Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata biography

Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata

personal details

Born On: March 3, 1839
Born In: Navsari, Gujarat, India
Died On: May 19, 1904
Occupation: Industrialist, Entrepreneur
Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata
Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata

Nationality: Indian


The small Parsi community in India has produced political leaders, freedom fighters, scientists, educationists, philanthropists, musicians, artists, cine and stage artists, high-ranking defence personnel and jurists. Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata added one more dimension by creating an industrial empire which helped India towards economic independence.
Jamsetji Tata was born at Navsari, Gujarat on 3 March 1839. His father, Nusserwanji Tata, a businessman had an export-import trade withChina. During his early years in Navsari, Jamsetji did not receive any formal education. However, at the age of thirteen, he was taken to Bombay by his father to acquire an English education. He joined Elphinstone College in 1852. As he showed exceptional promise he was awarded a free studentship by his college. There he underwent a liberal education and developed a passion for reading, which remained with him all his life. While still in college, Jamsetji was married to a Parsi girl Heerabai, five years his junior. They had two sons, Dorab born in 1859 and Ratan in 1871. In 1858, Jamsetji obtained his degree and left the college. That was the end of his formal education. After leaving college Jamsetji joined a solicitor’s office but left after a few months to look afterhis father’s business in China. A new branch of the    firm was opened in Hong Kong under the name Jamsetji and Ardeshir. A branch was also opened at Shanghai. Always keen to observe and learn, Jamsetji studied the potential of the eastern market while in China.
Early in 1864 he left for England to represent the firm of Nusserwanji and Kalyandas, which was dealing in Indian cotton. However, the cotton prices carne down crashing after the end of the Civil War in America and the firm suffered heavy losses. While in England, Jamsetji visited Lancashire frequently to study the working of the cotton textile industry. Back in India, he, along with his father, worked hard for three years to put their firm on a sound footing once again. When a ‘derelict and bankrupt oil mill’ was put up for sale at Chinchpokly, Jamsetji, in collaboration with a few friends, purchased the mill and renamed it Alexander Mill. It was converted into a cotton mill after the installation of new machinery. After making it a profitable venture, the mill was sold off after two years. As the mill was under the sole charge of Jamsetji, quite a tidy sum came to his share as profit.
In 1873,Jamsetji decided to revisit England and once again studied the Working of the Lancashire textile industry more intimately. He saw how the Indian cotton was being transformed into cloth, which was then exported to India. Why not manufacture cloth in India itself, using Indian cotton and save transport cost both ways? Armed with this resolve, he returned to India in 1874. While managing the Alexander Mill he had gained some experience of the cotton industry at home. He now wanted to invest in cotton industry in a big Way. After studying the suitability of a cotton growing district for his new venture he selected Nagpur which had a proximity to Warora Coal mines. The mill became functional in January 1877 and was named Empress Mills. Jamsetji was continuously in touch with the new developments in cotton-textile machinery and was quick to buy the latest machinery to compete with the imported cloth from England. Huge profits started coming in.
One secret of his success was the care and consideration with which he treated his labour force, providing them facilities which were unknown in other mills and industries. With money flowing in, Jamsetji started investing in real estate, not only in Bombay but also at other places like Ootacamund, Bangalore and also at his native place, Navsari. He got a magnificent house built for the family at the Esplanade in Bombay where the extended family of uncles, aunts, sisters, nephews and nieces lived happily for decades. He also had an extensive collection of books. Jamsetji’s father Nusserwanji died in 1886 and all his property passed into the hands of Jamsetji.
Jamsetji was always thinking of new projects though the Empress Mills had made him rich and famous. So far Indian mills, including his own, were producing coarse cloth and coarse yarn and all the finer cloth was being imported from England. Jamsetji now planned to start a mill which could produce fine cloth to compete with Lancashire mills. He was confident that people would buy swadeshi cloth in preference to the imported one as the swadeshi concept was gaining ground in India at the time. The result was the founding of the Swadeshi Mills Company, Limited. The company acquired Dharamsi Mills at Kurla in 1886, which was running at a loss; reorganized the whole set-up, replaced the old machinery with the newly imported one and made it a profit making concern after naming it Swadeshi Mills. The newly floated company, Tata and Sons, became the agents of the mill. Later another cotton mill, Advance Mills, at Ahmedabad, was added. After reorganization and modernization it started making a profit adding to the wealth of the Tatas and the prestige of the country.
