King Frederick William I's Vanity Regiment

King Frederick William I was the ruler of Prussia from 1713 to 1740. He instituted a number of reforms and improvements in the Prussian military, but one project was for his own amusement. The king, upon ascending the throne, immediately began recruiting very tall men for a regiment that became known as the Potsdam Giants. This recruitment took many forms, from giving incentives to soldiers, their families, and employers to kidnapping and imprisonment for tall men who refused to join. Foreign leaders who wanted to court favor with the king sent the tallest men from their own armies to join the Potsdam Giants. Most, however, were volunteers. After all, the Potsdam Giants got the best food in the entire Prussian military, and tall hats to make them look taller. It turned out to be one of the safest places to serve, too.

Frederick William I himself was only 5' 3" tall, so his obsession with tall soldiers was easily explained- not that anyone spoke of it at the time. The regiment of giants grew to around 3,200 men, some of them topping seven feet tall. But they weren't sent into battle, because they meant too much to the king. That changed after Frederick William's death. Read about the rise and fall of the Potsdam Giants at Amusing Planet.

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