Did Churchill Coin the Term ‘Iron Curtain’? He used the term 'Iron Curtain' in his famous 1946 speech

Churchill and Truman in Fulton, Missouri 5 March 1946Winston Churchill and Harry Truman arrive in Fulton, Missouri on 5 March 1946

On 5 March 1946, Winston Churchill gave his famous ‘Iron Curtain’ speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. The speech that Churchill called the ‘Sinews of Peace’ later became better known for the famous phrase it contained, ‘iron curtain’.

But did Churchill coin the phrase?

Churchill’s first known use of the phrase was in a letter to President Truman in May of 1945, where he wrote:

‘An iron curtain is drawn down upon their front. We do not know what is going on behind. There seems little doubt that the whole of the region Lubeck-Trieste-Corfu will soon be completely in their hands. [Following American withdrawal] a broad band of many hundreds of miles of Russian-occupied territory will isolate us from Poland.…it would be open to the Russians in a very short time to advance if they chose, to the waters of the North Sea and the Atlantic.’

Its first appearance in print, however, was in Apocalypse of Our Time, published in 1918 by Russian philosopher Vasily Rozanov. Romanov wrote of ‘an iron curtain descending on Russian history’. Several years later, in 1920, in Through Bolshevik Russia, author Ethel Snowden’s described Russia as being behind an ‘Iron Curtain’. Yet another contemporary use was on 25 February 1945 when German Reich Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Goebbels used the phrase in his propaganda publication Das Reich.

Winston Churchill then made the term world-famous in his Fulton speech in 1946, but didn’t originate it.

Here’s the most famous passage of Churchill’s Fulton speech:

‘From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an Iron Curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of central and eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence, but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow. Athens alone—Greece with its immortal glories—is free to decide its future at an election under British, American and French observation.… On the other hand I repulse the idea that a new war is inevitable; still more that it is imminent.…If we adhere faithfully to the Charter of the United Nations and walk forward in sedate and sober strength seeking no one’s land or treasure, seeking to lay no arbitrary control upon the thoughts of men; if all British moral and material forces and convictions are joined with your own in fraternal association, the high-roads of the future will be clear, not only for us but for all, not only for our time, but for a century to come.’

-Winston S Churchill, 5 March 1946, Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri.

To read and listen to the full speech, follow this link.

Related Story

Join Now

Join NowPlease join with us to help preserve the memory of Winston Churchill and continue to explore how his life, experiences and leadership are ever-more relevant in today’s chaotic world. BENEFITS >BECOME A MEMBER >

WinstonChurchill.org

The International Churchill Society (ICS), founded in 1968 shortly after Churchill's death, is the world’s preeminent member organisation dedicated to preserving the historic legacy of Sir Winston Churchill.

At a time when leadership is challenged at every turn, that legacy looms larger and remains more relevant than ever.