Early Life

Born on July 29, 1883, in Dovia di Predappio, Forlì, Italy, Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini was the eldest of three children. His father, Alessandro, was a blacksmith and an impassioned socialist who spent much of his time on politics and much of his money on his mistress. His mother, Rosa (Maltoni), was a devout Catholic schoolteacher who provided the family with some stability and income.

As a youth, Benito Mussolini showed much intelligence, but was boisterous and disobedient. His father instilled in him a passion for socialist politics and a defiance against authority. Though he was expelled from several schools for bullying and defying school authorities, he eventually obtained a teaching certificate in 1901 and, for a brief time, worked as a schoolmaster.

Impassioned Socialist

In 1902, Benito Mussolini moved to Switzerland to promote socialism, and quickly gained a reputation for his magnetism and remarkable rhetorical talents. While engaging in political demonstrations, he caught the attention of Swiss authorities and was eventually expelled from the country. In 1904, Mussolini returned to Italy and continued promoting a socialist agenda. He was briefly imprisoned and, upon release, became editor of the organization's newspaper, Avanti (meaning "Forward"), which gave him a larger megaphone and expanded his influence.

The Break with Socialism and Rise to Power

Mussolini initially condemned Italy's entry into World War I, but soon saw the war as an opportunity for his country to become a great power. His change in attitude broke ties with fellow socialists, however, and he was expelled from the organization. He joined the Italian army in 1915 and fought on the front lines, reaching the rank of corporal before being wounded and discharged from the military.

After the war, Mussolini resumed his political activities, criticizing the Italian government for weakness at the Treaty of Versailles. He organized several right-wing...