Thursday, December 01, 2005


Even the Russians had their theatrum machinarum. Unfortunately, it only existed in manuscript version.

Andrei Konstantinovich Nartov was Peter I (the Great)'s machinist. He was a master of the lathe and created a variety of different machines as part of Peter's quest to modernize Russia. His theatrum differs from earlier work because it depicts actual machines for milling and turning.

Nartov and Peter spent a considerable amount of time together. Peter even served as the Godfather for one of Nartov's sons. His story is quite interesting and is recounted in detail by Danilevskii (if you can actually find a copy of this rather obscure work).

What I find most interesting is his trip to Western Europe in 1718. He found England to be almost completely devoid of skilled mechanics who could actually build the machines he had designed. Instead of sending completed machines and other industrial secrets back to Russia, he sent books (Peter had initially requested that he learn the secret of steam bending oak beams for ship construction). We're just not sure what books he actually sent or where he found them. I find it quite interesting to imagine Nartov frequenting the same haunts as Hooke: St. Paul's Churchyard and the boards of Moorfields.

Nartov's later travelled to France where he found a great deal of support from the Academy of Science and where he was able to find machinists sufficiently skilled to create his lathes. One of his lathes remains in the Museum de Arts et Metiers in Paris. Nartov's experience indicates that general machinist capability was far more advanced on the continent than in England at the turn of the 18th century (despite the existence of Newcomen engine!).

The books that Nartov sent from England require further investigation. We can't be sure what books they were. Britkin does, however, provide some guidance on the books that were available to Nartov from Peter's library. He may have sent some of these books from England:

"In Peter's library, besides the above-mentioned works of Besson, Solomon de Ko, and Cherubin, there were books by Ramelli (various [machines] and machines [for producing] works of art, Paris 1588); G. Shmitz (a book on machines, Nuremberg 1686), and most valuable handbook on the art of turning during the beginning of the of XVIII century by Charles Plumier, L'art de tourner, etc. Lyon, 1701. Later, in 1724, Leupold's Theatrum Machinarum Generale, was added to the czar's library. If should be noted that neither in Plumier's book, translated into Russian on Peter's order, nor in Leupold's is there any information of lathe constructions which preceded Nartov's model of 1712, beyond that mentioned above." (Britkin, pg. 28-29)

The above quote had obviously recieved some rough treatment in the process of translation: from the original Latin titles to Russian (and Cyrillic), and finally into English. As noted in the errata, "de Ko" should be "de Caus" and the title of Ramelli's work is hopelessly mangled. The reference to "G. Shmitz" is more elusive. The book by "G. Shmitz" is more elusive. According to the errata and based on the place of publication--Nurnberg--the reference may be to Bockler's "Theatrum Machinarum Novum." I'm still not sure where "G. Shmitz" comes from.

Regardless, Nartov indicates that English machinist capabilities were lacking even if the book trade was strong (perhaps explaining Moxon's project) and that the theatrum machinarum had spread and were in use in Russia.


Britkin, A.S. & S.S. Vidonov (1964). A.K. Nartov: an Outstanding Machine Builder of the 18th Century (Vydayuschchiisya mashinostroitel'XVII veka A.K. Nartov). Available from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of Technical Services, Washington, DC.

Danilevskii, V.V. (1966). Nartov and his Theatrum Machinarum: (Nartov i "Yasnoe zrelishche mashin"). Available from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Clearinghouse for Federal Scientific and Technical Information, Springfield, VA.


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