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Encyclopedia > Bismarck
Alternate meanings: See Bismarck (disambiguation).
Otto von Bismarck

Order: 1st Chancellor of Germany
Term of Office: 18711890
Successor: Leo von Caprivi
Date of Birth: April 1, 1815
Date of Death: July 30, 1898
Political Party:
Profession: diplomat

Prince Otto von Bismarck, Duke of Lauenburg (April 1, 1815July 30, 1898) was one of the most prominent leaders of the 19th century; as Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Prussia (1862Germany (except Austria) with a series of successful wars and became the first Chancellor (18711890) of the German Empire.

Initially a deeply conservative, aristocratic, and monarchist Junker politician, Bismarck fought the growing social democracy movement in the 1880s by outlawing several organizations and pragmatically instituting mandatory old_age pensions, and health and accident insurance for workers. He became known as the Iron Chancellor and is considered one of the most important figures in German history.


Early life and rise to power

He was born Otto Eduard Leopold Graf (count) von Bismarck in Schönhausen and studied law at Göttingen and Berlin. He married Johanna von Puttkamer in 1847, and their long and happy marriage produced three children.

Delighted after the failure of the revolution of 1848, he was elected to the Prussian parliament in 1849. Appointed to represent Prussia in Frankfurt, Bismarck slowly became convinced that a Prussian-led unified German nation was an important goal (this was considered a liberal objective at the time). Subsequently, he worked as ambassador in St. Petersburg (where he befriended his future adversary, Prince Gorchakov) and Paris. In 1862, the Prussian king Wilhelm I appointed him Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Prussia, as part of a conflict between the increasingly liberal Prussian parliament and the king.

The unification of Germany

The extent to which Bismarck was responsible for the unification of Germany is a highly controversial topic amongst historians. There is also much debate about whether what happened was a unification of Germany, or an expansion of the Prussian state. What is certain however, is that Bismarck was partly responsible for the initiation of several wars which lead to dramatic changes in the political structure of Germany. First, in cooperation with Austria, Schleswig and Holstein were conquered and taken from Denmark in the Second War of Schleswig; a peace treaty was concluded in Vienna on October 30, 1864. Although already in 1865 Austria was pressured to let Prussia take care of these northern lands, in 1866 he attacked Austria and won quickly at the Battle of Königgratz, annexing Hanover, Hesse-Kassel, Nassau, and Frankfurt to Prussia and forming the North German Confederation.

After Bismarck provoked France, which at this time was ruled by Napoleon III, the Franco_Prussian War broke out in 1870 and the southern German states, viewing France as the aggressor, joined the North German Confederation. France suffered a humiliating defeat, and Wilhelm I was crowned German Emperor in the Galerie des Glaces (Spiegelsaal) in Versailles, which served as the headquarter of the Prussian army, on January 18, 1871. Bismarck thus largely created the Prussian led 1871 German Empire, at the exclusion of Austria.

Proclamation of the German Empire in Versailles. Bismarck in white

The Chancellor

Celebrated as a national hero, Bismarck became the first Reichskanzler (Chancellor) of the new Empire. In foreign policy, he now devoted himself to keeping peace among the European powers of France, Austria, Germany and Russia. Bismarck's belief was that Germany's central location in Europe would cause it to be devastated in case of any war.

Internally, he was concerned about the emergence of two new parties: the Catholic Centre Party and the Social Democratic Party. The campaign against Catholicism that started in 1872, called Kulturkampf, was largely a failure. He attacked the Social Democrats in two ways: the party and its organizations were outlawed, while the working class was appeased with (very progressive) legislation guaranteeing accident and health insurance as well as old-age pensions.

Otto von Bismarck wearing a pickelhaube

In the elections of 1890, both the Catholic Centre and the Social Democrats made great gains, and Bismarck resigned at the insistence of Kaiser Wilhelm II, who had risen to the throne in 1888. Bismarck spent his last years gathering his memoirs (Gedanken und Erinnerungen; "Thoughts and Memories"), and died at 83 years of age in 1898, in Friedrichsruh. He is buried in the Bismarck-Mausoleum there.

Both the WWII-era Kriegsmarine battleship Bismarck as well as two ships of the Imperial Navy (Kaiserliche Marine), and Bismarck, North Dakota, were named in his honor, as was the Bismarck Archipelago and Bismarck Sea outside the former German colony of New Guinea, and several streets and schools in Germany.

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
  • Page with biographical data, links and many images of Bismarck (http://www.deutsche-schutzgebiete.de/bismarck.htm) (in German)

Preceded by:
Prince Hohenlohe
Prime Minister of Prussia
Followed by:
Count Roon
Preceded by:
First Incumbent
Chancellor of Germany
Followed by:
Leo von Caprivi
Preceded by:
Count Roon
Prime Minister of Prussia

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Bismarck is the capital of North Dakota, a state of the United States of America.
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History Archives - Otto von Bismarck (352 words)
The idea was first put forward, at Bismarck's behest, in 1881 by Germany's Emperor, William the First, in a ground-breaking letter to the German Parliament.
Bismarck was motivated to introduce social insurance in Germany both in order to promote the well-being of workers in order to keep the German economy operating at maximum efficiency, and to stave-off calls for more radical socialist alternatives.
In fact, Germany initially set age 70 as the retirement age (and Bismarck himself was 74 at the time) and it was not until 27 years later (in 1916) that the age was lowered to 65.
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