Giants have been one of humanity's longest running fascinations. Tales of terrifically tall people have popped up in nearly every culture in the world. Strangely, the inverse is also true. Stories of diminutive folk are just as common.
During the 18th century, King Frederick William I of Prussia formed an elite infantry regiment. He filled it with the tallest men that he could find. Thus, the Grand Grenadiers of Potsdam came into being. These titanic warriors are better known as the 'Potsdamer Riesengarde' The Potsdam Giants.
Frederick William I - Loves Soldiers, and Tall Boys
Prussia was a big empire when Frederick William I took over in 1713. He was the second king of Prussia. Under his guidance, the Prussian military would grow into a force to be feared throughout Europe.
Frederick William I inherited a financially weak state with a standing army of only 38,000 soldiers. He dedicated his life to changing both of these facts. By the time of his death, the army numbered 83,000 and was the 3rd strongest army on the continent.
He was mildly obsessed with changing the lot of his subjects. Believing that an uneducated populace was an inefficient one, he instituted mandatory primary education in 1717. Then, in 1719, he freed the serfs and abolished hereditary leases.
Frederick centralized and streamlined his government. He codified the laws of Prussia. But one passion towered above all others. Tall soldiers.
King Frederick founded a regiment of grenadiers solely for his own enjoyment. Some scholars have theorized that he sought to create the first super-soldiers in history. Others believe that he simply liked big men.
There was only one prerequisite for joining the Grand Grenadiers of Potsdam. Aspirants had to be at least 6 feet (1.8 meters) tall.
Frederick once said to the French ambassador:
The most beautiful girl or woman in the world would be a matter of indifference to me, but tall soldiers—they are my weakness.
The Grand Grenadiers of Potsdam - Entertain Me, Big Boy
You might be thinking that 6 feet isn't tall at all. Some might say, "Wolfenhaas, you silly nut, 6ft is average in most European nations!"
Those of you who said that should prepare to eat your shirt. During the 18th century, the average height of a strapping young man was only 5.6 feet (1.7 meters).
Either way, the Grand Grenadiers of Potsdam were big for their day. Their size earned the regiment the nickname of the Potsdam Giants. Along with the rest of Prussia's army, the Giants adhered to a rigorous training program.
Unfortunately for the bloodthirsty among the tall, they were never deployed in battle. That's because these lanky lads were to be kept near the king at all times. Just in case he got a case of the morbs.
Few can remain sad while a well drilled infantry regiment parades through their bedroom. That's right. King Frederick William I had the Potsdam Giants march through his bedroom when he felt sad, or sick.
Adding to the circus atmosphere of it all, the Potsdam Giants had a pet bear as a mascot.
Kidnapping, Torture, and Eugenics
Well, that headline came out of nowhere. How could there be kidnapping, torture, and eugenics in the story of a beloved regiment of tall show-humans?
While some tall men joined the regiment willingly, others weren't as fortunate. Landowners would be paid large bribes for turning in their tallest farmhands to the state. Foreign dignitaries could curry favor by pawning off the tallest men from their countries.
The tallest Potsdam Giant ever was an Irishman named James Kirkland. He was duped into joining by his superiors. They "allegedly" referred him to the Prussian diplomat in London, and by the time he knew what was happening he had been gagged, bound, and thrown in a ship. The Irish Giant was 7.1 feet tall (2.17 meter), and would have delighted the king to no end.
Frederick William I's obsession with long lads went further down the depravity hole. He is said to have, for a short while, resorted to stretching his Grand Grenadiers on the rack in an attempt to make them even taller.
Eugenics is the "science" of selective breeding in humans. Considering what has been done to dogs, it is theoretically possible to select specific traits and accentuate them in the children of selected parents.
King Frederick made an attempt at producing even taller men by forcing marriages between his lankiest lads and tall women.
Goodbye, Sweet Giants
At its height, the Grand Grenadiers of Potsdam boasted 3,200 soldiers. They may have marched one final time for King Frederick William I before his death in 1740. His son and successor wasn't as impressed with the bigness of these boys.
The third Prussian King was known as Frederick the Great for, you guessed it, being good at war and conquest. He inherited one of the most powerful nations of the era, and he put his 83,000 man strong army to use soon after ascending to the throne. No exception was to be made for the Riesengarde (Potsdam Giants).
They were redistributed among the rest of the army divisions. The main bulk of the regiment saw heavy conflict engagement under Frederick the Great, and his son, Frederick III.
Our tall friends would meet their end at the Battle of Jena in 1806. They went up against Napoleon's state-of-the-art war machine and lost. Recognizing their imminent destruction, what was left of the regiment surrendered and was summarily disbanded soon after.