Martens, Ludwig Karlovich (1874-1948)

Ludwig Martens

A participant in the Russian and international revolutionary movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries; a Soviet scientist , inventor and economic executive, who from 1919 to 1920 served as an unrecognized envoy of the Soviet Russia in the United States.

Martens, whose full name was Ludwig Christian Alexander Karl Martens, was born on December 20, 1874 (January 1, 1875 according to the “old-style” Julian calendar) to a well-to-do German family in the town of Bachmut (now Artemovsk) of the Russian Empire (now the Donbass region of Ukraine). His father, Karl-Gustav-Adolph Martens, was a German-born industrialist who owned a steel mill in the Russian city of Kursk. Ludwig Martens studied at a Kursk “real school” – a six-year school with a scientific emphasis – and took an additional, seventh, year at the same school to study mechanics and technology, from which he graduated in 1893. In the same year, he enrolled at the St. Petersburg State Institute of Technology, where he soon discovered “Das Kapital” by Karl Marx – and joined an underground student revolutionary circle, where he made friends with students, some of whom would become prominent Bolsheviks. Having joined the Russian revolutionary movement, Martens organized a Marxist study group for workers. In two years, his group, as well as other Marxist groups at that time, merged into the first Russian Marxist party, The St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class, founded by Vladimir Lenin in late 1895.

In September 1896, Martens was arrested for taking part in the League’s organization. However, in the course of investigation it turned out that as a German national, he could not be tried according to the Russian laws. In 1899, he was deported to Germany with no right to return to Russia. In Germany, he was almost immediately drafted into the army for a two-year service. Upon release, he completed his education at the Charlottenburg Institute of Technology, graduating in 1902.  He found a job as an engineer at a German firm, which requested frequent business trips. This facilitated his work for the Russian revolutionary movement (on the side of the Bolsheviks), particularly after the outbreak of the first Russian revolution in 1905. Martens was involved in transporting explosives and ammunition for Russian revolutionaries. In the same year, in Zurich, Martens met with Maxim Litvinov, who asked him to develop a portable light machine-gun. Although light and portable, the machine-gun developed by Martens had a serious deficiency: it could not fire, which forced the Russian revolutionaries to buy Mauser and Manlicher systems. In 1906, Martens was arrested in Hamburg with a load of 1.2 ton of explosives for subsequent delivery to Russia, but managed to persuade the German authorities that the load was a consignment for an American company. In early 1907 (according to Martens’s own account) Martens had to leave Germany and to emigrate to Great Britain, where he worked as an engineer at British factories. In 1915, a year after the outbreak of World War I, Martens’s family was driven out of Kursk and the family steel mill was confiscated following a government decision to shut down all business enterprises owned by German nationals. On December 24, 1915 he sailed from Great Britain and arrived in new York on January 2, 1916, after celebrating his birthday the evening before.

In the United States, Martens continued his revolutionary activities. Within that same year he became vice-president of an engineering firm, Weinberg & Posner, at 120 Broadway, New York City. Over the next few years, Martens became well known in the Russian Socialist colony of New York – as well as in the left wing of the American Socialist Party. Since 1916, he took part in editing of a Russian Socialist paper, “Novyi mir” (“The New World”), which he later described as a “Bolshevik paper.” From late 1916 and until the summer of 1917, he was editing the paper in collaboration with Leon Trotsky and other Russian revolutionaries, who were at that time in New York. 1

Ludwig Martens (right), with Santeri Nuorteva

On January 2, 1919, the Soviet Foreign Commissariat (NKID) designated Martens as its authorized representative in the United States, with the far-reaching goal of winning official diplomatic recognition of Soviet Russia and encouraging American businesses to develop commercial relations with the new government. Martens’s equally important mission was to try to bring an end to American support for anti-Bolshevik forces in the Russian Civil War. According to one account, on a February night of 1919, a sailor from a Swedish steamship brought Martens a package with a Soviet government letter of credentials, signed by Georgy Chicherin, the Bolshevik People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs.

