The industrial subdivisions of “Russalt” LTD. are based on the oldest salt producing enterprises operating on the Iletsk, Baskunchak and Usolie salt mines which have a centuries-long development history. Let us go back hundreds of years into the past and trace the history of the Russian salt industry.

The Iletsk deposit

The nature has generously presented the Orenburg region with precious gifts. One of them is enormous deposits of the purest rock salt near Sol-Iletsk. The origin history of salt mining on the territory of Russia goes back to ancient years. Thus, the first news about the Iletsk salt refers to the XVI century (Ivan the Terrible’s reign) by the time of composing the famous map of the Russian state “Great drawing”. The Iletsk salt was also mentioned in the First Full compilation of the Russian Laws (1723).

At that time the scales of the salt deposits were unknown, there was no information about its consistence and quality. Mining was carried out in an open and manual way. The labor of settlers, workers and convicts was widely used. The field demanded hard labor. Convicts broke salt blocks with picks and “barsas” – logs with iron sided ends. They carried salt in tubs, hand-barrows and transported it in carts. The convicts knew the real price of salt. They went there put in irons, their arms and legs were salt-eaten. Mining was not duly organized at that time.

It had been so unless the Orenburg province was founded by the tzar’s order in 1744. The governor I.I. Neplyuev gave an order to examine the deposits in Iletskaya Zaschita. A thorough examination of the deposits on 53 sites about two meters deep was carried out by Major Kublitskiy sent on the mission. And soon the salt managing board was established in Orenburg.

On March 4th, 1746 the Orenburg governor I.I. Neplyuev asked the Governing senate for permission to make the Iletsk mine field the state’s property, and only on May 7th, 1753 the Iletsk rock salt field was declared to be the property of the treasury.

With the state’s support the affairs in the salt field started prospering, and in February, 1770 P.I.Rychkov was appointed to the post of the chief of Orenburg salt affairs managing board. He managed to increase the productivity of the mine field from 273 thousand poods in 1770 to 359 thousand poods in 1771. Whereas the quantity of the working convicts was decreased from 200 to 100 people.

However, the imperfection of salt production technology, the hardest labor conditions, sharp decrease of involuntary laborers quantity due to diseases and death rate caused the dramatically low productivity of the mine field. In the early XIX century the Iletsk mine field was literally as good as ruined.

For the sake of improvement and additional deposit exploration in 1850 the department for rock and salt affairs sent the engineer Reinke on an assignment trip. He established that the salt flange covers over three square kilometers. In the center of the open work a borehole 145 meters deep was drilled. The further drilling was stopped due to the extreme hardness of the salt monolith. In the explored field Reinke determined the salt deposit of about 70 billion poods. The scales of these explorations at that time were truly impressive. The introduction of number of technical innovations which caused the decrease of manual labor literally made a breakthrough in salt production. Already in the 90-ies of the XIX century the specific weight of the Russian mined rock salt in its total production volume reached 20 %. By the XIX century Russia has become one of the largest world’s salt producers. A significant part of this salt was produced in the Iletsk mine field.

In 1881 according to the mining engineer Yakovlev’s project two mines were originated, their building lasted eight years. Their depth was 42 – 45 meters, and only one chamber for salt mining was open. The ceiling of the chamber was arched, and the height was 4,26 meters. The works were done by the bench-cut and explosive method.

The high quality of the Iletsk common salt was more than once awarded with medals at the industrial exhibitions: the World exhibition in Paris in 1867, the all-Russian exhibition in 1882, the Ural-Siberian exhibition in 1887, the Kazan exhibition in 1890, the exhibition in Nizhniy Novgorod in 1896. Thus, the Iletsk salt was generally recognized in Russia and abroad as the best salt in the world.

In the early 30-ies of the XIX century the mine received technical support, and in 1939 engineering and technical section was organized in the salt mine field. In 1964 a new powerful automated mine 280 meters deep came into operation. After a year of operation the mine produced 235 thousand tons of salt, and in 1970 its productivity reached 600 thousand tons.

The history of the Sol-Iletsk mine development is interesting and rich in events. At present the salt mine represents an upgraded high-tech production.

A large-scale reconstruction of the mine was performed and a new salt plant was built. Edible common rock salt exclusively of prime quality is produced here, it is used in all industrial branches in more than 80 regions of Russia, countries of CIS (The Commonwealth of Independent States) and abroad. In 1996 the Iletsk salt was recognized in Paris as the best salt in the world by the club of professional leaders from 112 countries and was awarded with the tenth European gold price for quality.

