Alexander Mantashev

Alexander Mantashev

Armenian oil king
Country: Armenia

Biography of Alexander Mantashev

Alexander Mantashev, an Armenian oil tycoon, was born in Tiflis in 1842. His childhood and youth were spent in the Persian city of Tabriz, where his father was involved in the textile trade. As the only son, he helped his father in his business from a young age. In 1869, he moved to Manchester, a major center of textile manufacturing, where he conducted direct supplies to his father in Tabriz. The period in Manchester played a crucial role in shaping the young Mantashev. Here, he not only familiarized himself with the basics of textile trade but also delved into the intricacies of European business, immersed himself in English culture, and learned English, French, and German.

In 1872, Mantashev and his father returned to Tiflis and opened a fabric store on the ground floor of the "Caucasus" hotel on Yerevan Square. After his father's death in 1887, Alexander acquired a significant portion of the shares of the Tiflis Central Trade Bank and became its main shareholder and later chairman of the bank's administrative board, which set the tone for trade throughout the Caucasus. Tifkom Bank was the only financial institution in the Caucasus whose shares were listed on the St. Petersburg Stock Exchange. By the early 1890s, Mantashev had become a first guild merchant and a member of the Tiflis City Council. It was during this time that he became interested in the oil industry, recognizing the prospects of the booming Baku oil industry. This was the era of the emergence of the global oil business, and underground black liquid promised entrepreneurs incredible profits and opened up tremendous opportunities. All that was required was investment and skillful management, and Mantashev did just that.

According to his chief accountant's recollections, no document was processed without his approval. Mantashev was not afraid to take risks, and the unprofitable wells he bought with Mikael Aramyants soon started to generate profits. Mantashev's company built a kerosene plant and a lubricant oil plant, a seaport, and an oil and mazut transfer station in Baku. In Batumi, the company owned a packaging plant and an oil storage facility, and in Zabrat, a mechanical workshop. In Odessa, they had an oil filling station and 100 tank cars circulating on the southwest railways of Russia. Mantashev purchased two tankers in England, which supplied oil to India, China, Japan, and Mediterranean countries. In 1899, the trading company "Al. Mantashev & Co" was established, immediately opening offices, agencies, and warehouses in major cities in Europe and Asia, including Smyrna, Thessaloniki, Constantinople, Alexandria, Cairo, Port Said, Damascus, Marseille, London, Bombay, and Shanghai.

Soon, Mantashev became a shareholder in several global oil companies, including the Nobel Brothers. His company held 51.3% of the total oil reserves and 66.8% of the oil remains in the Caspian region. In 1904, his company ranked second in oil production in Baku, trailing only the Nobel Brothers and the Caspian-Black Sea Society of the Rothschilds.

One day, while traveling on the Vienna-Paris train, Mantashev found himself in a compartment with a very uncommunicative man. Despite numerous attempts to strike up a conversation, Mantashev's efforts failed. Only when the conversation turned to the Baku oil industry did the silent fellow come alive. During their discussion, he asked several professional questions about oil extraction and mentioned that the only person he knew in Baku was Alexander Mantashev. Mantashev smiled and introduced himself. After that, the conversation ceased. In Paris, they shook hands and parted ways. A few days later, Mantashev received an invitation to a social reception signed by the famous millionaire, Baron Rothschild. The invitation was accompanied by a few lines that made Mantashev realize who his silent companion had been.

Mantashev financed the construction of the Baku-Batumi oil pipeline, and in 1907, the world's first 835-kilometer pipeline was built. He was referred to as the "oil king." From 1899 to 1909, his company had the largest capital (22 million rubles) of any company in the Russian industry. Mantashev was known for personally inspecting oil fields before purchasing them. He knew that a rich deposit could unexpectedly run dry, while an unpromising one could produce a powerful fountain. With a team of geologists, oilmen, and engineers, he would inspect the site, ask countless questions, carefully study the soil - its color, texture, etc. He would even smell it and inquire about the condition of neighboring plots. Suddenly, he would stop and, pointing with his cane, say, "Drill here." No one could understand what prompted him to choose that particular spot, but his decision was always final. The most astonishing thing was that when drilling began at the specified location, oil would burst from the ground.

Mantashev was also known for his philanthropy. Along with twelve like-minded individuals, he founded the "Armenian Charitable Society in the Caucasus" in Tiflis. He donated 300,000 rubles, which were used to build a new building for the Nersisyan Spiritual Academy. In 1910, he donated 250,000 rubles to Holy Etchmiadzin, which was used to construct the current building of the treasury of the Catholicos of All Armenians (completed in 1914).

Mantashev financed the education of fifty talented young Armenians in the best universities in Russia and Europe. Many of them went on to bring glory to Armenian culture and science, including the founder of Armenian classical music, Komitas.

However, Mantashev's most notable feat was the Armenian Church of St. John the Baptist in Paris on Jean Goujon Street. The businessman himself, with a touch of self-irony, explained why he made such a generous donation for the construction of an Armenian church in Paris: "It is the city where I sinned the most." This is the most beautiful church in the Armenian diaspora. Mantashev spent 1,540,000 francs on its construction in 1904 and then handed it over to his people. For this act, the President of France awarded Alexander Mantashev the Order of the Legion of Honor. Mantashev did not like to flaunt his wealth and led a fairly modest lifestyle. He did not wear or like gold; the only decoration he wore was a live flower in the breast pocket of his jacket. In Tiflis, he did not even have his own carriage - he enjoyed walking or took the tram.

It is said that during his walks, Mantashev always carried twenty gold coins worth five rubles each. Every time he passed the Tiflis Real School, he would seemingly approach students who were in need and inquire, "How is your father's health? Please give him my regards." In reality, this phrase masked the moment when Mantashev discreetly and without hurting the pride of the recipient would slip a gold coin into their pocket. At the same time, he was sociable and had a sense of humor. Once, when settling the bill with his barber, the barber remarked, "Your son gives me twice as much!" To which Mantashev replied, "Well, he is the son of Mantashev. But who am I?!"

One of his hobbies was the theater. With Mantashev's funds, the "Pitoevsky Theater" was built in Tiflis, which is now the Shota Rustaveli Theater. In Paris, he had his own box at the National Academy of Music. He dreamed of building a similar theater in Yerevan but did not have the chance. The Small Hall of the Armenian Philharmonic is his gift to the city.

Alexander Mantashev passed away on April 19, 1911, in St. Petersburg. Five days later, his body was transported to Tiflis. He was buried next to his wife in the Vank Cathedral, the main church of which was restored with his donations.