He was a statesperson, the Minister of Transport and Communications, the Minister of Finance and the Chairman of the Council of Ministers. He is best known as the author of the currency reform of 1987 and the state monopoly on alcohol. He contributed to the creation of the Russian Railway Regulations, accelerated the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway and initiated the creation of the State Duma.
Sergei Witte was born and raised in Tiflis (the former name for capital of Georgia – Tbilisi). His father belonged to the Baltic Germans, and his mother was a daughter of a Governor of Saratov. After graduating from the gymnasium, he moved to Odessa and entered the Department of Physics and Math in Novorossiysk University, where he wanted to stay after his graduation, but his relatives argued against it: to pursue science was not of the nobility (of the nobility was then to serve the Emperor and the Empire).
After working in a chancellery of the Odessa’s governor for some time, Witte entered the service of the Railway Administration and then became its head, and in 1879, 30-yeard Witte moved to St. Petersburg, where he lived until the end of his days.
At that time, most of railways were private. Witte started the buying-up policy, reasoning that the railways would be the most efficient under the government control.
At the post of the Minister of Finance Witte did away with collective responsibility and corporal punishment in obshchinas (peasant communities), simplified the passport regime for peasants and took a stand for peasants’ free leave from obshchinas. Later on, he blamed Pyotr Stolypin for stealing his ideas.
Witte believed that the future of Russia depends on the development of production sector, trade and the growth of the internal market. He realized that the Russian Empire, following an example of all developed countries, would inevitably come to the capitalism and the nobility should master industry and be bourgeoisified. Witte contributed to the establishment of technical universities, including the for-profit ones.