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Pour le Mérite (Civil Class)

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The Pour le Mérite ( 'For Merit') is an order of merit (German: Verdienstorden) established in 1740 by King Frederick II of Prussia. The Pour le Mérite was awarded as both a military and civil honour and ranked, along with the Order of the Black Eagle, the Order of the Red Eagle and the House Order of Hohenzollern, among the highest orders of merit in the Kingdom of Prussia. The order of merit was the highest royal Prussian order of bravery for officers of all ranks. After 1871, when the various German kingdoms, grand duchies, duchies, principalities and Hanseatic city states had come together under Prussian leadership to form the federally structured German Empire, the Prussian honours gradually assumed, at least in public perception, the status of honours of Imperial Germany, even though many honours of the various German states continued to be awarded.

The Pour le Mérite was an honour conferred both for military (1740–1918) and civil (1740–1810, after 1842 as a separate class) services. It was awarded strictly as a recognition of extraordinary personal achievement, rather than as a general marker of social status or a courtesy-honour, although certain restrictions of social class and military rank were applied. The order was secular, and membership endured for the remaining lifetime of the recipient, unless renounced or revoked.

During the First World War, the Pour le Mérite was known informally as the Blue Max (German: Blauer Max), in honour of flying ace Max Immelmann, the first recipient during the war. Immelmann was also the first aviator to receive the award.

New awards of the military class ceased with the end of the Prussian monarchy in November 1918. The civil class was revived as an independent organization in 1923 (Pour le Mérite für Wissenschaften und Künste). Instead of the King of Prussia, the President of Germany acted as head of the order. After the Second World War, the civil class was re-established in 1952. This version of the Pour le Mérite is still active today. The Pour le Mérite is still an order into which a person is admitted into membership, like the United Kingdom's Order of the British Empire, and is not simply a medal or state decoration. German author Ernst Jünger, who died in 1998, was the last living recipient of the military class award.

Notable recipients

Notable recipients of the Civil class

  • Carl Friedrich Gauss (1842), German mathematician and physicist
  • Felix Mendelssohn (1842), German composer, pianist, organist and conductor
  • Michael Faraday, FRS (1842), English chemist & physicist who contributed to the study of electromagnetism and electrochemistry
  • Franz Liszt (1842), 19th century Hungarian composer, virtuoso pianist and teacher.
  • Theodor Mommsen (1868), German classical scholar, historian, jurist, journalist, politician and archaeologist.
  • Charles Darwin FRS, FRGS, FLS, FZS, JP, (1868), English naturalist, geologist, and biologist, known for his contributions to evolutionary biology.
  • William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin OM, GCVO, PC, PRS, FRSE (1884),. British mathematician, mathematical physicist and engineer
  • Joseph, Lord Lister OM, PC, PRS, FRCS, FRS (1885), British surgeon, medical scientist, experimental pathologist and a pioneer of antiseptic surgery and preventative medicine.
  • Johannes Brahms (1887), German composer, pianist, and conductor and one of the leading musicians of the Romantic period.
  • Giuseppe Verdi (1887), Italian composer best known for his operas.
  • Camille Saint-Saëns (1901), French composer, organist, conductor and pianist
  • Ferdinand, Graf von Zeppelin (1910), German general and later inventor of the Zeppelin rigid airships.
  • Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen (1911), German mechanical engineer and physicist, discoverer of X-rays. Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901.
  • Sir William Ramsay (1911), Scottish chemist who discovered the noble gases, Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1904.
  • Max Planck (1915), German theoretical physicist best known for his Quantum Theory, Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918.
  • Albert Einstein (1923), German-born/American theoretical physicist, widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest and most influential physicists of all time, best known for developing the theory of relativity. Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921.
  • Richard Strauss (1924), German composer, conductor, pianist, and violinist.
  • Otto Heinrich Warburg (1952), German physiologist and physician, discovered the nature and mode of action of the respiratory enzymes. Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1931.
  • Otto Hahn (1952), German chemist; he is regarded as "the father of nuclear chemistry". Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1944.
  • Paul Hindemith (1952), German composer, violist, violinist, teacher and conductor.
  • Arthur Compton (1954), American physicist discovered the Compton effect, which demonstrated the particle nature of electromagnetic radiation. Nobel Prize in Physics in 1927.
  • Hermann Hesse (1954), German and Russian-born Swiss poet, novelist, and painter. Nobel Prize in Literature (1946).
  • Albert Schweitzer (1954), German-French theologian, musician, philosopher, and physician. Nobel Peace Prize (1952).
  • Thomas Mann (1955), German novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist and essayist, Nobel Prize in Literature (1929).
  • Oskar Kokoschka CBE (1955), Austrian artist, poet, playwright, and teacher.
  • Carl Orff (1956), German composer and music educator of children, best known for his cantata Carmina Burana (1937).
  • Erwin Schrödinger (1956). Austrian and naturalized Irish physicist. Developed a number of fundamental results in quantum theory. Nobel Prize in Physics in 1933.
  • Thornton Wilder (1956), American writer. Won 3 Pulitzer Prizes: for a Novel (1927) and for Drama (1938, 1942).
  • Werner Heisenberg (1957), German theoretical physicist and one of the main pioneers of the theory of quantum mechanics. Nobel Prize in Physics in 1927.
  • Lise Meitner (1957), the "German Marie Curie".
  • Otto Klemperer (1967), German-born; 20th-century conductor and composer
  • Henry Moore, OM CH FBA (1972), English artists best known for his semi-abstract monumental bronze sculptures.
  • Rudolf Mößbauer (1996), German physicist who discovered recoilless nuclear resonance fluorescence (Mössbauer effect) the basis for Mössbauer spectroscopy. Nobel Prize in Physics in 1961.
  • Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard (1997), German developmental biologist Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1995.
  • Umberto Eco (1998), Italian medievalist, philosopher, semiotician, novelist, cultural critic, and political and social commentator.
  • Svante Pääbo (2008). Swedish geneticist, expert in genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution. Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2022.
  • Emmanuelle Charpentier (2017), French microbiologist, geneticists, and biochemist, developed a method for genome editing" (through CRISPR). Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020 (with Jennifer Doudna).
  • Herta Müller (2021), Romanian-born German novelist, poet and essayist. Nobel Prize in Literature in 2009.

Recipients of both Military and Civil classes