Kreenholm Manufacturing Company 1857-1940

Establishment of a cotton mill complex on Kreenholm Island was initiated by Baron Johann Ludwig von Knoop, a prominent industrialist. For some time, he had been planning to build a mill of his own. Passing through Narva on company business, he visited the famous cascades. Being a practical person, he noted how powerful those cascades were, offering a source of cheap energy combined with a convenient location: a waterway for receiving raw materials and dispatching factory products. He must have also been familiar with a decree issued by Emperor Nicholas I on 28 March 1830, in which significant benefits were offered to entrepreneurs who “... would establish substantial factories or plants on the Narva Cascades, operated by water pressure ...”. In 1856 he bought Kreenholm Island from the heirs of Narva merchant Sutthoff for 50 thousand roubles. One year later he founded the Kreenholm Manufacturing Joint-Stock Company with a capital of 2 million roubles, divided into 400 shares of 5,000 roubles each. On 23 July 1857 the Charter of this company was approved by Emperor Alexander II. With Knoop serving as director general, the chief executive officer, other shareholders were Kozma Soldatenkov, brothers Alexey and Gerasim Khludov, Richard Barlow and Ernst Kolbe.

Even before approval of the Charter, on 30 April (Gregorian calendar: 12 May) 1857, construction of the first mill building began on the island. In October 1858 the Old Spinnery commenced operation of its first 8,000 spindles. One year later began construction of the first wing of the Old Weavery. All buildings of the Old Spinnery and the Old Weavery were completed by 1862. Water supply and sewerage channels with bridges were built, and mill machinery and water wheels were installed. The mill complex in the form of two enclosed quadrangles had two gallery connections. The complex was now operating at full capacity, producing its first kilograms of yarn and metres of cloth.

By 1870 the New Spinnery E.F. building appeared on the eastern side of the island.

In 1872 the company bought Georgiyevsky Island with the adjacent territory. The five-storey Georgiyevsky Mill was built on the island in 1899.

In 1880 the Kreenholm Manufacturing Joint-Stock Company purchased Joala Manor from Georg Kramer. In 1884 Joala Mill was built, expanded with a big annex in 1890.

Simultaneously with the industrial buildings, a number of social and cultural structures were added for workers and clerks: housing, a school, a pharmacy, a public bath and so on. The Kreenholm Manufacturing Company facilities were built on the example of the corresponding British enterprise complexes that were divided into zones: industrial, auxiliary and residential. The industrial zone of the mills comprised mostly the islands of Kreenholm and Georgiyevsky. Downstream on the left bank of the river, various communal and utility structures were built: a pier, warehouses, a public bath, a laundry and a water tower with a pumping station. The zone with residential and common buildings was taking shape on both sides of the road leading to the town. The Joala settlement was constructed a bit further away.

The mill complex was geared towards mass production. That principle was implemented from the very first day of the company’s existence, boosting and expanding production. The Kreenholm Manufacturing Company was able to adhere to this principle because it had a large sales market in Russia. In the early years the mill complex produced calico, a semi-finished product from which different fabrics could be made. The output in 1903 comprised satin, lustrine, muslin and batiste from the Joala Mill yarn. Jacquard fabrics had been manufactured since the late 1860s. The Kreenholm Manufacturing Company received raw materials by water from North and South America, Egypt and India. When the railway from Saint Petersburg to Tallinn opened in 1870, the mill complex also received raw materials from Central Asia.

Before the outbreak of the First World War, the Kreenholm Manufacturing Company was producing 17.5 thousand tonnes of yarn and 75 million metres of fabrics. That amounted to 10 per cent of the entire cotton cloth output in the Russian Empire. The core capital was approximately 12 million silver roubles (in 1857 it had been 2 million roubles). The company assets were estimated to total 25 billion roubles. There were 10,400 workers. The Kreenholm Manufacturing Company was one of the largest textile enterprises in the world.

The First World War, the revolutionary turmoil of 1917 and the Russian Civil War resulted in a drastic decline of the Kreenholm Manufacturing Company’s output. In 1918 the mill complex fulfilled German military orders, producing bandages and fabrics for tents and footwraps.

In the first period of the Republic of Estonia, the Kreenholm Manufacturing Company underwent a serious production crisis due to the loss of the Russian sales market and raw material source. The output volume fell, as did the number of the workers, with just 1,453 remaining in 1921. But in the 1930s the economic difficulties were overcome. Due to the sales market reorientation, the mill complex managed to expand its product range considerably, and it now included cotton sheeting, thin veiling and batiste. Output export volumes grew (Norway, Finland, Germany, Britain, America and so on). In 1939 the Kreenholm Manufacturing Company had 2,736 employees.

After Johann Ludwig Knoop’s demise, Johann Prowe was appointed director general. The latter died in 1901 and Knoop’s sons Theodor and Andreas continued the family business, remaining the directors and major shareholders of the Kreenholm Manufacturing Company.