Father of the famous Frederick the Great, Frederick William I (reign: 25 February 1713 – 31 May 1740) was the Prussian King who laid the foundations of a modern powerful Prussian kingdom and nationstate. During his rule he sought to reform almost every aspect of Prussian life, from the economy to agriculture, from art and music to industry. Among his reforms was an expansion and reorganization of the Prussian military. Frederick William I was a solid military man who professionalized the Prussian Army, equipping it with the best weapons, providing the best training, and instilling a level of discipline among the army that was rare among military forces of the times. As a result of Frederick William’s reforms, Prussia’s Army would earn a reputation as an elite fighting force unequaled during the 18th century.
One of Frederick William’s pet projects was the formation of a unit of grenadiers called the “Potsdam Giants”. Grenadier units typically are recruited from men of above average height, however Frederick William had an obsession with abnormally tall men. Formed from the Potsdam Infantry Regiment No. 6, membership in the regiment had a 6 Prussian foot height requiring (about 6'2"). While this was tall for the day, Frederick William’s obsession ensured that the Potsdam Giants regiment was truly made up of giants. He forcibly drafted tall men in his kingdom. Then when he couldn’t find anymore giants in Prussia, he recruited them from other countries. It was not uncommon for other nations, empires, and kingdoms to trade their giants for political favors.
Heads of state such as the Russian Czar, Austrian Emperor, and Sultan of the Ottoman Empire traded many of their unusually tall soldiers for diplomatic concessions and to promote friendly relations. Frederick William even resorted to the weird and underhanded. He created special crimp gangs who traveled Europe with the purpose of abducting giants for the regiment. He even encouraged tall Prussian women to marry tall Prussian men in order to breed more tall Prussians.
When Frederick William died in 1740, the Potsdam Giants numbered 3,200 tall men. The tallest was an Finnish man named Daniel Cajanus, who stood 7'4". Another notable grenadier was an Irishman named Tomás Ó Caiside, who stood 7’ 2". Frederick William personally trained and drilled his giants, although the regiment never saw combat. Reason’s for this vary, one of them being that many of the men were unfit for combat due to the health problems caused by gigantism.
The men of the Potsdam Giants also would have made excellent targets on the battlefield. Rather, the Potsdam Giants served as a personal guard to Frederick William, which he would use to show off to foreign dignitaries and heads of state.
Frederick William's obsession with recruiting Europe’s giants for his regiment served no practical purpose. Rather he collected giants for his own amusement, much as a numismatist collects coins.
After Frederick William the practice of recruited tall men and giants for the Potsdam Grenadiers ceased, although the regiment would traditionally be manned by tall men.
The Potsdam Grenadiers were disbanded in 1806 after Prussia was defeated by the French under Napoleon Bonaparte.
Anything goes ... within reason ... Because life isn't JUST about militaria.
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