45. Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata - The Father of Indian Industry

Updated: Mar 5, 2021

Circa 1851, Navsari, Gujarat , India

Once upon a time, A 12 year old boy and grand child of poor Parsi Priest ( Zoroastrians) is playing in the ground running here and there, and his grandpa saying " Hey, your father has already gone to Bombay for doing business...Are you staying here ....??

Then, child replied, " Grand Pa.., father is asking me study well and do business along with him...

Then, Grand Pa replied" Oh God...see how times have changed...They all wanted to go to Bombay and do business...worrying about what will happen to them....!!!!

Then, One day that, grandchild told Grand Pa , At the age of 14, " I am going to Bombay along with my uncle..."

Grand Pa replied " Okay and take care my dear child and all the best...keep sending me the letters of your well being there in Bomaby...." !!

Then, upon arrival in Mumbai and he enrolled at the Elphinstone College completing his education as a 'Green Scholar' ...

In due course of time , he joined trading business along with his father and started visiting Japan, China, Europe, and the United States to learn trade and business..., which was unthinkable at that time in Colonial India.

After a while , he started a company in 1868, that was the begining of Industrlisation in India, then in British India, by an Indian....That Company emerged as Massive Industrial Empire over a period of time . With the passage of time , India too Progressed and then, people started fondly calling him " The Father of Indian Industry...."

So, lets explore the life journey of the Legend and Giant of Indian Industry and Indian Business....!!

Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata (3 March 1839 – 19 May 1904) was an Indian pioneer industrialist, who founded the Tata Group, India's biggest conglomerate company.

He founded what would later become the Tata Group of companies. Tata is regarded as the legend of Indian Industry and considered as a "Father of Indian Industry". He was so influential in the world of industry that Jawaharlal Nehru referred to Tata as a One-Man Planning Commission.

"When you have to give the lead in action, in ideas – a lead which does not fit in with the very climate of opinion – that is true courage, physical or mental or spiritual, call it what you like, and it is this type of courage and vision that Jamsetji Tata showed. It is right that we should honour his memory and remember him as one of the big founders of modern India." —Jawaharlal Nehru

Tata, who in his early life was a merchant, went on to change the business world of India through his many ventures within the cotton and pig iron industry, and is known as one of the most important builders of the modern Indian economy. Out of his many achievement, Tata is notable for the Tata Iron and Steel Works company in Jamshedpur. In addition to the Tata Iron and Steel Works, he went on to establish businesses in many other areas that stood as a foundation to modern Indian business.

I.Early life

Jamshedji Tata was born to Nusserwanji and Jeevanbai Tata on 3 March 1839 in Navsari, a city in the south Gujarat. Jamsetji Tata and his family were a part of the minority group of Zoroastrians, or Parsees, who came to India from fleeing the persecution of Zoroastrians in Iran. He was born in a respectable, but poor family of priests. His father, Nusserwanji, was the first businessman in a family of Parsi Zoroastrian priests. He broke the tradition to become the first member of the family to start a business. He started an export trading firm in Mumbai. Unlike other Zoroastrians, Jamsetji Tata had a formal Western education because his parents saw that he was gifted with special mental arithmetic from a young age.

However, in order for him to have a more modern education, he was later sent to Bombay.

Jamsetji Tata joined his father in Mumbai at the age of 14 and enrolled at the Elphinstone College completing his education as a 'Green Scholar' (an equivalent of a graduate). He was married to Hirabai Daboo while he was still a student. He graduated from college in 1858 and joined his father's trading firm. It was a turbulent time to start a business as the Indian Rebellion of 1857 had just been suppressed by the British government.

After graduating from the Elphinstone College in Bombay in 1858, he joined his father’s export-trading firm, and mainly helped establish its strong branches in Japan, China, Europe, and the United States. Tata regularly traveled to China in order to become educated with the trade business in opium, However, when Tata traveled around China, he began to realize that trade in the cotton industry was booming, and there was a chance of making a great profit.This influenced his business career, where he invested the most in cotton mills throughout his lifetime.

The opium trade business was mostly confined Tata made many trips abroad, mainly to England, America, Europe, China, and Japan to establish branches for his father's business.


Tata worked in his father's company until he was 29. He founded a trading company in 1868 with ₹21,000 capital (worth US$ 52 million in 2015 prices). He bought a bankrupt oil mill at Chinchpokli in 1869 and converted it to a cotton mill, which he renamed as Alexandra Mill. He sold the mill 2 years later for a profit. Later on, in 1874,  Jamsetji Tata floated the Central India Spinning, Weaving, and Manufacturing Company in Nagpur , instead of Bombay, known as the “Cottonopolis” of India.

