Modern Russia started with the rule of Peter the Great. He realized that Russia should be westernized to ensure its independence. Already fascinating by mechanical inventions, he studied government and business models of the West.
But Peter also believed in starting from the bottom and working his way up. He learned ship building from the Europeans he invited to Russia, and built a ship himself, which he captained as Peter Alekseevich. In 1697, he accompanied an embassy to European courts as a carpenter named Peter Mikhailov. He also served as seaman, soldier, barber and, to the discomfort of his courtiers, as dentist.
Peter sent Russians to be educated in the West, and imported skilled labor, military and administrative experts from abroad. He encouraged smoking, but taxed tobacco. Because European men usually were clean shaven, he taxed Russians wearing beards. He modernized the calendar, simplified numerals, and encouraged private industry and mining. Remarkably, Peter managed to modernize Russia without borrowing money for his state. Instead, he taxed his citizens heavily.
To ensure continual contact with the West, Peter captured the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea from the Swedes and built a new capital, St. Petersburg, on its shores.
Peter was a big strong man, 2,04 meters (6′ 8” inches) tall, and unlike previous monarchs, not afraid of physical labor. In November 1724, he dived into the cold northern ocean to assist in a ship rescue. It led to his illness and death.
Peter the Great (1672 – 1725) was proclaimed Tzar at age 10, but due to a power struggle had to rule under the patronage of his sister Sofia. He seized control from her when he was just 17. His real name was Peter Romanov.
In 1715, at the funeral of a favorite court dwarf, lines of ecclesiastics were followed by 24 pairs of male and female dwarfs arranged by height, followed by Peter and his ministers.