Winston Churchill: Surprising Facts on the British Bulldog

In celebration of Winston Churchill Day on April 9th, we've chosen some facts you may not have known about one of Western civilization's most beloved political figures.
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Winston Churchill Photo

Sir Winston Churchill, formal portrait at desk.

On April 9, 1963 President John F. Kennedy made history by bestowing former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill honorary American citizenship. Churchill was the first person to receive such a rare honor, but due to his failing health, was unable to attend the ceremony. In his absence, his son and grandson accepted the award on his behalf.

Remembered for his unbending leadership as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during World War II, Churchill is considered one of the greatest wartime leaders in history. Through his influential political might, he helped further cement the special transatlantic bond between the U.K. and the United States.

To ring in Winston Churchill Day, here are some surprising facts about the British Bulldog you can chew on.

Churchill was half-American.

It wasn't uncommon to see British aristocrats pairing themselves off with rich American heiresses in the late 19th century. Such was the case with Churchill's father, Lord Randolph Churchill, who married Brooklyn-born socialite Jennie Jerome, whose father was a successful American financier. The Churchills had two sons, Winston (1874) and Jack (1880). Although Jennie would largely be absent for most of Winston's youth (it was customary for nannies to rear the children), Winston worshipped his mother. As adults the two would become close confidants, and at times Winston would even look to his mother for political advice.

Churchill struggled in school.

Although Churchill went on to achieve many accolades in his career, his earlier years gave no indication of his future achievements. From an early age, he disliked school and was a bad student. As a teenager, he was one of the lowest performing students in his class, and he flunked his entrance exams twice before getting into military school. However, the two subjects he excelled in were history and English.

Churchill suffered from a speech impediment.

Like his father before him, Churchill had a lisp, in which he had a difficult time pronouncing the letters "s" and "z." To help with his impediment, Churchill would do exercises, repeating phrases such as “The Spanish ships I cannot see for they are not in sight.” In later years, his dentures would help ameliorate his issues.

Churchill was a prisoner of war.

After graduating from college, Churchill served as a news reporter and later as both a war correspondent and military officer. While on assignment in South Africa in 1899, Churchill was captured by Boer guerilla fighters (Dutch descendants who were fighting the British) and was taken as a prisoner of war. He managed to escape by scaling the prison wall in the middle of the night and hid in a British coal miner manager's mineshaft for three days. He would eventually find safe passage by ship to South Africa and be hailed as a hero.

Churchill introduced the term "iron curtain."

Despite Churchill aligning himself with the Soviet Union during World War II, he began questioning the country's political goals in Europe and expressed his doubts in his famous "Iron Curtain Speech" in March 1946. “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent,” he said, adding that the Soviets only admire military strength. It was his speech that is thought to have signaled the start of the Cold War. From then on, Western leaders would use the phrase "iron curtain" when referencing the Soviet Union.

Churchill won a Nobel Prize in Literature.

Churchill has the distinct honor of being the only British Prime Minister (thus far) to have received a Nobel Prize in Literature. In 1953 the prize was awarded to him for "his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values." During his lifetime Churchill penned over 20 books, including his military adventures in India and South Africa, a biography of his father, histories of both World Wars, and even a novel.