Joseph Stalin was one of the most influential and controversial political figures of the previous century and existed the undisputed leader of the extremely powerful USSR for over thirty years. There are many questions about him that have yet to be answered with certainty. His admirers call him a great leader who cared for his people and did anything for his country. His haters describe him as a brutal dictator just like Hitler, if not worse. All this is pretty debatable and for that reason we will attempt to bring some light to Stalin’s life by presenting 25 facts that many of you might not know.
His mustache was one of the most iconic “logos” of the 20th century
When we usually think of iconic logos our mind goes to Nike’s swoosh, Apple’s bitten apple, Mercedes’ tri-star, and Superman’s S insignia among others, but well before the wildly popular logos I just mentioned there was Stalin’s mustache. Believe it or not, Stalin’s mustache became a source of inspiration for other “mustached” dictators who followed him, including Hitler and Saddam Hussein, just to name a few.
He loved to drink wine
Don’t rush to call the man a drunk or an alcoholic because he wasn’t one; instead, he was into the art and culture of wine and loved everything about it: the bottles, the smell, the color, and the taste of course. It is believed that his favorite wine was Khvanchkara, a Georgian wine with raspberry notes.
His comrades called him “Comrade Index Card”
For all Stalin’s prowess and organization, he was never considered a dynamic speaker or a forceful writer. This was the reason why his fellow Bolsheviks called him “Comrade Index Card,” a nickname that Leon Trotsky gave him in an attempt to underplay his intellectual skills. No wonder Stalin would later organize and order Trotsky execution.
His first job was as a weatherman
Despite everyone knowing him as the leader of the USSR, Stalin had a real job before that. His one and only real job before he conquered many parts of Europe and Asia was as a weatherman at the Tiflis Meteorological Observatory, where he was the man in charge of recording rainfall and atmospheric pressure amounts, among other exciting details.
He was a cinephile (a lover of films)
Stalin was a movie buff. In fact, he loved movies so much that he made sure each one of his many homes included a private movie theater.
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He was an even bigger fan of John Wayne
Despite being the dominant figure in what some called the Eastern Bloc, Stalin was a huge fan of Westerns, cowboys, and director John Ford, but most of all he loved “the Duke,” whose films Stalin collected.
Stalin was the “original” Superman
Not many know that Stalin’s real name was Ioseb Besarionis Dze Jugashvili, which he later changed to Stalin. Why Stalin of all names? Well Stalin means “man of steel.” So take that, Superman!
He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize twice
Despite Stalin going down in history as one who’s responsible for the murder of millions, he was still nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and not just once like his rival Hitler (1939), but twice—in 1945 and 1948.
He wasn’t a Russian, as many falsely believe
Stalin wasn’t really born in Russia but rather in the town of Gori, Tiflis Governorate, in present-day Georgia, which was then part of the Russian Empire. Regardless of his actual nationality, in December 2008 he was named the third-most-influential Russian in history by Name of Russia, a project by a Russian TV channel aimed at electing the most notable personality in Russian history.
Lenin didn’t like him as much as you might think
Even though Lenin helped Stalin rise to the position of General Secretary of the Communist Party in 1922, soon after Lenin became very concerned with Stalin’s growing power. However, when Lenin tried to remove Stalin from the position, Stalin had already grown too powerful.
He was a poet
Stalin’s artistic “tendencies” didn’t revolve exclusively around films; he was actually into poetry, too. Under the pen name Soselo, Stalin wrote and published dozens of poems.
As a boy he was bullied because of his looks
Stalin had a hard-knock life as a kid and that’s not an exaggeration. He used to be ridiculed and bullied by other kids for his appearance because when he was seven he contracted smallpox, which left his face scarred and also left him with a slightly deformed arm. Because of the scars, other children called him “Pocky.”
He’s legally to blame for the deaths of nearly 20 million citizens
During his reign more than 20 million innocent Russian citizens were killed and executed, while many more were imprisoned, tortured, exiled, starved, and forced into slave labor, mainly because of their political and religious views.
