The phrase “Molotov cocktail” conjures the familiar image of someone – most likely in civilian clothes – ready to throw a bottle stoppered with a flaming cloth. Molotov cocktails are now associated more with protests and riots than military actions. However, the famous cocktail that no one wants to drink originated as an anti-tank weapon around WWII. 

But who was this Molotov, and why would he want such a dangerous drink? Of course, the answer is he didn’t, and the name actually came many years after the original cocktail was created.


Playing With Fire: How a Molotov Cocktail Is Made

YouTubers at Ordnance Lab made a video about recreating the “original” Molotov cocktail, but had to edit and repost it after the video was removed by YouTube. The story shows some of the legal problems that come with playing with explosives.

While they are commonly associated with civil unrest, U.S. residents should be wary of making Molotov cocktails. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives classifies the incendiary bomb as a destructive device. Anyone without a federal explosives license or permit (FEL/FEP) found possessing a Molotov cocktail can be charged with a federal crime.

That warning out of the way, a Molotov is usually composed of a cocktail of flammable liquids and gelling agents. At its simplest, kerosene in a bottle with a rag fuse serves the purpose. Some have even gone more toward a “biological” variant. For example, Venezuelan protesters made “puputov” cocktails of human excrement.

History indicates that humans have been putting fire in bottles and throwing it at one another since before Rome was an empire. Yet, the Molotov in its modern form is commonly attributed to Spanish soldiers fighting Russian tanks outside Toledo in 1936. Supplied by the Soviets, the Loyalist troops fielded T-26 and T-28 tanks. Francisco Franco’s soldiers, on the other side of the Spanish Civil War, had yet to receive anti-tank weapons from Hitler.