25 photos show what Iran looked like before the 1979 revolution turned the nation into an Islamic republic

jbender@businessinsider.com (Jeremy Bender,Melia Robinson)
Pahlavi Coronation

PD-IRAN

  • From 1941 to 1979, Iran was ruled by King Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah.
  • On February 11, 1979, the Islamic Revolution swept the country.
  • The government was replaced with an Islamic republic, which continues to this day.
  • Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.

In the decades before the Islamic revolution of 1979, Iran was ruled by the Shah, whose dictatorship repressed dissent and restricted political freedoms.

But he also he pushed the country to adopt Western-oriented secular modernization, allowing some degree of cultural freedom.

Under the Shah's rule, Iran's economy and educational opportunities expanded. Britain and the US counted Iran as their major ally in the Middle East, and the Shah forcefully industrialized large segments of the country.

But the Shah's increasingly authoritarian measures and his eventual dismissal of multiparty rule set the stage for the infamous revolution.

Still, for a period of almost 40 years, the Shah led Iran through a series of sweeping changes.

From 1941 to 1979, Iran was ruled by King Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah.

life in iran before the revolution, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, Queen Fawzia, 1942

APDue to Iran's large supply of oil, proximity to India, and shared border with the Soviet Union, Britain and the US fully backed the Iranian government.

Iran before revolution

AP Photo/Tom FitzsimmonsHowever, even before the Islamic Revolution, the Shah's grip on power was unsteady.

life in Iran before the revolution, home of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, 1953

APCommunists and religious members of society disliked the Shah and his pro-Western government.

Iran before revolution

AP Photo/Tom FitzsimmonsIn 1953, the Shah had to flee Iran after a Western-backed coup to overthrow Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh failed. A second coup succeeded in overthrowing Mosaddegh, who wanted to nationalize the Iranian oil industry to Britain's chagrin, and the Shah returned to the country.

Iran before revolution

AP Photo/Tom FitzsimmonsLike Ataturk in Turkey, Reza Shah undertook a series of reforms aimed at turning Iran into a modern westernized nation.

life in iran before the revolution, 1970s, family photo album

Nevit Dilmen/Wikimedia CommonsThese reforms included the structuring of Iran around a central Persian identity, the often brutal suppression of tribes and their laws in exchange for strong a central government, and the expansion of woman's rights.

life in iran before the revolution, 1970s, family photo album

Nevit Dilmen/Wikimedia CommonsLike Ataturk, Reza Shah attempted to make religious observation subservient to the state.

life in iran before the revolution, 1970s, family photo album

Nevit Dilmen/Wikimedia CommonsPart of Iran's method of achieving this was through the banning of veils in public.

life in iran before the revolution, 1970s, family photo album

Nevit Dilmen/Wikimedia CommonsWomen were also encouraged to attend school and receive an education.

iran before the revolution, family photo album

Nevit Dilmen/Wikimedia CommonsAlthough Reza Shah's intentions were to turn Iran into a modern westernized state, his bans on religious garments alienated and frustrated religious conservatives and traditionalists.

iran before the revolution, family photo album

Nevit Dilmen/Wikimedia CommonsDespite the backlash from religiously observant members of society, the Shah managed to create a seemingly cosmopolitan city life.

iran before the revolution, family photo album

Nevit Dilmen/Wikimedia CommonsWomen and men mixed freely, and educational opportunities were greatly extended. Western clothing and norms also became ingrained into large segments of the Iranian population.

iran before the revolution, family photo album

Nevit Dilmen/Wikimedia CommonsLeading the charge for westernization was the Iranian royal family. Pictured below is Empress Soraya.

Iran before revolution

AP PhotoUnder the royal family's invitations, Iran became a popular destination for celebrities and heads of state. Here, an Italian actress and her husband visit a sports competition as guests of Iranian Princess Ashraf.

Iran before revolution

AP PhotoThe Iranian royal family reciprocated and widely toured the world's capitals. Here, the Shah and his wife met with Winston Churchill in London.

iran before revolution

AP PhotoToward the end of the Shah's reign, the royal family attempted to rally the country around an increasingly historic nationalism based on the preceding Persian empires.

Iran before revolution

AP Photo/Roy EssoyanIn 1967, the Shah took the old Persian title "Shahanshah," or King of Kings, at a coronation ceremony in Tehran.

Pahlavi Coronation

PD-IRANCelebrations funded by the government were also launched throughout the country to honor the Persian roots of Iran. Here, gymnasts take part in an October 16, 1975, celebration honoring the founding of the Persian Empire.

iran before revolution

AP Photo/Harry KoundakjianDespite Iran's views of the past, the government continued to value education and child development.

Iran before revolution

AP Photo/Roy EssoyanTehran funded study abroad in Europe for Iranians, and schools and clinics were built throughout the Iranian countryside to care for poorer children as part of the Shah's "White Revolution."

Iran before revolution

AP Photo/Roy EssoyanHigh oil prices and relative stability in the Middle East contributed to a growing business class in major Iranian cities.

Iran before revolution

AP Photo/Roy EssoyanHere, Iranians swim in an octagonal swimming pool at the guesthouse of the Iranian National Oil Company.

Iran before revolution

AP Photo/Horst FaasBy 1975, Reza Shah abolished Iran's multiparty system and concentrated ever-greater amounts of power in his own hands under the government-permitted Rastakhiz (Resurrection) party.

Iran before revolution

AP Photo/Horst FaasBy January 16, 1979, Reza Shah fled Iran during the Iranian Revolution. The revolution started off as a popular movement fueled by outrage against government extravagance, corruption, brutality, and the suppression of individual rights, before being taken over by Ayatollah Khomeini.

Iran before revolution

AP Photo/Horst Faas

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