Whoever entered his bedroom was executed
According to unverified rumors, Stalin loved his privacy a little too much and for that reason, his guards were not allowed to enter his private bedchambers no matter what. To test them, there were a few times when he pretended to need help and so he screamed in agony and whoever dared enter his bedroom to help him was indeed executed. True or false? We will never know for sure.
He suffered from atherosclerosis of the brain
An autopsy showed that Stalin had suffered from cerebral atherosclerosis—a type of atherosclerosis where build-up of plaque occurs in the blood vessels of the brain—and it is believed this may have been one of the reasons behind his cruel acts and paranoia.
He never said his infamous statistics quote
“A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic”—one of the most well-known quotes of all time—was probably never spoken by Stalin. Many historians have debated whether he did because there’s no official source to verify it.
He wanted to be a priest as a youngster
It may be hard to imagine that someone who closed every Christian church in Russia and became a symbol of “combat” atheism wanted to be a priest, but the truth is that a young Stalin was on the way to becoming one. At age sixteen, he earned a scholarship and entered the Georgian Orthodox Seminary of Tiflis.
He was a school dropout
His plans to become a priest changed drastically in 1899 when, according to one of the many theories surrounding this period of his life, Stalin’s family wasn’t able to pay his tuition. According to his mother, however, he left the seminary because of poor health, while according to those around him he left because of his revolutionary activity and ideology, which eventually led him to becoming an atheist.
Stalin was really short
Stalin was only 5’4” tall (or short, to be accurate), a fact that earned him the nickname “the little squirt.” Ironically, the man who gave him this nickname- American president Harry S. Truman- was about 5’7” himself.
His favorite musician was decorated pianist Maria Yudina
According to a passage from The Ladder of the Beatitudes by Jim Forest, Stalin loved classical music and was a big fan of pianist Maria Yudina, whom he literally adored once he heard her perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 live on the radio. Although there was no official recording of this piece Stalin insisted on having a physical copy, and so Yudina and an orchestra submitted to his request and created one.
He was initially buddies with Hitler
Well, the title might be a little misleading but the fact is that Stalin had signed a nonaggression pact with Hitler and Nazi Germany in 1939 and had no problem with the Nazi leader’s brutality until, of course, Hitler decided to attack Mother Russia.
He had an affair with a 13-year-old girl
During one of his forced exiles to Siberia while he was in his mid-thirties, he met a thirteen-year-old orphan, Lidia Pereprygina, who looked quite mature for her age. They began dating shortly after, but the KGB under Stalin made sure his Siberian “love adventures” were hidden deep in its archives, only to be revealed eighty years later. According to sources, the girl got pregnant at some point in their relationship but lost the baby.
He pretty much “killed” his own son
When the Germans captured Stalin’s eldest son, Yakov, near Smolensk in 1941, they falsely believed they could make the Soviet leader obey their demands. They took Yakov to a concentration camp and offered his release for that of the captured Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus. Although nobody can be sure about what really was said, it is believed that Stalin refused their offer by stating that he won’t exchange a soldier for a field marshal. In 1943, Yakov died under mysterious circumstances in Sachsenhausen concentration camp in northeast Germany. Most historians believe he was murdered because his father refused to negotiate.
He loved to “Photoshop” his photos
I know this might sound anachronistic but Stalin was into Photoshop long before the graphics software was invented. See, Stalin would regularly airbrush photographs of himself because he was self-conscious about his facial scars, which he “carried” with him from childhood. According to sources, he had several portrait artists shot for their not-so-“charming” images of him.
He supposedly wanted to develop a half-human, half-ape hybrid.
According to unconfirmed sources, Stalin wanted to rebuild the Red Army in the mid-1920s with Planet of the Apes–style troops by crossing humans with apes. More specifically, a report in The Scotsman newspaper on December 20, 2005, claimed that the Soviet leader ordered Russia’s top animal-breeding scientist, Ilya Ivanov, to use his skills to produce a super warrior. This super warrior would be a hybrid ape-man that would be resilient to pain beyond a normal human and would be capable of great strength but with an underdeveloped brain so as to be easily controlled.