Zog was the third child of Xhemal Pasha Zogolli, and first son by his second wife to Sadije Toptani.
Upon his father's death in 1908, Zog became hereditary governor of the Mat region, being appointed ahead of his elder half-brother, Xhelal Bey Zogolli, by the clan council of leaders. It was his mother, Sadije Toptani, who would insist that, after his father’s death, he be educated at the Galatasaray Lyceum in Beyoglu, Istanbul. His education abroad kept him safe from the dangers of clan politics.
In 1912 Zog returned to Albania and lead a revolt of the Mat region against the Young Turks. It was during this time that Zog would battle an invading Montenegrin army in the Kakarriqi area gaining him much fame as a military leader.
On the 28 of November 1912, Zog took part in the Albanian declaration of independence, representing the Mat district. Early in 1913, Zog was forced to stop a Serbian incursion in the districts of Diber and Mat. Zog defended the region until October 1913, when the Austrian ultimatum of October 18th, demanded that the Serbs evacuate from Albania.
Albania was accepted as an independent state by the Great Powers, who established it as a Principality and canvassed for a monarch. In 1914 a German Protestant prince, called William of Wied, was appointed as prince of Albania. In 1914, Zog would support the six-month reign of Wied. He was tasked to battle rebels and retake the city of Kruja, returning it to government control. This period would be marked by a bitter rivalry with Essad Pasha Toptani. After World War I ended, William of Wied was not re-instated to the throne, which remained vacant under regency.
In 1916 Zog volunteered his support to the Austria-Hungary Empire; in turn Zog was given the rank of Colonel within the Austrian Cavalry.
In February & March of 1916, Zog attempted to organize the National Congress of Elbasan. The hope was to regain Albanian independence and stability after liberating much of central Albania from enemy occupation. However, the Congress failed when the Austrians intervened and declared it illegal.
When Kaiser Franz Joseph I of Austria died on 21stNovember 1916, Zog attend the coronation of the new Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, Charles I. Before he could return to Albania, he was informed that his return would be an obstacle to Austrian military interests. So he was to be detained in Vienna from late 1916 until the end of the Great War. He attended the Austrian Military Academy and continued his studies.
Upon his return to Albania, Zog involved himself in the political life of the fledgling Albanian government that had been created in the wake of the First World War.
In 1920, from the 21st until the 31st of January, Zog took part in the Congress of Lushnje, where he was appointed Minister of Interior (March–November 1920, 1921–1924). The Congress of Lushnje was instrumental in creating the first stable Albanian Government and first legislative representation under the Premiership of Sulejman Delvina.
On the 11th February 1920, as Minister of Interior and in the name of the newly formed government, Zog proclaimed Tirana Albania's provisional capital city. He was instrumental in supporting the "Vlora uprisings", June 4th to August 2nd 1920, defeating the Italian forces in the City of Vlora and forcing them to retreat to the island of Suzan. From the 26th of July to 21st of August 1920, Zog led the Albanian forces in the Battle of Koplik forcing the invading Yugoslav army to withdraw to the conference of London borders of 1913. Zog prevented an escalation of tensions with Yugoslavia, whilst retaking the northern city of Shkoder where he would become Governor (1920–1921). In April 1921 Zog became a deputy of Parliament, and later chief of the Albanian military. From October to December 1921, he was charged as commander against separatist forces. He defeated the secessionist attempt by the self declared “Republic of Mirdita” by the 20th of November.
Zog was the only representative to be elected in two regions, simultaneously holding two mandate votes in one legislative term. He represented the cities of Kavaja and Durres, while his elder brother, Xhelal Zogu, represented the Mat region.
In early 1922 Tirana was attacked by anti-government rebels led by Bajram Curri and Elez Isufi. The government fled the city. Only Zog remained and repulsed the assault. The British Ambassador was able to mediate a ceasefire long enough for Zog’s supporters to regain control of the capital, Tirana.
From the 2ndDecember 1922 to 25th February 1924, Zog held the position of Prime Minister and Minister of Interior. During November and December 1923, the Assembly held a general election, which Zog’s Popular Party won, achieving a majority. They gained the support of the Independents and built a united coalition.
On the 23rdFebruary 1924, Zog was shot and wounded in Parliament by Beqir Valteri. In an attempt to defuse the situation and to recover from his gunshot wounds, Zog resigned from the post of Prime Minister.
On the 10thJune 1924, the Fan Noli military coup d’état, known as the June revolution, overthrew the short lived Iliaz Vrioni Premiership and forced Zog into exile for six months. Zog used the time to lobby the international community against the Soviet-backed Fan Noli Government. After gaining the support of Great Britain, Italy, Austria and Yugoslavia, Zog returned, with little resistance, to Albania and restored the legitimate government. He abolished the Principality Regency in favor of a Republic. The 24th of December is still celebrated by Zogists as the day of the “Triumph of Legality”.
On 31st January 1925, Zog was elected the founding President of the First Albanian Republic. Later, on the 1st September 1928, the constitutional assembly proclaimed Albania to be a Democratic Constitutional Hereditary Monarchy.
Over the next decade, from 1928 onwards, Albania went through a period of stability and economic prosperity. King Zog implemented a progressive civil code (1929) which outlawed slavery and guaranteed civil liberties, institutional independence, free speech, private property, religious harmony, agricultural reforms.
The Monarchy pushed forward infrastructural projects such as the building of roads and bridges, maritime ports and airports, new government buildings and the Tirana city center. Education became a priority: new schools were built and government-sponsored bursaries were given to students. The 1930s also brought a period of social emancipation, including the right for women to vote, and a blossoming trade with other European countries. The Royal Albanian passport provided freedom of movement, and the Albanian currency was exchanged internationally. King Zog was also successful in limiting the negative impact of the great economic depression of 1929-1939. After centuries of divisions and clanships, the Monarchy successfully consolidated Albania under one union, within which King Zog managed to bridge the cultural divide between the orient and occident.
The Royal government was forced into exile, with over two thousand loyalists. King Zog made the decision to move to France, where he could better co-ordinate allied support to liberate Albania. The journey to France entailed a trip across free Europe, Romania (1stJuly 1939), Poland (7th July), Latvia (12thJuly), Sweden (18thJuly), Norway (23rd July), Belgium (7thAugust) and finally reaching Paris, France (8thAugust 1939) and settling in the Chateau de la Maye in Versailles.
During the 1920s, Albania was experiencing extended periods of political turmoil and instability.
After the early elections on 25thAugust 1928, the parliamentary deputies from the southern region of Skrapar proposed that Albania should once again be declared a Monarchy. This proposal was accepted and taken under consideration.