Established in 1667 by Margrave Frederick (later to
become King Frederick I), the Orden Pour le Mérite was originally known as the Brandenburg Ordre de la Génerosité (Order of Generosity). Reorganized by Frederick II in 1740, it
became the Orden Pour le Mérite (Order of Merit) and was awarded to military personnel and
civilians. The Order was again reorganized in 1810 by Frederick William III who reserved it solely for
individual military achievement on the battlefield against the enemy. After the Prussian army occupied
Paris in 1814, a total of 1,662 Pour le Mérites were awarded. Of those, 1,470 Pour le
Mérites were awarded to Russians. In 1842, Frederick William IV added a civil class for scholars,
painters, sculptors, and musicians. Following the armistice of 1918, the Orden Pour le Mérite was never again awarded for military service.
During World War I, Prussia's highest military award, the Orden Pour le Mérite, was awarded to officers for repeated and continual gallantry
in action. It was never awarded posthumously and recipients were required to wear the medal whenever they were in uniform.
Of all officers in the German army and navy, the most
frequent recipients of the Orden Pour le Mérite were junior officers in the German Air Force.
During World War I, it was awarded to 81 German military aviators: 76 army aviators and 5 naval
aviators. Of that total, 78 of the recipients were officers who held the rank of Captain or below.