The award was first founded in 1667, named in French, the language of the royal court, for merit. Until 1810 the award was both a civilian and military honor. In January of that year, Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm III decreed that the award could only be presented to serving military personnel.
In 1842, the Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm IV founded the so-called peace class of the award, the Pour le Mérite für Wissenschaften und Künste (Order Pour le mérite for scientists and artists), with the three sections humanities, natural science and fine arts. One of the most famous artists who received the peace class of Pour le Mérite was Käthe Kollwitz (she was deprived of it later by the Nazis).
It was during the First World War that the award gained its primary notoriety. Although it could be awarded to any military official, it was most well known as an award for aerial combat. In the aerial war a fighter pilot was initially entitled to the award upon downing eight enemy aircraft. Ace Max Immelmann was the first airman to receive the award, after which it became known - on account of its color and its recipient - as the Blue Max among his fellow pilots.
|Manfred von Richthofen|
wearing The Blue Max
Recipients of the Blue Max were required to wear the medal whenever in uniform.
In 1952, Bundespräsident (head of state of the Federal Republic of Germany) Theodor Heuss revived the order once again as an autonomous organization under the protectorate of the German President (although it is as such not a state order like the Bundesverdienstkreuz).