In 1890, decided, with usual foresight, to invest in property on a large scale. Buying one piece of land after another, he became one of the leading landowners in Bombay. But he did not use his landed property for profit-making. He strove tirelessly for the development of Bombay, the city which he loved. Many impressive buildings in the city owe their existence to his munificence including the Parsi Gymkhana. He also built homes for middle-class Parsi families and established many educational institutions in Bombay and Navsari. He also felt the need for a modem hotel in Bombay. After great planning he built the Hotel opposite the Gateway of India in Bombay. Its interiors were done up with what was best available in Europe. Many renowned persons have stayed in this hotel and it has found a place in many novels and other works Written during the Raj.
Jamsetji Was always thinking and planning new ventures. One such was the development of sericulture in Mysore which he had thought of after his visit to and France. He was a compulsive traveller and visited Europe, England and America several times. He would not miss an industrial exhibition whether it was in Paris, London or Chicago to see and learn about new techniques and machinery. In 1893, While Vivekananda was telling the World about Hindu religion and philosophy in the Parliament of Religions, Jamsetji was busy in inspecting new machines and techniques at the Chicago Exhibition.
Jamsetji was a nationalist to the core though he never used a political platform. However, he was an active member of the Bombay Presidency Association through which the Indian National Congress was working in Bombay Presidency. He created an endowment to help the bright students to get into I.C.S. in greater number so that the administration of the country could be controlled by Indians gradually. In those days the Indian Civil Service examination was held only in London and many deserving students could not afford the passage to Britain to appear in the examination. Through the endowment, financial assistance was given to young aspirants who wanted to appear in the I.C.S. examination. His biographer, Harris, writes that twenty percent of the Indian members of the I.C.S. had been Tata scholars at one time.
He had planned and worked for three of his dream projects whose completion he did not live to see: a hydro-electric scheme near Bombay; a scientific research institute and an iron and steel manufacturing plant. He visited the United States in 1902 to work out the details of these projects after studying them in detail. He visited several cities and was received with respect and admiration wherever he went. The press eulogized him. The Washington Post described him, not inaccurately, as ‘merchant prince’, manufacturer and importer, and likewise ‘philanthropist, scholar and philosopher.’ Other papers wrote about him with ‘strange blend of fact and fiction’. He visited Pittsburg, the foremost centre of iron and steel production. He visited Niagara Falls with his hydro-electric scheme in mind. He met and discussed with leading industrialists of America like George Washington and Julian Kennedy. On the recommendation of Kennedy, he hired C.P. Perin as consulting engineer for his proposed iron and steel works. His meeting with Perin was full of drama and show. Perin later wrote about this meeting: “I was poring over some accounts in the office when the door opened and a man in strange garb entered. He walked in, leaned over my desk and looked at me for fully a minute in silence. Finally, he said in deep voice, ‘Are you Charles Page Perin?’ I said, ‘Yes’. He stared at me again silently for a long time. Then slowly he said, ‘I believe I have found the man I have been looking for. I want you to come to India with me to suitable iron ore and cooking coal and the necessary fluxes. I want you to take charge as my consulting engineer. Mr. Kennedy will build the steel plant wherever you advice and I will foot the bill’”.
It took quite some time to complete the Preliminaries; to choose the site, to import the machinery and to build the iron and steel mill. The site chosen after a series of investigations was Sakchi in Bihar Where the present day Jamshedpur stands. It was only in 1911 that iron began to flow from the blast furnaces of the Tata Iron and Steel Company. The dreamer had died seven years earlier.
On his Way back to India, he visited England and met Lord George Hamilton, secretary of state for India, in connection with his proposed Research Institute. Nothing concrete came out of the meeting. It took time for this dream of his to materialize. Lord Minto, the Viceroy, approved the constitution of the Institute of Science at Bangalore in 1909. It started functioning in 1911 and became a leading scientific research institute in the country. It is also called the Tata Institute. Scientists like C.V. Raman and Bhabha have taught and worked in the institute.
Jamsetji also left the details of the scheme for hydro-electric power generation at Lonavala near Bombay. It took much longer for the scheme to materialize because the involvement of the government was required. But he had shown that hydro-electric generation was feasible to meet the power requirements of the country. The numbers of hydro-electric generation plants built later on bear the testimony of his foresight.
For quite some time Jamsetji was not keeping well. He was an incorrigible gourmand though a teetotaler. As time passed, his conditionworsened. He developed shortness of breath and a sick heart, whichworked under increasing strain. On 19 May 1904, he died at Bad Nauheim in Germany. His body was brought to England and the last rites were performed according to Zoroastrian customs.
At Jamshedpur (named after him) stands an imposing statue of Jamsetji Tata. At the foot of the statue are the words, ‘If you seek a monument, looking around’.

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