However, Tata’s decision of choosing Nagpur led to his success. Unlike Bombay, land in Nagpur was cheap and was readily available for resources. There was abundant farm produce, distribution was easy, and the cheap land later led to the converging of railways at Nagpur, which further developed the city. Shortly after, in 1877, Tata established a new cotton mill, "Empress Mill" when Queen Victoria was proclaimed as the Empress of India at 1 January 1877.

III. Visit to America

Jamshedji took a trip to the United States on September 24, 1902 in pursuit of building relationships and advancing his knowledge of industry.

US Senator from Ohio Marcus Hanna greeted Jamsetji upon his arrival and escorted him into the White House in Washington, DC, where they met with President Theodore Roosevelt. He was presented to the President as “ Mr. Tata, of Bombay, here in this country to study our industries, and who is much impressed by what he has seen.”

Jamshedji found a great mind while in Pennsylvania when he met Julian Kennedy.

Mr Kennedy was one of the world’s foremost metallurgical engineers, and he took great interest in Jamsetji Tata. Mr Kennedy advised Jamsetji to put a large amount of resources into the prospecting of ore and raw materials in the area, prior to pursuing the actual establishment of a world-class steel mill.

He strongly advised that this factor would be key to India’s success, and that it would require investing huge sums of money into this prospecting. Despite the risk involved in such a significant investment, Jamsetji Tata followed the advice of this knowledgeable businessman. Expenditures were said to involve upward of $12 million. In order to have a better understanding of this amount, a simple adjustment for inflation shows that this would be over $500 million as of today ( 2019 )

Pic : TATA Steel Plant, Jamshedpur

He had four goals in life:

1. Setting up an iron and steel company,

2. A world-class learning institution,

3. A unique hotel and

4. A hydro-electric plant.

Only the hotel became a reality during his lifetime, with the inauguration of the Taj Mahal Hotel at Colaba waterfront in Mumbai on 3 December 1903 at the cost of ₹11 million (worth Approx. $ 1.4 billion in 2020 prices). At that time it was the only hotel in India to have electricity.

Pic : Tajmahal Hotel, Bombay

Jamsetji Tata continued to be an important figure in the industrial world even in his later stages of life. Later on, Tata became a strong supporter of Swadeshism. Swadeshi was a political movement in British India that encouraged the production of domestic goods and the boycott of imported goods. Fully impressed by its principles, Tata named his new cotton mill built in Bombay the “Swadeshi Mill”.

The original idea for this new mill was to produce finer cloth, like the type coming from Manchester, Textile Capital at that time, was famous for producing softer cloth, and the coarse material produced in India was no longer preferred by the public.

Pic : Jaguar and Range Rover ( TATA Group )

His successors' work led to the three remaining ideas being achieved:

  • Tata Steel (formerly TISCO – Tata Iron and Steel Company Limited) is Asia's first and India's largest steel company. It became world's fifth largest steel company, after it acquired Corus Group producing 28 million tonnes of steel annually.

  • Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, the pre-eminent Indian institution for research and education in Science and Engineering.

  • Tata Hydroelectric Power Supply Company, renamed Tata Power Company Limited, currently India's largest private electricity company with an installed generation capacity of over 8000MW.

IV. Personal life

Tata married Hirabai Daboo. Their sons, Dorabji Tata and Ratanji Tata, succeeded Tata as the chairman of the Tata Group. Tata's first cousin was Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata, who played important role in the establishment of Tata Group. His sister Jerbai, through marriage to a Mumbai merchant, became mother of Shapurji Saklatvala, who Tata employed to successfully prospect for coal and iron ore in Odisha and Bihar. Saklatvala later settled in England, initially to manage Tata's Manchester office, and later became a Communist Member of the British Parliament.

Through his cousin, Ratanji Dadabhoy, he was the uncle of entrepreneur J. R. D. Tata and Sylla Tata, the later was married to Dinshaw Maneckji Petit, the second baronet of Petits.Their daughter and Jamsetji's grandniece, Rattanbai Petit, was the wife of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan.

Pic : TATA Corus Plant, UK.


Pic : Mausoleum of Jamsetji Tata in Brookwood Cemetery.

While on a business trip in Germany in 1900, Tata became seriously ill. He died in Bad Nauheim on 19 May 1904, and was buried in the Parsi burial ground in Brookwood Cemetery, Woking, England.