In the late 1860s Russia suffered one of many bad harvests which struck particularly severely in the area of the Jewish Pale in the North West. Migration, famine and epidemic followed within the area of the Pale, beyond which Jews fleeing poverty and suffering were unable to penetrate. This situation aroused much sympathy and a search for solutions among influential Jewish circles to relieve the suffering in the Pale. In the late 1860s Russia suffered one of many bad harvests which struck particularly severely in the area of the Jewish Pale in the North West. Migration, famine and epidemic followed within the area of the Pale, beyond which Jews fleeing poverty and suffering were unable to penetrate. This situation aroused much sympathy and a search for solutions among influential Jewish circles to relieve the suffering in the Pale. In 1862, Baron Evzel Gunzburg presented a memorandum to the government suggesting a program of agricultural settlement and enlargement of the rights of Jewish artisans. If successful, this would inevitably lead to greater economic opportunities for them. Although Tsar Alexander II approved a law in 1865 permitting certain Jewish skilled groups and merchants to reside in areas outside the Pale, this was still qualified with important legal requirements. The idea of the being productive of the Jewish masses was also taken up by the Jewish press at that time and by the man who managed to give a practical framework to the concept of return to labour, Nikolaii Bakst, a Russian Jewish intellectual. Bakst had good relations with the Jewish financier and railroad builder Samuil Poliakov who was well connected in Tsar Alexander IIs Ministries. It was Bakst who in turn gave Poliakov the idea, in honour of the Tsars 25th anniversary, to create a fund for the establishment of a society to spread handicrafts and agricultural labour among Jews. In February 1880, Poliakov, representing a group of well-established Jews, petitioned the Minister of the Interior of Imperial Russia for approval of a project for a Jewish charitable public fund in honour of the forthcoming 25th anniversary. On the occasion he also contributed 25,000 roubles. Baron Horace Gunzburg, already known for his activism Jewish causes and the unofficial representative of Russian Jewry, was instrumental in helping to obtain a favourable response from the authorities. Permission was granted on March 22, 1880. A private appeal swiftly followed from Poliakov and four outstanding St. Petersburg Jews, all financiers and businessmen, in the form of a signed a letter inviting contributions to the fund. The letter was sent on April 10 to members of Jewish communities in Russia proposing that the assistance requested would go towards the development of Jewish trade schools, to facilitating migration of artisans between cities and to support Jewish agricultural colonies, farms and agricultural schools. Those signatories, then, became the real founders of ORT. The original letter of appeal follows: Private Letter Most esteemed Sir, One of those here undersigned, S.S. Poliakov, has petitioned to H.E. the Minister of Interior Affairs for his approval of the proposal of several Russian Jews to assemble form among their co-religionists, a fund for a public charitable purpose, in honour of the first Twenty-fifth Anniversary of the glorious reign of our beloved Monarch, His Most Illustrious Imperial Majesty, which will be held on February 19th of the year 1880. On that occasion, S.S. Poliakov contributed 25,000 Roubles toward that purpose. In reply to the petition, H.E. the Minister of Interior Affairs, on the 22nd March honoured S.S. Poliakov with a letter wourded as follows: H.M. the Emperor having graciously heard my report on the proposal of the Russian Jews to collect in their midst a fund for charitable purposes, in honour of the 19th February 1880 and of the donation by your good self for that purpose 25,000 Roubles, expresses His Majestys appreciation of Your Excellencys so considerable donation. I have humbly informed His Imperial Majesty that the contributions will be collected by your Excellency in a private manner and that the use of the funds will be accounted for subsequently. Having received that letter, S.S. Poliakov applied to the undersigned, inviting a common action with regard to the collection of funds, as well as the determination of those publicly useful aims which should be materialised from the income of this capital. The undersigned heard with sincere joy of the most gracious authorisation of His Imperial Majesty to perpetuate the memory of the 19th February 1880 by a work of general use for our people. With regard to the future determination of the character of that charitable work, which will be materialised memory of that day, the undersigned consider that among the numerous needs of the mass of our co-religionists in Russia, the first place is occupied by the needs of the artisan and agricultural occupations. Nothing, in fact, could better ameliorate the position of the mass of our co- religionists, than a thorough and systematic development among that mass of artisan and agricultural occupations. In view thereof, the undersigned assume that the most generally useful work which could be achieved , would consist in the creation of a fund, the income from which could be used to the aid in the further development of already existing trade schools, for facilitating the movement of artisans from one place to another, and for assistance to Jewish agricultural colonies, the founding of such colonies, model farms and agricultural schools. The future determination of the use of the income from the capital for the purposes indicated above will be effected according to our proposals , by the Society, for the creation of which, upon the collection of a considerable part of the anticipated fund, we shall submit separately an application for the authorisation of the Minister of Interior Affairs. Though the scope of the aims for the materialisation of which the income from the expected capital will serve is wide, the undersigned apply to you, most esteemed Sir, with full confidence in the success of the work already begun. This assurance they draw from those joyous feelings which are evoked in each of us by this good work. The need among the masses of our co-religionists is extreme, and we are convinced that that need could be alleviated only by the development among that mass of artisan and agricultural knowledge and trades. On this basis the undersigned hope that you, most esteemed Sir, will afford the work started every possible support both by personally participating in the subscription, as well as by inviting other persons to take part. The participation of as large a number of people as possible in that subscription is extremely dear to us, and the gift of a rouble by a poor man is not less dear to us than donations of tens of thousands! We request you to send the money to St. Petersburg , in the name of Samuel Solomovith Poliakov, who has already arranged for the deposit of all sums anticipated for this purpose in the State Bank. The names of donors will be published in due course. This, our application, has the character of a private letter and it should not be attributed any publicity in periodical print. Persons who will make their contribution not later than the 15th of July of this year will be considered as founding members of the proposed charitable institution. Please accept, most esteemed Sir, our respectful greeting, and may Gods blessing grace the work we have begun. S.S. Poliakov, Baron H.O. Gunzburg, A.I. Zak, L.M. Rosenthal, M.P. Friedland St. Petersburg, April 10th, 1880. Over 10,000 copies of this letter were sent to Jews all over Russia, bringing the total response of 204,000 roubles by October 1880 from 407 localities in the Russian Empire. To this, Baron Horace Gunzburg added his own donation of 25,000 roubles. The body that had been created in September 1880 to manage the fund was named the Provisional Committee for the Establishment of a Society for Handicrafts and Agricultural work . The Society for Handicrafts and Agricultural work (Obshestvo Remeslenofo zemledelcheskofo Truda) was the fruit of that committee and was what eventually came to be known by its Russian acronym, ORT.