Martens opened a Soviet Russian Information Bureau in New York, commonly known as the Martens Bureau, which immediately began agitating against American intervention in Soviet Russia – and commercial negotiations with a large number of American firms. In March, Martens delivered his credentials to the Department of State. The State Department refused to recognize Martens, who was soon charged with engaging in Bolshevik propaganda and subversive activity. After months of investigations, interrogations and hearings, the Department of Labor issued an order for Martens’s arrest on January 2, 1920. The order was not served, however, since Martens was then in the custody of the U.S. Senate Committee investigating Bolshevik propaganda. The deportation of Martens and several of his associates was finally approved by President Wilson in December 1920, and on January 22, 1921, Martens sailed for Russia. 2

In Moscow, Martens’s U.S. experience and knowledge proved to be in great demand. In 1921, he became a member of the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the People’s Economy (VSNH), which was the highest Soviet economic authority from 1917 to 1932. He was also appointed chairman of “Glavmetall,” one of the chief VSNH directorates which were managing large nationalized enterprises in a particular branch of industry. In the latter capacity, Martens visited the Donbass coal mining area to investigate the state of coal excavation, and as well to the Urals for organizing metallurgical industry. In 1922, he visited his native city of Kursk to evaluate the early stage of development of Kursk iron ores reserves (known as Kursk Magnetic Anomaly – KMA). His reports to the government played a prominent role in the organization of KMA’s development.

From 1924 to 1926, Martens was chairman of the Committee on Inventions at the VSNH. From 1926 to 1936, he was director of the All-Union Diesel Scientific Research Institute in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and simultaneously a professor at the Moscow Mechanical Institute. His scientific field was diesel engine manufacturing and the theory of reciprocating combustion engines. In 1927, Martens initiated the publication of the Encyclopedia of Engineering and became its editor-in-chief. Under his guidance, it became the largest publication of its kind – numbering 6,000 articles in 26 volumes. In 1928, he became a scientific curator of a Gaseous-Dynamic Laboratory (GDL) in Leningrad, engaged in developing combat rocket technology. With Martens’s participation, in the same year the laboratory made a test launch of missiles from regular mortar, which became a prototype for the cartridges for the world-famous “Katiushas” of the World War II.

In 1930, Martens developed a high-speed, high-compression engine with a single-valve timing system.  In 1932, he published “The Dynamics of Forcer Engines,” which would serve as a basic manual for several generations of engineers in the field. In 1932-1933, Martens served as a professor at the Academy of Motorization and Mechanization of the Red Army. In 1935, he was awarded the degree of the Doctor of Engineering. He also published a number of works on diesel engine building and the theory of reciprocating combustion engines. After his retirement with government honors in 1941, Martens continued his scientific research and editorial activity until his death in 1948. He was buried with honors at the most prestigious Novodevichie cemetery. 3

  1. Ludwig Martens’s hand-written personal history in his “Old Bolshevik Society” personal file, Fond 124, opis’ 1, file 1210, pp. 3-7, RGASPI; Article on Martens, Ludvig Karlovich, Bolshaia sovetskaia entsiklopedia, t. 15, s. 419 (Martens, Ludwig Karlovich, The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, vol. 15, p. 419; Evgen’ev G.E., Shapik B.S. “Revolutsioner, diplomat, uchenyi, Martens.” Moskva, 1960. (G.E. Eugeniev, B.S. Shapik, “Revolutionary, Diplomat, Scientist Martens, “ Moscow, 1960.) My special thanks to Donald Evans who helped to ascertain some of the dates.
  2. America’s Secret War Against Bolshevism: U.S. Intervention in the Russian Civil War, 1917-1920, by David S. Foglesong. The University of North Carolina Press, 1995, pp. 281-288; Fond 507 (“L.C.A.K. Martens in the United States of America”), opis’ 2, P. 2, files 1, 2, 6, 11; opis’ 5a, P. 3, file 2; opis’ 5b, P. 3a, file 4; Fund 129 (“Information on the USA”), description 4, P. 3, file 6, AVP RF; Sh. Goisman. Martens, Ludvig Karlovich: mezhdu izobretatel’stvom i revolutsiei (Sh. Goisman, Martens, Ludwig Karlovich: Between Inventions and Revolution), retrieved from
  3. Martens, Ludwig Karlovich, Great Soviet Encyclopedia, Op. cit.; “Revolutionary, Diplomat, Scientist, Martens,” Op. Cit., Moscow, 1960; Martens Ludvig. Tehnicheskaia entsiklopedia v 26 tomah. Moskva: Sovetskaia entsiklopediia, 1927-1934 (Martens, Ludwig, The Encyclopedia of Engineering in 26 volumes, Moscow: The Soviet Encyclopedia,1927-1934