Mendeleev Dmitry Ivanovich


(27.01)(08.02).1834 - 20.01(02.02).1907)


Russian scientist and encyclopaedist: chemist, physical chemist, physicist, metrologist, economist, technologist, geologist, meteorologist, teacher, aeronaut, instrument maker, professor at St. Petersburg University, corresponding member of the Physics and Mathematics Department (in the category of physical sciences (chemistry) Imperial St. - Petersburg Academy of Sciences. Among its most famous discoveries is the periodic law of chemical elements, one of the fundamental laws of the universe, integral to the whole of natural science.

Born in Tobolsk. Biographies of Mendeleev and the analysis of his scientific achievements are devoted to an infinite number of different details and depths of publications with which everyone can familiarize themselves if they wish.

Within the framework of this work, it seems appropriate to single out the geographical, in particular, the Arctic activity of Mendeleev.

He considered the development of the Northern Sea Route, along which the richest natural resources of the country are located, one of the most important tasks of Russia. Mendeleev understood perfectly well that in order to sail in the ice, to combat them, it is absolutely necessary to design and build a special vessel, unprecedented until now, capable of paving the way for other steamers following. The scientist warmly supported the idea of Admiral S.O. Makarov on the creation of a powerful icebreaker for the Arctic voyages.

“Your thought is brilliant and ... will develop into a matter of great importance, not only scientific and geographical, but also into living practice. All my sympathies are with you, and, if that is possible, I will certainly and willingly do as far as my good will suffices.

Makarov was hardly able to cope with the royal bureaucracy if Mendeleev had not joined the ranks of the icebreaker. He undertook a difficult mission to convince the Russian rulers of the reality and usefulness of the proposed project. Using enormous prestige in the highest government circles, Mendeleev turned for help to the all-powerful Russian Finance Minister S.Yu. Witte expressed his opinion on the creation of a powerful icebreaker as a promising undertaking important for the economic development of Russia. After that, the minister showed interest in the Makarov project and, after talking with him, suggested that the admiral begin implementing his idea from a trip to the northern ports and polar seas to familiarize himself with the conditions of navigation on the Northern Sea Route.

In October 1897  by order of Witte, a special commission was created, which included S.O. Makarov (chairman), D.I. Mendeleev, professor of the Marine Academy of F.F. Wrangel, a number of specialists familiar with the work of icebreaking facilities off the coast of Finland, on Baikal in the port of Vladivostok, as well as shipbuilding engineers. Otto Sverdrup was invited as a consultant.

Mendeleev developed a research program in the process of navigation, made a detailed estimate for the purchase of scientific instruments, including a unique pendulum for pioneering measurements of gravity in high latitudes and high-precision astronomical and magnetic theodolites.


A plaque on the building of St. Petersburg State University from the Mendeleev line

Memorial plaque

Petersburg, Moscow Avenue, 19


In February 1899  built by order of Russia in the English shipyards of Newcastle "Yermak", broke the ice of the Gulf of Finland, solving several problems to free ships from ice captivity and save the fishermen, and arrived in Kronstadt. Mendeleev greeted Makarov with a telegram: “The ice blocking Petersburg, you won, congratulations! I look forward to the same success in polar ice, Professor Mendeleev".

The arrival of "Ermak" allowed that year unusually early to begin navigation in the port of St. Petersburg. Makarov became the hero of the day, but neither he norMendeleev was seduced by these relatively easy victories. They were very worried about how an icebreaker would behave in the Arctic. The Admiral and the scientific icebreaker prepared thoroughly and comprehensively for the first meeting with the Arctic, carefully working out the test program. But then an unforeseen complication occurred: a serious spat of Makarov and Mendeleev.

