This page is about the Pahlavi period (1926-1979)

(work in progress)



Pahlavi crown commissioned by Reza

Iran's flag from 1906-1979

Reza Shah Pahlavi (1878-1944), was the shah (king) of Iran from 1926 to 1941 and is better known as Reza Shah.  Before be became king, Reza was a semi-literate Colonel in the Cossack Brigade, Iran’s principal military unit by 1921.  In February 1921 he staged a military coup under the direction of British occupation force in Iran.  He became prime minister is 1923 and overthrew the last Qajar king (Ahmad Shah) in 1925, naming himself the new king in 1926.  He chose Pahlavi as his last name.  He named his oldest son, Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, crown prince. Reza Shah is considered an important reformer of early twentieth century Iran.  However, his record is a mixed one.  On the one hand he successfully reformed his country to make it more modern and self-reliant.  He built railroads and factories, promoted education, reformed the legal system and increased the role of women in society.  On the other hand, he subverted Iran’s constitution and turned the country into an authoritarian state controlled by him.  During World War II (1939-1945), the Allies needed to use Iran as a supply route. They also suspected Reza Shah or pro-German sympathies.  When Reza Shah refused to cooperate, British and Soviet troops invaded the country and forced him to resign. He died in exile in South Africa and was succeeded by his oldest son.

Reza Shah Pahlavi (r.1926-1941)

Reza Shah and his crown prince

Reza Shah and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (president of Turkey) during the former's
state visit to Turkey in 1934, the shah's only trip abroad.


Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (1919-1980), was the shah (king) of Iran from 1941 to 1979. He succeeded his father, Reza Shah Pahlavi, as king.  Reza Shah had refused to cooperate with the Allies during World War II (1939-1945), and they forced him to abdicate by occupying Iran.  Mohammad Reza Shah was overthrown in 1979 by a mass movement of Iranians led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Kho­meini, a Muslim religious leader.

After Mohammad Reza became shah, he joined the Allies and Iran declared war on Axis powers.  Iran made an important contribution to the Allies’ war effort by acting as a supply route to the Soviet Union.  Between 1941 and 1953, Mohammad Reza Shah ruled as a constitutional monarch according to the Iranian constitution of 1906.  Beginning in the mid-1940s, the shah’s authority was challenged by Iranian Communists and by nationalists led by Dr. Mohammad Mosaddeq.  In 1951, the nationalists led by Dr. Mosaddeq passed a law in parliament nationalizing British controlled Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.  Subsequently, the shah was forced to appoint Mosaddeq prime minister. In 1953, the shah agreed to participate in a US and UK organized military coup to topple Prime Minister Mosaddeq.  When the initial stage of coup failed on August 16, 1953, the shah and his wife, Queen Sorayya, fled the country.  But the Americans and the British were successful to overthrow Mosaddeq on August 19, 1953, paving the way for the shah’s return and becoming a dictatorial ruler.  From 1953 until his overthrow in 1979, the shah subverted the constitution and parliament to enhance his own personal power.  He also put Iran in the Western camp as the cold war flared up.

In the 1960s, the shah began a program to distribute land to some peasant farmers. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, he used part of Iran’s oil revenue to promote social and economic development. He expanded programs dealing with literacy and health care, and built many schools, airports, highways, railroads, dams, and irrigation facilities. In addition, he bought much military equipment. Economic change led to rapid migration from rural areas to cities and increased the income gap between rich and poor.

The shah’s modernizing program was accompanied by a brutal and repressive rule.  As a result various groups began to oppose him for different reasons.  These included groups from among students, intellectuals, industrial workers and religious leaders.

His critics accused him of denying freedom of speech and other rights and of using secret police and military force to silence opponents. They also claimed his spending policies and government corruption were ruining Iran’s economy. Many conservative Muslims said some of his policies violated teachings of the Muslim religion.

A mass revolution erupted in early 1978 culminating in the shah leaving Iran for exile in January 1979.  His government was overthrown in February.  The shah already had cancer and his illness took a turn for worse after he left Iran In late October 1979, he was admitted to a hospital in the United States. A few days later on November 4, 1979, Iranian revolutionaries took over the United States Embassy in Tehran. They held American embassy workers as hostages and asked the U.S. government to return the shah to Iran for trial. The U.S. government refused to do so. The shah moved to Panama in December 1979 and to Egypt in March 1980.

A young Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last shah of Iran (right background),
walks behind his Egyptian first  wife Queen Fawziyya  ( center foreground),
the younger sister of Malik Farouq the last king of Egypt.
Queen Sorayya (Esfandiari) the shah's second wife with
British PM Winston Churchill (left) and with the shah

Left: the shah and his third wife Farah Diba. Right: the shah's coronation
in 1967 (Golestan Palace).  After putting on the Pahlavi crown, he crowned
his queen, Farah with a new crown and for the first time in modern history of
monarchy in Iran. She would be called 'Shahbanu' (king's lady or queen)
from this point on. The shah sat on the Naderi Throne (Takht-e Naderi) and
wore Nader Shah Afshar's sword, both symbols of Iranian royalty. To the
shah's right (wearing military hat) was Gen. Badreh'i, later commander of
Iranian ground forces and killed during the revolution.  On immediate right
 holding a tray, Amir Asadallah Alam, the shah's Imperial Court Minister 
and close confidant who passed away just before the revolution in 1977.  

Amir Abbas Hoveyda, the shah's prime
minister (1965-1977) at the peak of his
power, left, and during trial before his
execution in 1979.