Gabrovo Marks 182nd Anniversary since First Industrial Production in Bulgaria (and Ottoman Empire) with Special Exhibition

The official poster for the exhibition shows a photo of Dobri Zhelyazkov, aka the Industrialist, and the original factory buildings from the 1830s. Photo: Gabrovo Regional Museum of History

An exhibition dedicated to the 182nd anniversary since the opening of the first industrial production in Bulgaria, and, for that matter, in the Ottoman Empire of which the country was part at the time has been showcased in the city of Gabrovo in Central Bulgaria.

The exhibition in question was originally developed and presented for the 180th anniversary of the event back in 2014 by the Regional Museum of History in the eastern city of Sliven where the first industrial plant in Bulgaria, and, respectively, Ottoman Turkey, was established.

Now the exhibition has been hosted by the Regional Museum of History in Gabrovo, another major Bulgarian industrial center in the 19th – 20th century.

The first ever manufacturing plant in Bulgaria (and in Ottoman Turkey) was a textile factory established in 1834 in Sliven by Bulgarian entrepreneur Dobri Zhelyazkov (1800-1865) nicknamed “Fabrikadzhiyata” which can be translated as “the Factory Owner” or “the Industrialist”.

Zhelyazkov was a pioneer who set a trend of the emergence of industrial manufacturing in Bulgaria, especially in textiles, which later spread to other Bulgarian cities such as Gabrovo (later known as “the Bulgarian Manchester” because of its numerous textile plants) and Plovdiv.

The trend itself is seen as an economic manifestation of the period of Bulgarian National Revival (18th-19th century) which eventually culminated into the National Liberation of Bulgaria (1878-1912) from the highly oppressive and economically and culturally backward Ottoman Empire.

The first manufacturing plant in Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire founded in 1834 by Bulgarian entrepreneur Dobri Zhelyazkov, aka the Industrialists, in the city of Sliven. A drawing by Austro-Hungarian geographer Felix Kanitz. Photo: Wikipedia

This 2008 photo shows the building of the 1834 manufacturing plant founded by Dobri Zhelyazkov in Bulgaria’s Sliven. Photo: Edal, Wikipedia

The period when Bulgaria was conquered and ruled over by Ottoman Turkey is thus known as the Ottoman Yoke (1396-1878/1912). In Bulgarian history, it stands not just for the brutal destruction of the culturally advanced medieval Bulgarian Empire but also for several centuries of feudal rule in which the Bulgarians were cut off from the rest of Europe and missed countless development opportunities presented by the gradual advent of the Modern Age, including the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment.

Therefore, the emergence of Bulgarian entrepreneur Dobri Zhelyazkov’s first industrial factory in Sliven was nothing short of a revolutionary event in Bulgarian history. Yet, it is also intriguing because of the way it played out in the history of Ottoman Turkey, and its efforts for European-style reforms in the 19th century.

Thus, his manufacturing was at first supported by the reformist-minded Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II (r. 1808-1839) who formalized his support and investment in the Sliven factory with a decree (firman).

Zhelyazkov’s business became the main producer and supplier of uniforms for the Ottoman army.

Subsequently, however, on the eve of the Crimean War (1853-1856) with the Russian Empire, the Ottoman authorities decided that the important industrial production could not be left in the hands of an “infidel”, so the Bulgarian entrepreneur was removed from his own business, and eventually died in poverty.

The special exhibition entitled “182 Years since the Beginning of the Textile Industry in the Balkans” can be seen at the Gabrovo Regional Museum of History throughout until the end of January 2016.

It features a total of 13 information posters with photos as well as numerous original documents about the onset of the textile industry in Sliven as of the second quarter of the 19th century.

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The exhibition was developed by the Sliven Museum of History in 2014 for the 180th anniversary since the opening of Bulgaria’s first industrial plant. Photos: Gabrovo Municipality

In a statement about the exhibition, the Gabrovo Museum points out that the while Dobri Zhelyazkov, a.k.a. the Industrialist, invested substantial capital for the creation of his first factory in 1834, he also saw the potential of the enterprise becoming government-owned.

Subsequently, as of 1836, the Ottoman government took over while keeping him as the manager of the plant, freed the enterprise from taxes, and gave it what were public procurement contracts for supplying uniforms to the Ottoman army, all the “while recognizing the skills and merit of Zhelyazkov, a Bulgarian".

The construction of the first government-owned building at the plant began in 1836. Inside the factory yard, the Ottoman authorities also built the Havrika Mosque, which seems to be the only case of a religious building built in an industrial factory in Bulgaria.

It is noted that the second textile factory in Bulgaria’s Sliven was opened 30 years after Zhelyazkov’s – in 1864 – by brothers Georgi and Dimitar Hadzhimanolovi, Dimitar Balev, and their Turkish partner Hasan Kanayazade.

The industrial production in Sliven further took off after Bulgaria’s National Liberation in 1878 when the expertise from the two already existing textile plants was used for expansion of the industry. In 1880, local entrepreneurs founded a company called “Progress" which built upon the local tradition to develop the production further.

A total of 8 more textile plants equipped mostly with German-made machinery were established in Sliven between 1882 and 1890.

One of the largest textile plants in Bulgaria at the time became the Sliven-based “Tsonev, Kalovs, Atanasovs" factory established in 1886. In 1939, it was bought out by a Gabrovo industrialist, Hristo Raykov, who also owned several other plants in Sliven and Plovdiv.

The exhibition dedicated to the 182nd anniversary since the establishment of the first industrial plant in Bulgaria, the Ottoman Empire, and the Balkans also presents the participation of the Sliven textile plants in the first edition ever of the Plovdiv International Fair in 1892, and the Sliven industrialists’ contributions to the erection of monuments.

Another important fact about the development of the Bulgarian textile industry featured in the exhibition is the so called State Practical School, which was founded in 1883 in Knyazhevo near Sofia (today a quarter of Sofia) but was moved to Sliven in 1894. It provided professional education and training for the workers in the textile industry.

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The official poster for the exhibition “182 Years since the Beginning of the Textile Industry in the Balkans”. Photo: Gabrovo Regional Museum of History