Johann Ludwig Knoop

One of the most prominent entrepreneurs of the Russian Empire in the 19thcentury, Johann Ludwig Knoop was born on 15 May 1821 into a merchant’s family with many children in Bremen. His father, Gerhard Knoop, was in the tobacco business but his enterprise failed and was closed down in 1833. Until the age of 14 Johann Ludwig Knoop attended a parochial school. In 1835, with the help of relatives, he entered the Bremen Merchant School of Gerhard Meyer, graduating in 1838 and leaving for Manchester in the same year. There he joined the company that his uncle Johann Andreas Frerichs had founded in partnership with a local entrepreneur Kerry B. de Jersey. The company sold mechanical yarn, most of which was exported to Russia. He worked for two years in Manchester, learning the intricacies of the textile industry.

In 1840 Johann Ludwig Knoop was sent to Russia to assist the company’s representative in Moscow. There he befriended the family of a Baltic German, Johann Christoph Hoyer, who had three small children and two adult daughters. Johann Ludwig Knoop proposed to one of them, 17-year-old Luise. The wedding took place on 10 June 1843 at the summer house of the Hoyer family in Pokrovskoye near Moscow. As his financial situation was rather modest, the newlyweds spent the whole summer at that countryside home, later moving into the Hoyer residence on Bolshaya Lubyanka Street in Moscow, where they would live until leaving for Bremen. From 1844 to 1858 they had six children: three daughters (Luise Dorothea, Adele Mathilde, Emilie Anna) and three sons (Johann Ludwig, Theodor Julius, Andreas Johann).

Soon Johann Ludwig Knoop made the acquaintance of Savva Morozov, a famous industrialist, whose family had been in the cotton business for a long time and was keen to create their own production facilities. The Morozovs tasked him with equipping their factory with looms and other weaving equipment produced by the British machinery industry. That was quite a difficult undertaking at the time. Britain was not interested in stimulating competition in Russia and thus did not allow long-term loans, demanding cash payments only. Loan arrangements were not yet widespread in Russia. Johann Ludwig Knoop’s entrepreneurial talent saved the day. Supported by his younger brother Julius in Manchester, he convinced De Jersey & Co. to allow a loan for delivery of equipment against future profits. That transaction was very lucrative for all participants. De Jersey & Co. became the first and largest foreign partner of Johann Ludwig Knoop and it saved the company from impending bankruptcy, ensuring instead its success. He then received a number of new orders for equipment deliveries to such big textile mills as Baranovskaya, Reutovskaya, Gusevskaya and so on.

It was Johann Ludwig Knoop who developed the unique scheme of supplying completed textile mills, with loans secured and equipment delivered, assembled and installed by British specialists, and workers hired and trained. Soon he became essentially a monopolist in the sphere of supplying textile industry equipment to Russia.

Later Johann Ludwig Knoop went into raw material deliveries for textile enterprises: first cotton from America, then from Egypt. For instance, in 1865 he supplied 9,000 tonnes, which amounted to 49.1 per cent of all cotton imported by the Russian Empire.

In 1852 Johann Ludwig Knoop founded a company of his own, the trading house of L. Knoop. & Co. The company focused on provision of loans, production machinery, engineers and technical specialists for textile mills. The primary supplier of such equipment was the Platt Brothers company, in which Johann Ludwig Knoop was a shareholder.

Thanks to extensive loans from Russian and foreign banks and also using some of his own savings, he built 154 factories and equipped 187 factories.

In 1861 the Knoops moved to Germany and settled in Bremen. In 1871 Johann Ludwig Knoop and his family moved into the castle designed and built for him by architect Gustav Runge at the Mülenthal estate. Here the Knoop couple celebrated their golden wedding in style, with many guests marvelling at the magnificent fireworks.

Due to Johann Ludwig Knoop’s entrepreneurial talent and knowledge of the industry and the markets, by the 1860s his businesses dominated the Russian market, gaining about 40 per cent of the country’s cotton cloth output.

On 6 May 1877, in recognition of his enormous contribution to development of the Russian textile industry and marking the 25thanniversary of his trading house, Johann Ludwig Knoop, merchant of the first guild of Saint Petersburg, was created baron by a decree of Emperor Alexander II.

On 11 April 1879 Johann Ludwig Knoop received his baronial coat of arms, the description and image of which are included in the Book of Heraldry of the Russian Nobility.

Baron Johann Ludwig von Knoop died on 16 August 1894, having outlived his wife Luise by a mere 7 months.

The persona of Johann Ludwig Knoop was an important factor in the Russian industrial revolution and still commands considerable interest and respect. Some refer to him as the Russian Rockefeller; others call him the Estonian Rockefeller. Gerhart von Schulze-Gävernitz, a German economist, described him as a combination of John D. Rockefeller and Richard Arkwright. Having arrived in Moscow in 1840 with very little money, Johann Ludwig von Knoop went on to amass one of the biggest fortunes in the Russian Empire. Approximate estimates indicated that his wealth reached 100 million roubles and he also had nine large mills, three Egyptian cotton import companies, an insurance firm and a coal mine. That extensive trade and industry conglomerate was controlled by the trading house of L. Knoop. & Co., reorganised into a partnership association in the last year of the textile magnate’s life.

After the two revolutions of 1917, the Knoops were forced to emigrate from Russia and their enterprises were nationalised. Descendants of that Knoop family now reside in Switzerland, Britain, Norway, the USA, Germany and other countries. Living in Germany is Johann Ludwig Knoop’s great-great-granddaughter Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, no less prominent than her illustrious ancestor. Her father, Ernst Albrecht, is a great-grandson of Johann Ludwig Knoop’s daughter Luise.