Otto von Bismarck (1815 – 1898) was the Prussian Prime Minister responsible for the unification of Germany. As chancellor of the new German Empire, he helped maintain peace in Europe for more than two decades.
Let’s have a look at the top 10 most interesting facts about Otto von Bismarck.
Otto von Bismarck Facts
1. Bismarck was a Junker.
Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck was born April 1, 1815, at Schönhausen, northwest of Berlin. His father was a Junker (the Junker families were Prussia’s landed gentry), and his mother came from a well-to-do family of academics and civil servants. His schooling and early diplomatic career were unnoteworthy, and he retired at 24 years to run the family estate. He married in 1847 and re-entered politics as a delegate to the new Prussian parliament in Berlin. For the next decade and a half, he served a number of ambassadorships that gave him valuable insight into Europe’s political landscape.
2. He became Prime Minister of Prussia under William I.
In 1861, William I became King of Prussia and appointed Bismarck as his chief minister. Bismarck kicked off a series of three short wars that established Prussia’s dominance. In 1864, he won the German-speaking territories of Schleswig-Holstein from Denmark. In 1866, he defeated the aging Austrian Empire in the Austro-Prussian war. He didn’t demand a war indemnity, which gained him German support when he provoked the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. On winning it, he annexed the French border territories of Alsace and Lorraine. William I was crowned emperor of a Unified Germany (the Second Reich) in 1871.
3. Bismarck was known as the Iron Chancellor.
Bismarck remained Prime Minister of Prussia and was made chancellor of the new German Empire he had created, an interesting fact about Otto von Bismarck. His efforts were now focused on domestic issues to hold the united German states together. He became known as the “Iron Chancellor” for his forceful hold.
4. Jesuits were banned from Germany by Otto von Bismarck.
The chancellor was very conscious that one in three Germans was Catholic. Bismarck himself was a Protestant, as were most Prussians, and he found the papal infallibility preached by the Catholic Church a concern. He regarded the role of the Catholic Church as threatening and proceeded to implement policy to erode it. Between 1871 and 1887, his Kulturkampf (cultural struggle) was responsible for making religious schools subject to state inspection, and civil marriage obligatory. It also resulted in the banning of the Jesuit order, and the severing of diplomatic relations with the Vatican. The backlash from these measures was swift and strong, and Bismarck relaxed his stance somewhat in order to win the support of Catholics against the Socialists, who had begun utilizing Kulturkampf against all religions.
5. The chancellor created the first welfare state in the world.
Bismarck was a conservative, but foremost a strategist. To win the support of the working classes away from the Socialists, he instituted national health care, old-age pensions, and accident insurance, an interesting fact about Otto von Bismarck.
6. Otto von Bismarck was not in favor of colonization at first.
Bismarck was not initially in favor of joining the colonization race. He saw a strong navel capacity as essential for the protection of colonies, and because of Germany’s geographic position, building a strong naval presence was not otherwise a priority for the chancellor. But over time, three things caused a change of heart. Firstly, German nationalists viewed colonies as a symbol of glory. Secondly, the growth of Germany as an industrial nation meant the country was in constant need of raw materials. And thirdly, the German population was growing at such a rate that they needed land to home people. Bismarck hosted the 1885 Berlin Conference that effectively ended the “race for Africa.” Germany came away with East and Southwest Africa, Cameroon, and Togoland.
7. He was NOT a general.
The chancellor was fond of appearing in military attire befitting a general. However, despite building Germany into one of the most powerful military nations in the world, he never achieved any military rank above private, an interesting fact about Bismarck. His very short military service was a reluctant one in a reservist unit.
8. Bismarck predicted World War I.
Bismarck is quoted as saying, in 1878, “Europe today is a powder keg and the leaders are like men smoking in an arsenal … A single spark will set off an explosion that will consume us all … I cannot tell you when that explosion will occur, but I can tell you where … Some damned foolish thing in the Balkans will set it off.” In 1914, World War I was started by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian province of Bosnia and Herzegovina. His assassin was Bosnian Serb nationalist, Gavrilo Princip.
9. The Nazis named a battleship after Otto von Bismarck.
An interesting fact about Otto von Bismarck is that he had a ship built named after him. The Bismarck was commissioned into the Kriegsmarine, Nazi Germany’s Navy, in August 1940. She was the largest battleship ever built by Germany at the time, and the first one to be built since World War I. On May 18, 1941, the Bismarck embarked on her maiden campaign to cut off Britain’s supply in the North Atlantic. On May 24, the Bismarck engaged with two Royal Navy ships, ultimately sinking the HMS Hood in the Denmark Strait. In an epic navel pursuit, the Royal Navy chased the Bismarck down and, on May 27, sunk her by a combined attack by ships and aircraft.
10. The chancellor’s great-grandson was asked to resign.
In 2007, Prinz Carl Eduard von Bismarck, Otto von Bismarck’s great-grandson, was referred to as the laziest MP in the history of Germany by Bilt newspaper. He was found to have attended only half of all parliamentary sessions and not a single meeting in his district. Chancellor Angela Merkel requested his resignation from her Conservative Christian Party, which he did in December 2007, one month before he would have been eligible for a pension.
Otto von Bismarck was an extraordinary diplomat and strategist. He built a collection of independent German principalities into one of the strongest nations in Europe.
I hoe that this article on Otto von Bismarck facts was helpful. If you are interested, visit the Historical People Facts Page!