Childhood & Early Life
Reza Shah Pahlavi was born as Reza Khan on March 15, 1878 in Alasht village, Savad Kouh County, Mazandaran Province, to Major Abbas Ali Khan and his second wife, Noush Afrin Ayromlou.
After his father’s death a few months following his birth, his mother took him to Tehran where she settled with her brother.
At the age of 16, he joined the Persian Cossack Brigade. He is also said to have served as a guard and servant under Dutch consul general Frits Knobel in 1903.
He served in the Iranian Army under Qajar Prince Abdol Hossein Mirza Farmanfarma and rose to the rank of gunnery sergeant. His good account of service led to his promotion as a Brigadier General in the Cossacks, in 1918.
Post the Russian Revolution of 1917, Britain and Soviet Russia vied with each other for better influence over Iran (Persia). By 1920, British and Soviet forces had control over most of the Iranian mainland.
In the midst of this political crisis in Iran, Reza Khan entered Tehran with his Cossack Brigade and seized control of the capital city of Tehran in the coup d'état on February 21, 1921. He forced the dissolution of the previous government and became the Commander of the Iranian Army and war minister in the new government and carried out the withdrawal of Russian troops.
During his tenure as minister of war, he brought modernization and harmony, built a strong army, and secured the nation from both domestic and foreign threats, thus establishing peace – a situation Iran had been missing for a century.
Upon approval from Ahmad Shah Qajar, he became the prime minister of the new regime in 1923. After Qajar left for Europe for a lengthy cure, he started working towards the creation of a republic.
After succeeding in convincing the Majlis, he overthrew the absentee monarch Qajar and was proclaimed as the Shah of the Kingdom of Iran in 1925. This brought an end to the Qajar dynasty and establishment of the Pahlavi dynasty.
He was coronated in April 1926 and changed his name to Reza Shah Pahlavi. He also proclaimed his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, as the Crown Prince of Persia.
Due to his autocratic style of ruling, he removed a number of ministers on various accusations of corruption, resulting in their imprisonment and death subsequently.
After a few years of industrialization and development programmes, he started forced acquisition of land, due to his rapacious nature. As a result, dissatisfaction started prevailing in the country, by mid-1930s.
In 1932, he canceled the agreement given to British company, Anglo-Persian Oil Company. Even though a new agreement was signed and Shah was offered 21% share instead of the previous 16%, both parties were disappointed.
To counterbalance the British and Soviet influence on Iran, he increased trade relations with Germany and by the onset of World War II, Germany was Iran’s largest trading partner.
As a matter of policy, he always tried to play Soviet Union off against the British but this policy failed when the two joined in 1941 against Germany. As a result, Russian and British troops invaded Iran in August 1941, forcing the Persian army to surrender in less than a week.
In order to preserve his dynasty, he relinquished his crown as demanded by the invading British who agreed to make his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the next Shah of Iran in exchange of an exile.
His son ascended the throne in September 1941, after which he was taken by the British troops first to Mauritius, then to Durban and finally Johannesburg.
In 1934, he succeeded in setting up the country’s first European-style modern school, the University of Tehran, providing modern education and training for bureaucrats as well as the middle class.
He freed the women from wearing the veil in 1935 and encouraged them to receive education at schools and seek employment.
He sent a letter to the League of Nations suggesting the change of name from Persia to Iran and this was implemented in 1935.
Road networks were improved and expanded under his rule - the most significant of them being the Trans-Iranian Railway, which opened in 1938.
He initiated sponsorships for Iranian students to study in European universities and ended all special rights provided to foreigners, thereby giving Iran independence in true sense.
He set up state-owned factories for the production of basic consumer goods, like sugar, canned goods, matches, textiles and cigarettes.
He ended the religious hierarchy by allocating state-licensed notaries for notarizing documents, rather than clerics who had been doing it for years.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Maryam Khanum in 1894. He had a daughter, Hamdan Saltaneh Pahlavi in 1903. However, Maryam died in 1904.
He married for a second time to Tadj ol-Molouk in 1916, who bore four children – daughter Shams Pahlavi, Crown Prince Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, daughter Ashraf Pahlavi, and son Ali Reza Pahlavi.
His third wife was Turn (Qamar al Molouk) Amir Soleimani, whom he married in 1922. The couple had a son, Gholam Reza. They later divorced in 1923.
His fourth marriage to Esmat Dowlatshahi in 1923 resulted in five offsprings – son Abdul Reza Pahlavi, son Ahmad Reza Pahlavi, son Mahmud Reza Pahlavi, daughter Fatimeh Pahlavi, and son Hamid Reza Pahlavi.
He died in 1944, due to a heart ailment, while in exile in Johannesburg, South Africa. His body was taken to Egypt, where it was embalmed and preserved in Al Rifa’I Mosque, Cairo, till 1950.
His body was taken to Iran, and was buried in Ray, Tehran, but was later taken back to Cairo and buried in Al Rifa’I Mosque, in 1979.