Jamsetji Tata: Glancing at the journey of the pioneer of Indian Industry

Photo: @TataCompanies

By Gauri Kumari

The 21st century’s Indian government major concern is to rejuvenate the India’s manufacturing base and the job it creates. To achieve this objective the present government has initiated the ‘Make In India’ program. A special focus has been given to this in the recent 2016-17 budget  by our finance minister Arun Jaitley. The 19th century mill owner and industrialist Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata would have shared the same concern.

India’s first industrial manufacturing boom in the latter half of the 19th century gave birth to the father of Indian industry Jamsetji Nassurwanji TataThe Founder of the Tata Group. Jamsetji’s vision now stands in front of us in the form of ‘The Tata Group of Companies’, India’s one the largest conglomerate contributing approximately 5% to India’s GDP alone.


Born as Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata to Nusserwanji and Jeevan Bai Tata on 3rd march 1839 in Navsari , a town in south Gujarat  in a family of Parsi Zoroastrian priests. His father Nusserwanji  was first to try his hand in business. Nussrewanji moved to Mumbai then known as Bombay and began his career by setting up an export trading firm. Jamsetji  took admission at the Elphinestone College in Bombay at the age of 14. Being an exceptional student during college years , the principal decided to refund his fees once he completed the degree. He graduated from there as a green scholar in 1858 which is nowadays equivalent to  a graduate degree. Since, child marriage was prominent in those days the future business tycoon got married at the tender age of 16 to the 10 year old Hirabai Daboo.


He began as an opium trader. Soon after graduating from college, he joined his father’s trading firm. Unlike cast Hindus Parsis didn’t see traveling abroad a sin and this gave them considerable advantages. Jamsetji was put to work in China and his immediate task was to get opium and cogon to Hong Kong and Shanghai and to send back tea, camphor and gold. He stayed in Hong Kong for four years to accomplish his fathers dream of setting up a ‘Tata & company office’ there. Soon after achieving this milestone he moved to London, Europe to manage the cotton export business. There he received a crash course in world economics. To expand his father’s export business was not the sole motive behind his stay in London, he was also there to set up an Indian Bank. However, this venture of Tatas proved to be a total failure with the financial crisis hitting the Indian markets and the time being not favorable for the banking sector. A large sum of loss was faced by the Tata companies in India and all over Asia due to this collapse.


Jamsetji worked under his father’s shadow until the age of 29. In 1868 with the confidence , knowledge and experience that he gathered  by working under his father for 9 years he started off with his own trading company with a capital of worth Rs 21,000. Howsoever, Tata was left with many worthless bills of credit due to which he had to liquidate his company.  Jamsetji made his move into textile industry by buying a bankrupt oil mill in ‘Chinchpokli’ in 1869 converting it to a cotton mill and later renaming it as ‘Alexandra Mill’. However, he sold it two years later for profit to a local merchant. He established another cotton mill in 1874 in Nagpur naming it ‘Empress Mill’ which brought huge profits to him. He opened several other mills, three years later. To better his mills he made frequent trips to England to learn fine spinning technology. He also traveled to Egypt to master cultivation and grow higher quality cotton. These cotton mills brought him huge revenues, but were later sold by him for huge sum of money .


Jamsetji was a fan of the great exhibitions of the 19th century and was very obsessed with innovation and technology. His home had electric piano, a cinematograph and other most advanced technological toys of the 19th century. Moreover, his horse carriage was the first in India to have rubber tires. It was Jamsetji who introduced cold storage to Bombay, which can be seen in the form of cold storage room in Taj hotel’s old building. He actually tried it to ship business mangoes to Britain in cold storage.

His contemporaries relied on cheap labor and family to run business. Unlike them Jamsetji realized that modern industries needed professional managers and a satisfied and willing workforce. He was the first of his kind who tried to initialize the idea of human capital to work with technology. The first millionaire of India to introduce pension funds for his employees. He as well introduced other policies as well, which were never heard during those times, namely medical facilities for sick and women with children, accident compensations and on job trainings. This was not sentimental generosity he showed but the benefits provided by his company gave a reason to the skilled workers to stay.

His vision was to establish

  • A steel and iron plant
  • A learning institution
  • A world class hotel
  • A hydroelectric plant

To achieve these visions of his little could stop him. He traveled to America and got in touch with the American engineers to build his steel plant amidst the Indian jungle. He traveled to America and Europe to educate himself on the production of steel out of iron. Moreover, in order to realize his dream he wanted to grasp each and every piece of information about the technological advancement that had taken place all over the world over the years and use it for his benefit.

Unfortunately, he could realize only one of his dream till the time he was alive i.e. the establishment of world class hotel “The Taj Hotel”- the first to have electricity and a lift. The other three visions of his were turned to reality by his successors but he was not alive to see them , the foundations  of which were laid by him.

In his final years, in a series of letters he wrote to his son Dorab, he expressed his idea of building a township around his iron and steel plant. He wrote “be sure to lay wide streets planted with shady trees, every other of a quick growing variety. Be sure that there is plenty of space for lawns and gardens. Reserve large areas for football, hockey and parks. Earmark areas for Hindu Temples, Mohammedan Mosques and Christian Churches”. This vision of township would eventually become Jamshedpur.


Jamsetji Tata passed away on 19 may 1904. After his death the Tata group was succeeded by his two sons Dorabjee Tata and Ratanji Tata.

On his demise, Dr Zakir Hussain ,the Former President of India said “while many others worked on loosening the chains of slavery and hastening the march towards the dawn of freedom, Tata dreamed of and worked for life as it was to be fashioned after liberation. Most of the others worked for freedom from a bad life of servitude; Tata worked for freedom for fashioning a better life for economic independence.”

His dreams were realized to reality. Tata’s iron and steel plant was set up in Sakchi village, Jharkhand. The village grew into a town and now a metropolis known as Jamshedpur. Moreover the Railway Station there was named Tatanagar. It is Asia’s first and India’s largest and world’s fifth largest steel company. The Tata power company is India’s largest private electricity generating company.

“Make the world England” was a popular slogan at the height of the British empire, but today the Tata’s have made the world more Indian.

The author is a student of university of Hyderabad  Twitter:@gauri89715