The King of Vodka: The Story of Pyotr Smirnov and the Upheaval of an Empire
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“A operatic tour-de-force.” —Tilar J. Mazzeo, author of The Widow Clicquot
“An impressive feat of research, told swiftly and enthusiastically.” —San Francisco Chronicle
From Vanderbilt and Rockefeller to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, America’s captains of industry are paragons of entrepreneurial success, and books about business history, from The First Tycoon to The Big Short, show exemplars of capitalistic cunning and tenacity…but just as American cocktail connoisseurs can mistake Absolut, Skyy, Grey Goose, or Ketel One for the quintessential clear spirit, so too has America’s vision of business history remained naïve to a truth long recognized in Eastern Europe: since the time of Tsar Nicholas, both vodka and commercial success have been synonymous in Russia with one name—Smirnoff. Linda Himelstein’s critically acclaimed biography of Russian vodka scion Pyotr Smirnov—a finalist for the James Beard Award, winner of the IACP and Saroyan Awards, and a BusinessWeek Best Business Book of 2009—is the sweeping story of entrepreneurship, empire, and epicurean triumph unlike anything the world has ever seen before.
headquarters of the Erisman Research Institute of Hygiene, a scientific research facility focused on advancing studies of worker productivity. Ironically, the institute was named for the same chemist who spearheaded the toxicity tests of vodkas, including Pyotr Smirnov’s, in the 1890s. The Smirnovs and their vodka heritage were on their way to obscurity. Then, in a bizarre twist of fate, an enterprising Russian-born American, living thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean, intervened.
sharing some of their stories. The book is richer for it. Vadim Maksheyev and Alfonsina Mekhedinskaya, relatives of Tatiana Smirnova-Maksheyeva, should be recognized for their assistance and kind hearts. I am also grateful to the people at Diageo for their help with this book. Special recognition must go to a handful of individuals whose contributions went well beyond what any reasonable person could have expected. Anton Valdin, an accomplished researcher and genealogist in Moscow, was
Muskovites (Moscow: Poligrafresursy, 1999), http://www.booksite.ru/fulltext/gui/lya/rov/sky/4/index.htm. 9. N. N. Zhukov, Iz zapisnyh knizhek (Moscow: Sovetskaya Rossiya, 1976), 131–32. 10. Ukazatel russkogo otdela venskoy vsemirnoy vystavski 1873 goda (St. Petersburg, 1873), 50.11. CHAM, Fund 203, Inv. 764, Case 173, 293–94. CHAPTER 6: TO VIENNA AND BACK 1. Ye. Trigo, The Business: A Literary Political Magazine (St. Petersburg: The Publishing House of V. Toushnov, 1873), 107. 2. New York
Ibid., 117. 7. Testimony, Boris Aleksandrovich Smirnov, Feb. 12, 1998, 163–64, from the Smirnoff Vodka Archive at Harvard University’s Davis Center Collection in the Fung Library. 8. Ibid., Feb. 11, 1998, 69. 9. Research compiled by Oleg Smirnov, obtained from the Smirnoff Vodka Archive at Harvard University. Document #PSC009365. 10. L. K. Yezioranskiy, Fabrichno-zavodskiye predpriyatiya Rossiyskoy Imperii pod nablyudeniyem Redaktsionnogo Komiteta, sostoyashchego iz chlenov Soveta Syezdov
lacked both the proper pedigree and the appropriate social credentials. He was determined to protect his son from similar humiliation. The younger Smirnov, just twenty, was far better prepared than his father. He had not only inherited Smirnov’s intellect and knack for business but also had had the advantage of a first-rate education. He knew the family business, having been engaged in his father’s enterprise, working alongside him in the factory and back office. What the younger Pyotr lacked,