The Baskunchak deposit

Baskunchak is an enclosed salt lake in the north of the Astrakhan region (Akhtubinsk district). At present there is no unanimous point of view about the name background of the lake. In “The Affairs of the Secret Order” (1674) the lake is called “the Baskunchak salt lake”. Some researchers refer this name to the Nogai language words “bash” – “head”, “kuncha” – “dog”, i.e. “The Dog’s head” lake. According to another point of view, the name of the lake takes its roots from the Turkic languages “bas” – “head”, in the meaning of “main”, and “konak” – “station, stop”, thus, the initial form of the place-name – “baskonak” – “the main station” – corresponds to the predestination of the lake in the past as one of the main sources of salt production. At the same time it is supposed that the modern form of the lake’s name is a distorted word from the Mongolian-Turkic languages – “Uskonchak“. Exactly so it is called in the Russian geographic and cartographic memorial of the XVII century “A Book to the Great drawing”. This name has a Mongolian-Turkic background and means – “The sunny lake”, from the Mongolian us – “water, lake” and Turkic kun, kon – “sun”. The Kalmyk name of the lake is “Bogdyn khara nur” – “The saint’s black lake”.

Toponymical dictionary of the Astrakhan region

© Kirokosian M.A.

Accidental salt mining in the Baskunchak lake had been carried out since the times of Scythians, in the VII-IX centuries the khazars broke the salt, in the X-XI centuries – the cumans, from the XIII century the tatars broke the salt. After the conquest of Astrakhan by Ivan the Terrible and joining the region to the Moscow state the industrial development of the Astrakhan salt mine fields began, which opened a prospective page in the history of the Baskunchak salt mining.

The salt industry in Russia belonged to the state for a long period of time. The money from the salt sales even in the 50-ies of the XVIII century made up 14 % of the state budget that is why the government always treated the private statements about new salt deposits very attentively. Salt mining in the Baskunchak Lake was initiated by the treasury in 1747. For the sake of protection of the field a small fortress “Kordon” was built with a military post with 50 privates and 2 officers, 40 Cossacks, a half of the artillery troop with guns and bullets. At the lake banks there were watchtowers where the Cossacks were on their constant patrol service. Such an influential field security was to protect it from the nomad raids and testified to the long-term plans of the government. But already 7 years later after the beginning of the state’s salt production development, it was eliminated for costs reasons. However, the real reason was the intention to strengthen the Elton salt production field developing at the same time and demanding big financial expenses. Production development in Baskunchak was renewed from 1785 till 1808, and only after the abolition of serfdom and privatization of the salt fields the falsehood of the Elton protection became clear. According to its chemical composition the Baskunchak salt turned out to be of much better quality than the Elton salt, the lake banks were less marshy, and the way to the nearest Volga quay was two times shorter. Without enormous efforts and severity, being guided only by the private interest, fast development of the Baskunchak salt field for several years caused the end of the industrial salt production development in Elton (1863) and made Baskunchak the main salt supplier in the domestic market.

For almost 200 years the only workers’ equipment was a digger and one-pood shovel. Standing almost waist-deep in the skin eroding brine, the workers ploughed the salt layer manually with a heavy shovel and loaded it in camel-harnessed carts. Thus, supplying the Russian market with more than 10 million poods of the purest Baskunchak salt (which made up at that time 25% of the whole salt industry) was provided by the hard labor of almost 40 thousand hired ploughmen. On V.I. Lenin’s order in May, 1918 the active introduction of mechanization began, an American excavator “Marion” was delivered to the salt field, in 1921 an excavator “Bruce-Irus” for salt hills formation and loading the salt into freight wagons, and since June, 1923 in the salt lake field the multi-bucket lift “Lubeck” with buoyant crushing and sorting station. However, the main point in the Baskunchak mechanization development history was the building and putting into operation of a salt collector, a conceptually new machine in mining engineering according to the design of the engineer Yu. A. Makarov. It became a prototype of the modern salt harvester – a unique salt mining machine of modern times. By 1934 already three salt collectors had been working in the lake, manual salt mining was liquidated. By 1940 salt mining rates had reached 1,5 million tons a season which was equal to around 30 per cent of all the salt produced in the country.

With the beginning of the Great Patriotic war peaceful and productive life of salt workers in the settlement was stopped – at production site women and children started working instead of the men who went to the front line. The country was in a desperate need for salt as the Artemovskiy salt mine was captured, the Slavyansk salt plant and the Crimean fields were occupied. Baskunchak was actually the only working salt field in the country. Being aware of that Baskunchak salt workers did not stop shipping the salt from the lake in spite of the fierce bombardments of the joint railway station Verkhniy Baskunchak by the German aviation._

In the postwar years the research work began, aimed at introduction of new mechanisms and technological processes of salt mining and processing, product line expansion, improvement of its quality. For the first time the Baskunchak salt was shipped abroad: to Iran, Iraq, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland. In 1972 a new salt plant was put into operation, with the capacity of 800 thousand tons of salt a year which produced packaged and briquetted ground salt. In those years the Baskunchak mine produced about 5 million tons of salt yearly.