The divergence of views began when Mendeleev proposed that an icebreaker on the very first voyage try to go through the North Pole to the Bering Strait. The scientist believed that since the shortest way from the European part of Russia to the Far East lies through the central regions of the Arctic, all forces and technical means should be devoted to the study of circumpolar space, to create a high-width shipping line, Makarov was of the opinion that at first the icebreaker must go to the Kara Sea in order to lay the shipping line between European ports and the mouths of the Ob and Yenisei rivers. Studying the near-polar space Makarov considered it a secondary matter and considered it possible to go to the North as far as circumstances permit. Life has shown that Makarov was right.

The second discrepancy concerned the choice of swimming tactics. The admiral intended to go right through the ice, and the scientist was convinced that the ice should be bypassed, if possible, and if it was to break through, not through, but with the help of explosions. And here, of course, was right second.

And finally, the third reason was associated with a different understanding of the role of the expedition leader. Makarov was convinced that all the administrative and scientific issues that would arise during the voyage should be solved only by him. Mendeleev did not admit that during the voyage he would be subordinate to the admiral, and therefore insisted that all scientific issues should be resolved independently by the leader of the research team, who would have equal rights with the expedition leader in choosing the route. The effect was that one of them was a civilian, and the second - to the military, for whom the need for unity of command in any enterprise was not questioned. Probably both were right and wrong. A compromise solution could be found, the possibility of which was proved by many Soviet Arctic expeditions that went down in history, in which the expedition leader, the captain of the vessel, and the scientific leader interacted perfectly.

In this case, the conflict ended with the fact that Mendeleev and the scientists invited by him refused to participate in the expedition.

Makarov very hard experienced a quarrel with Mendeleev. Bitter words appeared in his notebook: "Mendeleev left - so there is no one to say a kind word".

Looking ahead, we say that, despite the discord, Mendeleev kept a close eye on the fate of Yermak, and when Makarov began to harass numerous detractors after unsuccessful flights in the Arctic, Mendeleev supported the inventor in every way, protected him from attacks and actively defended Ermak.


Petersburg Moskovsky Avenue, 19


Makarov was well aware that he would never have a more benevolent and wise like-minded person, and in April 1901 took a step towards reconciliation by sending a copy of his just published book “Yermak in Ice” with a dedication letter full of deep respect and appreciation to the great scholar. That was the end of this quarrel.

The “Yermak” trips to the Arctic revealed a number of constructive and technical flaws of the vessel, which was quite natural - this was the first experience of free swimming in heavy ice. However, Makarov’s opponents took advantage of these failures and achieved termination of the tests.

After the removal of Makarov, Mendeleev, after studying the first experience of operating an icebreaker, offered to try Yermak again in the Arctic and wanted to participate in the expedition himself. Before the test of the icebreaker, he proposed to transfer the Yermak boilers to liquid fuel, which made it possible to dramatically increase the autonomy of the voyage and cut the crew in half. In heavy ices, Mendeleev planned the use of explosions and considered constant air ice reconnaissance from aerostats as a necessary condition for successful navigation. Even mighty nuclear icebreakers do not do without ice reconnaissance even today.

Mendeleev developed several projects of the new icebreaker, which took into account the identified shortcomings of "Ermak", but even with his authority and influence he was not able to obtain permission from the government to continue testing. It is not by chance that Mendeleev expressed a bitter reproach to the naval command: "If even a tenth of what was lost during Tsushima was spent on reaching the pole, our squadron would probably have come to Vladivostok, bypassing the German Sea and Tsushima".

The merits of Mendeleev were awarded orders of St. Vladimir I and 2 degrees, St. Alexander Nevsky, White Eagle, St. Anna I and 2 degrees, St. Stanislav I degree and Legion of Honor.

He died in St. Petersburg, was buried in the Literatorsky footbridges of the Volkovsky cemetery.

Plateau (glacier) in the south of the Earth. Circapp island of West Spitsbergen.

Mountains in the north-west of the northern island of Novaya Zemlya. The glacier named in 1909 V.A. Rusanov, and the mountains in 1913 G.Ya. Sedov.

Underwater uplift in the Arctic Ocean.


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