Petr Smirnov (9.01.1831 - 29.11.1898) – the Russian businessman, founder of the Smirnoff vodka brand.
Born in the Myshkin Uyezd of the Yaroslavl Region, in a large family. His way to prosperity is common for many his lucky and not so lucky predecessors: an errand boy in a small shop, salesman, then head salesman in a big grocery store. Labour, luck and talent has made this man the first among the Russian vodka producers.
Once a complaisant salesman of the family enterprise “Smirnov on Varvarka Street” had pleased one somewhat eccentric lady so much, that she was touched and favoured him with a lottery-ticket – for good luck. And the ticket was winning, with a large sum. The lady wanted the ticket back, but Petr was firm – a gift should not be returned. They said that this lady became mentally deranged and than died, but most probably that is just a legend.
Petr Arsenyevich added his money to the unexpected prize, got into debts and in 1860 had established on Pyatnitskaya Street, near the Chugunniy Bridge in Moscow a small wine store (near the place where the first Moscow tavern on Balchug Street opened).
After he had gathered some wealth, Smirnov attached a small manufacture to the store (with 25 workers). He thought that the most essential part of such business was quality and as soon as in 1871 Smirnov became a merchant of the 3rd guild, in 1,5 year transferred to the 2nd guild, and in 1871 – to the 1st.
Excellent quality guaranteed demand, production grew. To the beginning of the 19th century productivity of the manufacture made up 17 million Rubles per year and about 1,500 workers worked there. Rectification of the product took 200,000 poods (3,200 tons) of charcoal; only production of stoppers took about 12,000 Rubles. Bottles were manufactured in 7 glass-works, 4 print-houses printed 60 million labels and tags yearly. More than 200 wagoners delivered produce from the plant gates.
In 1886 the Emperor Aleksandr III visited the Nizhniy Novgorod Fair. Near the pavilions where light reflected in bottles with drinks of different colours, waiters in bearskins welcomed the tsar and with bows offered him cut glasses with “Smirnovskaya”.
The Russian tsar tasted the “boyar wines” of Petr Arsenyevich Smirnov and ordered him to be the Supplier of His Imperial Majesty Court.
In 1873 the company made its debut at the international exhibition in Vienna and got the highest prize. In three years the new triumph in Philadelphia met the company. “Smirnovka” triumphantly walked around the world, getting prizes at the exhibitions in Montreal, Paris, Moscow, Petersburg, Brussels, London, Barcelona.
Then Smirnov received medals on the ribbon of the St. Andrey the First Called, orders of St. Stanislav, Anna, Vladimir and higher governmental honours – right to depict on his advertisements, signboard and labels the first, second, third and fourth state coat-of-arms – “for the excellent quality of rectification of wine, vodka, liqueur and sweets, and for development and modernization of beverages production”.
Since 1886 Smirnov became the supplier of the Court of the Grand Prince Sergey Aleksandrovich and His Royal Majesty Oscar II Court, King of Sweden and Norway. Smirnov received the Order of St. Isabella from the hands of the Spanish Queen.
Petr Arsenyevich himself really valued his brand – and not only concerning commercial relations. Everything connected with the name of his company should proclaim itself, he thought. They tell that once on Christmas-tide, when according to the long-lived tradition on the ice of the Moscow-River workmen gathered together to test their strength, Smirnov’s workers began to give way, that was unthinkable of. The strongest men were absent for good reason; the manager of the manufacture did not let them go on the ice because of the urgent order. It all ended when out-of-breath messenger ran to Smirnov’s apartment right from “the war positions” with the words “Ours are loosing!”. Smirnov immediately ordered to let the best men go to the battlefield and gave them farewell with the words: “If you beat them, I grant everyone paid rest till 2 o’clock, refreshments and bonus; if you cover yourself with shame – I fine everyone!”
After that the respectable head of the company sent for the manager and excoriated him, not listening to excuses about the urgent order and losses: “Our workmen will execute the order! But if they cover themselves with shame – that is much worse than losses!”
In 1888 Petr Arsenyevich Smirnov reached his best – by the Tsar’s order he was ranked the Councilor of Commerce.
In 1897 the newly introduced wine monopoly had heavily struck the business, and in a year, on November 29, Smirnov died. He left after himself the excellently established business, essential capital, high-flown glory and – numerous descendants of two marriages – five sons and eight daughters.
The Smirnoff brand is now distributed in 130 countries and includes flavored vodka and malt beverages. It is now owned by the British drinks giant Diageo. Smirnoff vodka is both the best selling vodka and the best selling premium distilled spirit in the world as of March 2006.
The Museum of Russian Vodka, devoted to the Smirnovs, former Myshkin residents. You surely know this Russian liquor (Myshkin) – http://www.myshkingrad.ru/muzsmirnov.html
Museum “The History of Russian Vodka” (Uglich) - http://uglich.ru/turizm/muzei/page392/