publishers GmbH. 1999.

Siegalbaum, Lewis. Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, “Magnetic Mountain.” Last modified 2013. Accessed October 6, 2013.

S. V. Ivanov: The Leningrad School, 1930-1990. 1999.

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2 Responses to The Strength of Magnetism

  1. djp28 says:

    It seems somewhat ironic that Stalin, for all he hated America, ended up basing one of his most promising steel towns off of its counterparts in the United States. Pittsburgh and Gary are both still remembered for the contributions they played in America’s industrialization, and Stalin most definitely saw the positive effects that these towns were having on the country. It does not surprise me that the town has not been cleaned up though, I can just imagine what it looks like today!

  2. A. Nelson says:

    This post does a great job of situating the development of Magnitogorsk in the context of broader developments and models of industrialization in the United States. I love the image you pose at the end: “Stalin called and the people answered drawn like iron filings to a magnet”
    Cara’s post complements this one nicely:

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