The Potsdam Giants

 During his 27-year reign, King Frederick William I of Prussia greatly expanded the size of the Prussian army, turning it into one of the largest and best-equipped and trained armies in Europe. Frederick William I was particularly focused on creating a well-trained and efficient military force to protect and advance the interests of the Prussian state. The military reforms initiated by Frederick William I laid the foundation for Prussia's later successes under the leadership of his son Frederick II, who transformed the state from a small German kingdom into a great European power.

Frederick William had a passion for the army and soldiers and because of that passion he got the title of Soldier King. Despite being of very short stature himself (5 feet 3 inches), he had a particularly strange obsession with taller soldiers.

Shortly after coming to power in 1713, King Frederick William I launched a recruitment campaign to assemble a unique regiment known as the Potsdamer Riesengarde, or "The Giant Guard of Potsdam". Later recognized as the Potsdam Giants. To populate this special unit, they deployed agents across the continent to search for exceptionally tall individuals. The king offered special incentives, including compensation to parents who produced their tallest sons and to landowners who released their tallest laborers. Prussian teachers were instructed to identify tall children and immediately present them to the king. Infants showing signs of possible heightening were marked with a distinctive bright red scarf. Foreign rulers sent their greatest soldiers to the king to promote friendly relations. Peter the Great of Russia reportedly sent more than fifty legionnaires to Frederick William I.

Most of the men voluntarily joined Frederick William I's regiment. Daniel Cajanus, the "Swedish Giant", left the country in 1723 to join the Potsdam Giants. He was reported to have been 8 feet 1.24 inches tall, but contemporary accounts suggest his height was closer to 7 feet 8 inches, which was still impressive. Those who refused to join the king's regiment were threatened with imprisonment or kidnapping. One of the tallest giants was an Irishman named James Kirkland, who stood 7 feet and 1 inch tall. He had accepted a job as footman for Baron Bourke, the Prussian ambassador to London, but in reality the offer was a trap. Kirkland was sent to a Prussian ship moored in Portsmouth where he was immediately captured, bound and gagged. Then he was sent to the continent.

The "giants" were given the best food and accommodation, they were specially dressed in blue and red uniforms, thick-heeled shoes and 45 cm tall hats to make them look even taller. Soldiers were paid according to their height; The taller a soldier was, the more money he earned. Frederick William I never risked this regiment on the battlefield, as he valued them too highly. Rather, he used them for his pleasure, and forced them to march in front of his window every day. He even drew portraits of soldiers from memory and showed them to foreign visitors and dignitaries to impress them. He once told the French ambassador that "The most beautiful girl or woman in the world would be a matter of indifference to me, but tall soldiers—they are my weakness".

When Frederick died in 1740, his "Potsdam Giants" numbered approximately 3,200 men. However, his son Frederick the Great did not share his father's enthusiasm about the regiment, which he considered an unnecessary expense. He disbanded the regiments and the soldiers were absorbed into various military units. The regiment itself was upgraded to a battalion and deployed in 1745 at Hohenfriedberg during the War of the Austrian Succession and at Rossbach, Leuthen, Hochkirch, Liegnitz and Torgau during the Seven Years' War. The battalion was finally disbanded in 1806.

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