What was life like for a young Swedish woman in Baku at the turn of the last century? We can find out much about family life in Nobel’s Villa Petrolea from Ruth Grapengiesser’s frequent correspondence with her mother and sister at home in Sweden.
1907 was a bloodstained and tragic year for the Swedish colony in Baku. Four Swedish Nobel managers were shot dead at different times. One explanation for the murders was discontent by the workers for not being allowed to do piecework.
The Swedish engineer, Wilhelm Hagelin, was born in Russia and came to Baku at the end of the 1870s as a stowaway on the river boat. Barely 20 years of age, he started as a filer at Robert Nobel's paraffin factory and ended up responsible for managing Branobel during the troubled years that heralded the Russian revolution. The new Soviet regime offered him the opportunity to manage the technical operations of the entire oil industry in Baku – but he declined.
One of Branobel's works managers, the Swede, Gustaf Eklundh, lost everything as a result of the Russian revolution and never spoke to anyone about his time in Russia. But his Finnish wife, Vivi, and his daughters were able to describe a meeting with a sheik and the ladies of his harem. Something that was to have unforeseen complications...
Robert Nobel employs geologists at an early stage to search for oil and gas deposits around the Caspian Sea. The first Swedish geologists who come to Baku travel far and wide around the area and extend their field of knowledge. Leaving the university environment was not always looked on with approval.
Finns, Scots and Norwegians are attractive when the brothers, Alfred and Robert Nobel, want to overcome the management problems in Branobel. The Norwegian businessman, Hans Olsen, is given an important position and creates order in the distribution chain.
A harsh climate and many diseases claimed victims among Branobel’s employees in Baku. In 1882, Ludvig Nobel decided to improve the conditions for the Northerners and started construction of Villa Petrolea – a residential district for the company’s employees.
On 24 September 1884, Ludvig Nobel writes a letter to his daughter, Anna. He is happy about the acclaim he has received for his own endeavours to create a good life for his employees in the "Villa Petrolia" residential suburb. But the water needed to realise his dream of a green oasis in the semi-desert of Baku is still lacking.
In 1883, an old wish is granted – the railway line connecting Baku to the Caspian Sea at the port of Batum on the Black Sea is complete. This makes it easier to transport Branobel's products to Europe. At the same time, the rich French banking family, the Rothschilds, get involved in the stakes for Baku's oil and competition increases.