The Pour le Mérite (Fr.: „For Merit“) was 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 (German: Verdienstorden) in the Kingdom of Prussia. After 1871, when various German kingdoms, duchies and principalities had come together under Prussian leadership to form the 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.
New awards of the military class (known in First World War informally as the Blue Max, German: Blauer Max) 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 still is 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.