It is known that if a careful technology is used for salt production in the field, salt deposits will never end.
Exactly this rule is taken as a basis by those who mine and process salt today bringing it to the qualities necessary for customers. The modern proprietor’s aim is not only the safety of natural resources but also modernization of the salt production process and making human labor easier.

The Usolie deposit

Usolie was considered to be the Siberian salt cellar from the dawn of time. Without salt the town itself would not exist. In 1669 the troop of Yenisei Cossacks headed by Anisim Mikhalev moving up the Angara lodged for the night in the area where at present the resort “Usolie” is located. Not far from the nights lodging site the Cossacks found a salt outflow. At that time salt was produced almost nowhere in Siberia, and the Russians had to bring it from the Ural region. At that time salt was considered to be more valuable than gold and silver. Businesslike Anisim Mikhalev together with his brother Gavriil built at the site of the found outflow a salt furnace. The salt work originated by the Mikhalevs had not stopped since then, although its owners changed: it was owned now by merchants, now by the Ascension monastery, now by the treasury, and then it was owned again by merchants. The name of the settlement changed – Mikhalev’s village, Savior salt settlement, Usolie salt settlement, later –Usolie settlement, and since 1925 – the town Usolie. The modern name – Usolie-Sibirskoe – is given to the town on April 25th, 1940.
Up to the end of the XVIII century the salt production field was owned by several owners. Its founder Anisim Mikhalev served as the Cossack commander of fifty men first in Irkutsk, and then in the Tulun burg. He was one of the most energetic Siberian researchers and mineralogists. The honor of discovery of the famous mirror stone in the Vitim district, the Baikal graphite and the Sayan nephrite belongs to him. Generally, the elder brother Gavriil and his sons Ivan, Matvey, Filat and Vavil were engaged in the salt field. Due to the lack of investments and labor power the field was not profitable. From 1671 till 1681 only 2800 poods of salt were produced there. In 1682 after Gavriil’s death the field was sold to the merchant Ushakov from Irkutsk, exactly that one after whom the river Ushakovka in Irkutsk was named. On that river his mills were situated.

In 1740 the abbot of the Irkutsk Ascension monastery Makariy attained the transfer of right for salt production to the monastery. In the state document it was written: “…Hereby mentioned the Angarsk islands with salt streaks are given to the Ascension monastery with the purpose of salt production at its own expense for its needs and for all monks and peasants provided that the abbot contributes the fifth pood into the state treasury for supplying the service people in Irkutsk with food, and the monetary contribution to the treasury is two rubles a year; unrestricted salt sales are forbidden for the monastery until a special sovereign’s order”.

The Ascension monastery owned the salt production plant for more than sixty years. People started calling it the Irkutsk salt production plant.

Until 1923 salt was mined in a backyard way: brines were pumped up from a shallow depth, salt evaporated in square iron containers. It was a hard exhausting labor, especially in winter. Justifiably the work was called the salt slavery.

In 1923 the drill hole 692 meters deep on the Varnichnyy island came against the layer of rock salt. According to the engineer A.P.Plotnikov and the technician K.P.Shulga a new method of salt mining was offered which has been used up to the present day.

Now only legends are left from the old salt furnaces. At the new site a vacuum salt plant was built. The salt streaks, as they were called in the documents of the Irkutsk burg were only, were only small outflows from the salt layers hiding in the depths. The so-called Usolie-Bulaiskoe common salt field keeps its enormous deposits – more than 200 billion tons. They are lying in a thick layer at the depth of 0,5 kilometers.

Rock salt layers are mined by means of drill holes. For that purpose on the territory of the “Sibsol” plant several holes were drilled with the average depth of 1380 meters. Brine goes up these holes on the surface. Then it goes to the chemical processing section. Harmful impurities are removed there. Pure brine goes to the evaporation section where instead of iron containers vacuum devices are installed. The evaporated salt is transported to the drying cans where it is subjected to hot air up to 200 degrees. Then dry salt goes down to the transporter, at the end of which it is iodized and is transported to the packaging section. There it is collected in polyethylene bags and pressed mechanically into 50 kg sacks and 1 ton sacks.

The best salt production result the “Sibsol” plant reached in 1976 when 275 thousand tons of salt were collected.

Today the deposit supplies Siberia and the Far East with salt, delivers it to the biggest cities of the country. The Extra salt is considered to be the best in the world.