Modernization theory, interpreted as a civilizational shift from traditional agrarian to a modern industrial society, allows considering innovations as the conditions necessary and sufficient for this transformation. Russia of the XIX century was characterized by similar processes. The transition to the new industrial technology foundation began decades before the abolition of serfdom. This paper tells about the experience of modernization of metallurgical production at Nizhny Tagil plants of Demidovs in 1840-1850. It is noted that export orientation of iron and steel in Western Europe played a powerful incentive to improve the technical and technological base of the mountain plants of the Middle Urals. Also important is the fact that the Demidovs administration has sought means to minimize the number of intermediaries in the sale of their products. The administration has sought ways to help commissioners get responses back from direct consumers of iron produced in Nizhny Tagil plants. Demidovs were interested, as they assessed the quality of the metal, which "internal properties" they would like to see in their iron in order to successfully use it in the production process. In turn, the domestic market was practicing somewhat different approach to trading metals - a network of regional sales offices in most major economic centers was functioning to better know the requirements for the quality of the metal and the volume of its production plan in line with the real needs of specific types of iron and copper. At the same time, the contradictory nature of the modernization process itself, in particular, the reluctance of the management of enterprises pass on the use of coal as a primary fuel source is highlighted. In fact, the use of coal Nizhny Tagil plants began to implement only in 1880, which did not stop Demidovs during the post-reform period to increase volumes of metal smelting on the old industrial-energy base
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