You would not want to drink a Molotov cocktail. If you’ve seen enough action movies, you know why. A Molotov cocktail is a crude incendiary device (not exactly a bomb) that is made by placing a slow-burning fuse through the mouth of a bottle filled with gasoline or any highly flammable liquid. The fuse, usually just a strip of cloth, is lit and the bottle is thrown at the intended target, causing the bottle to burst and be covered with flaming gasoline. This certainly does not describe any sort of drink, but the name does refer to food and drinks.
The origin of the Molotov cocktail is in the Russo-Finnish War of 1939 to 1940 or the “Winter War,” a war between the Russia and Finland that began when Finland refused to give over certain tracts of land and strategic ports. In response, Russa attacked Finland both by land, sea, and by air.
The Soviet Union’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs at this time was Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov. Molotov was born in a town called Kurkarka, northeast of Moscow, as Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Skrabian. He changed his name to escape the Czarist police, choosing Molotov for its meaning. Molot means “hammer.”
Molotov served in the party in several different offices before becoming Foreign Minister. In 1939 he had negotiated the Russo-German nonaggression pact (Nazi-Soviet Nonagression Pact) known as the “Pact of Steel” or the “Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.” He also negotiated Soviet alliances with Great Britain and the United States, and attended the Allied conferences at Teheran, Yalta, and Potsdam. As well, he was part of the San Francisco Conference that established the United Nations.
As part of their war against the Finns, the Russians dropped bombs on Helsinki, using a cluster-bomb dispenser known as the PRAB-3. Molotov, however, in radio broadcasts, claimed that they were not dropping bombs, but only packages of food and drink to their comrades, the starving Finns. The humor in this did not escape the Finns, and they began calling the PRAB-3 “Molotov’s breadbasket.
Against attacking Soviet tanks, the Finns were using incendiary devices consisting of bottles of ethanol, tar, and gasoline with a simple burning rag for a fuse. These were improved by using long-burning storm matches attached to the bottle’s side. The match be lit before the bottle was thrown at a tank, and when the bottle broke on impact, the mixture ignited and spread fire over the attacking vehicle. The Finn’s named these “Molotov cocktails,” continuing the joke. These Molotov cocktails were actually mass-produced by the Finnish alcohol monopoly Alko. The image below shows one of these mass-produced Molotov cocktails.
The Finns, of course, did not invent the idea of device, they only gave it a name that has stuck to this day. Such devices had been used many other times throughout history, and the Chinese had employed Molotov cocktails against Japanese tanks in 1937.
Molotov was replaced as Foreign Minister by Joseph Stalin in 1949, but later returned to the post for a short time under Krushchev, but was later aggressively attacked by his the leader. It became known that he belonged to an anti-Krushchev group that wanted to remove Krushchev from office. He was demoted to ambassador to Mongolia, and then later, in 1964, was expelled from the Communist party for having participated in the execution of important Bolsheviks during the 1930s. He was reinstated into the party in 1984. He died two years later at the age of 96. Just five years after he died, the Soviet Union fell. The town of Perm had been renamed to Molotov in his honor in 1940.
1. Pleysier, Albert Jan. Frozen Tears: The Blockade and Battle of Leningrad. Lanham, MD: U of America, 2008.
2. Hendrickson, Robert. Talking Turkey: A Food Lover’s Guide to the Origins of Culinary Words and Phrases. New York: Skyhorse, 2014.
3. “Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov Signs the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Photo Archives. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2015.