The South Urals is an inhospitable and yet beautiful land where the Ural River divides Europe fr om Asia and wh ere the thickly-wooded slopes of the Ural Mountains descend into the endless Asian steppe.
In the late 20th century, archaeologists discovered traces of a civilization here, representing a chain of settlements and cities dating back to as early as the Egyptian pyramids of the Middle Kingdom, the Cretan city culture, later phases of India’s legendary civilizations of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro. This land is a historical crossroads of tribes, religions and cultures, from the times of the great Migrations Period, Genghis Khan, and Tamerlane to our days.
The history of the city of Magnitogorsk itself is intertwined with the Magnitnaya (“magnetic” in Russian) fortress, which was later transformed into a Cossack stanitsa (settlement) of the same name. The fortress was founded in 1743 by I.Neplyuev, Orenburg Governor and an appointee of Peter the Great, for the defense of Mount Atach (the ancient name for Magnitnaya Mountain). This mountain, in an area not exceeding 25 sq km, contained about half a billion tons of iron ore. The fortress was part of the Yaik (former name of the Ural River) line of fortresses, which shielded the south-eastern borders of the Russian Empire.
The main occupation of the Urals Cossacks in those times was fishing. The Ural River was abundant with sturgeon and was the main source of black caviar in Russia of the day. The rules of fishing were laid down in great detail, with winter, spring and summer fishing seasons, and idle periods during spawning times, when it was even prohibited to ring bells in churches. “The main business and exercise of the Yaik Cossacks is fishing, which is not as well regulated and controlled by laws anywhere in Russia as it is here,” the Academic Pallas wrote in the 18th century.
The history of the industrial use of Magnitnaya Mountain started on October 27, 1752, when the Orenburg Governor’s Office issued permits to two industrialists and merchants to mine ore and build plants on a territory between the Belaya River and the Ural River. As charcoal was the main fuel for producing pig iron in those times, it was decided not to build a smelting plant in the treeless steppes around the mountain, but to mine the ore in the summer and carry it in the winter by sleds to the plants in Byeloretsk, 87 km away.
In early May of 1774 the Magnitnaya Fortress became the scene of a fierce battle between the troops of the self-proclaimed Peter III (a.k.a. Yemelyan Pugachev) and Catherine II. During the assault on the fortress the impostor was wounded in the hand and suffered complete defeat but later, through treachery, the fortress was seized by the rebels. By Pugachev’s will, the fortress’s commandant, an army captain, and his wife and daughter were hanged, which is strikingly reminiscent of the plot of a well-known novel by Alexander Pushkin, The Captain’s Daughter.
Geological surveys of Magnitnaya Mountain started in 1828, and by the middle of the 19th century the first geological map was drafted. In 1829 an expedition led by the renowned German scientist Alexander von Humboldt visited the site. In 1837 the future Russian emperor Alexander II and his teacher V.Zhukovsky, a famous Russian poet, visited Magnitnaya Mountain. About that time, numerous gold-fields were discovered on the shores of the Ural and its tributaries, which lasted a century. In 1891 another future Russian emperor, Nikolai II, visited the site.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Stanitsa Magnitnaya had 15 streets, 320 households and 2,500 inhabitants, or, including isolated farmsteads, over 10,000 inhabitants. It stretched along the Ural river’s shoreline for 2 km, and was 1 km wide. The village had an administrative building, a church with a church square, another church with a chapel next to a cemetery, a post office with a telegraph, several stores, a mill, two tanneries, 14 workshops and 52 gold mines scattered around the village. About that time 30,000-50,000 tons of iron ore were already being mined every year.
The latest history of these parts begins in 1929. By June 30, 1929, the railroad had already reached here, and it was used to ship iron ore to Urals and Siberian steel mills until 1984. In total, 60.3 million tons of iron ore were shipped over the 55-year period.
January 1932 saw the blowing-in of the first blast furnace, and on February 1st of that year the first pig iron was smelted.
This marked the birth of the MMK Works. Alongside the Works, a city was taking shape. In August of 1934, the Magnit cinema, one of the first cinemas with sound in the Urals, opened its doors to the public. On September the 1st of the same year, a mining and metallurgy institute received its first students, soon followed by another higher learning institution, a pedagogical institute.
During WWII, MMK turned into a steel bulwark for the country.
As early as July 23, 1941, the first armour plate steel was produced at the Works. It took a very short time to start production of armour plate, armoured domes for pillboxes, turrets for KV tanks, blanks for artillery shells, hand grenades and parts for rocket missiles. Every third shell and every second tank armour were made from Magnitogorsk steel.
By the mid-1970’s MMK was producing 15 million tons of crude steel and 12 million tons of rolled products. Peak production – 16 million tons of crude steel – was achieved in 1989.
In 1992, in the process of privatization, MMK was converted to a joint stock company.
In April of 2007 MMK conducted its IPO for over USD 1 bn followed by a listing on the London Stock Exchange.
On February 26, 2005, MMK smelted its 500-millionth ton of pig iron, and in 2007 the mill reached an all-time high of 12.2 million tons of rolled steel per year.
During this same period, MMK began implementation of its most ambitious project ever, in conjunction with SMS Demag, Germany. This project involved construction of a 5,000 mm plate mill designed to produce steel plate up to 4,850 mm wide for the oil & gas sector, as well as for the ship, bridge and machine-building industries. The new mill has a capacity of 1.5 mtpy of plates. The new products meet requirements for operations in aggressive environments, in underwater sections of trunk pipelines, under extreme temperature differences and permafrost. This unique facility will be able to develop a rolling force of 12,000 tons, unparalleled in the world.