The first lifesaving decorations were introduced in the second half of the XVIII century by public institutions aimed at prevention of water accidents that have been established in several European countries with well developed maritime navigation. Thus, Gesellschaft zur Rettung von Ertrinkenden has been founded in 1767 in the Netherlands, and Hamburgische Rettungs-Anstalt für Ertrunkene und Erstickte a.k.a. Anstalt für im Wasser verunglückte Menschen in 1768 in Hamburg.
Medal instituted by the British Society for the Recovery of Persons Apparently Drowned (later “Humane Society” and then “Royal Humane Society”) in 1775 was the first-ever lifesaving decoration.
Medaille für Rettung Schiffbrüchiger colloquially referred to as Mulard-Medaille is considered to be the very first Prussian lifesaving award. That unique decoration was minted to be personally presented to the heroic French angler Antoine Mulard who with the help of his brother-in-law Maquignon saved from certain death thirteen Prussian sailors from the cargo sailer “August Ludewig” on March 09, 1782. The vessel was heading from Stettin but has been shipwrecked near Calais in a strong storm. Interestingly, an article subsequently published in the Journal de literature, des sciences et des arts, 1783, Tome V and dedicated to the decoration of Mulard, stated only nine, but not thirteen Prussian sailors from “August Ludewig” have been saved.
Wilhelm Bernhard von der Goltz (1736-06.02.1795), the Prussian envoy in France, informed Ewald Friedrich von Hertzberg (02.09.1725-27.05.1795), head of the Prussian diplomacy, of the heroic deed. The minister, in turn, informed ill-fated ship owner Welthausen suggesting that he petition the King of Prussia for decoration of Antoine Mulard with an award. Friedrich the Great granted the royal permission to mint a gold medal weighing 20 ducats with funding from Welthausen, and after mintage it was sent to von Hertzberg who presented it to the selfless Frenchman together with the note of thanks in the year of 1782 or 1783. Having been presented with the medal, Antoine Mulard submitted request to the Secretary of State of the Navy Charles Eugene Gabriel de La Croix (25.02.1727-11.01.1801) asking permission to wear it in the buttonhole. His request was granted, and Mulard was entitled to wear the medal in the buttonhole suspended from the blue ribbon.
Obverse with raised border was identical to the image from the West Prussian Minor Tribute Medal (Kleine Huldigungsmedaille) struck by Jacob Abraham (1723-17.06.1800) in the year of 1772. It showed bust of Friedrich II, King of Prussia, crowned with a laurel wreath and facing right. Semicircular Latin inscription “Friedrich King of Prussia” (“Fridericus Borussorum Rex”) in capital letters was placed above. Raised border had floral design made of laurel leaves above and semicircular Latin inscription “Ant.Mulard Calet. Ano Observat. XIII Borussos d. IX Mart 1782” in capital letters below.Obverse with raised border was identical to the image from the West Prussian Minor Tribute Medal (Kleine Huldigungsmedaille) struck by Jacob Abraham (1723-17.06.1800) in the year of 1772. It showed bust of Friedrich II, King of Prussia, crowned with a laurel wreath and facing right. Semicircular Latin inscription “Friedrich King of Prussia” (“Fridericus Borussorum Rex”) in capital letters was placed above. Raised border had floral design made of laurel leaves above and semicircular Latin inscription “Ant.Mulard Calet. Ano Observat. XIII Borussos d. IX Mart 1782” in capital letters below.
Reverse with raised border was similar to that of the Prussian medal commemorating Berlin insurance society struck in 1777 by the court jeweler Daniel Friedrich Loos (15.06.1735- 01.10.1819). It showed storm-swept three-master in distress and Mercury, antique God of Trade, hovering above the sailer and repulsing stroke of lightning with his shield. Latin legend “No One Is at Risk with Such an Extensive Protection” (“Sub hoc fideli tuta” on the left and “praesidio merces” on the right) in capital letters was minted above in semi-circle. Circular medal measuring 44 mm in diameter and weighing 69,8 g was manufactured of gold at the Berlin Mint. Unfortunately, that unique decoration has not been preserved and all we have nowadays are just three copies, two silver an one tin, kept in museums.
Award system of the Kingdom of Prussia had no special lifesaving decoration for a long period of time since mintage of the unique Mulard-Medaille. As a rule, the person who performed the feat was given a monetary reward, which was collected by the relatives of the rescued. As for recognition by the Kingdom authorities, the hero could be granted a Tribute medal (Huldigungsmedaille). Meanwhile, the idea of the need for the introduction of a special decoration of a single pattern for rewarding those subjects who performed heroic deeds for the salvation of people became increasingly persistent in the Prussian society. It was Wilhelm Joachim Friedrich von Hake (10.12.1746-02.07.1819), head of local authority (Koniglich Landrath) of the district of Teltow, who had drawn the line under that issue by submitting report to the King on February 03, 1802 in which he offered decoration of distinguished persons who had put out a large fire in his district.
Eventually Friedrich Wilhelm III has instituted Reward Medal (Pramien-Medaille or Belohnungsmedaille) on March 06, 1802 that was to be presented “to all those who stepped forward to help their fellow citizens in an hour of trouble” (“fur alle diejenigen, welche sich zur Rettung und Hulfe ihrer Mitburger im Gefahr begaben”). Design of the medal was elaborated by Johann Gottfried Schadow (20.05.1764-27.01.1850), sculptor and artist, together with Johann Jacob Engel (11.09.1741-28.06.1802), writer and former tutor of Friedrich Wilhelm III as a Crown prince. Obverse die was created by Daniel Friedrich Loos, while reverse die by Johann Veit Doll (01.02.1750-15.10.1835), engraver of his company. Alternative die was created by their rival, Abraham Abramson (1752 or 1754-28.07.1811), son of the aforementioned Jacob Abraham. Friedrich Wilhelm III had opted, however, for dies by Loos and Doll. The gold specimen created by Abramson unfortunately has not been preserved.
Obverse with raised border showed bust of Friedrich Wilhelm III facing left and two semicircular inscriptions one on top of the other in capital letters: “Friedrich Wilhelm III King of Prussia” (“Friedrich Wilhelm III K?nig von Preussen”) – above, and “Decorates for Saving of Human Life” (“Belohner der rettenden N?chstenliebe”) – below. The latter was executed in slightly smaller print. Name of the medallist – “Loos” – was minted in small print at the very bottom of the obverse.
Reverse with raised border showed allegoric composition that consisted of the house on fire in the midst of the waves (in the background); left arm gripping fashioned shield and emerging from the cloud (in the foreground); head of the demigod Aeolus, keeper of the winds in the Greek mythology, blowing out the fire on the roof, and two lightning bolts below (in the left upper corner). The source the quotation stated below was taken from has been minted below the horizontal cut as “Matth•25 V•40” in capital letters, i.e. “The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, Chapter 25, Verse 40”. The composition described above was circumscribed “Whatever You Did for One of the Least of these Brothers and Sisters of Mine, You Did for Me” (“Was ihr gethan habt einem unter diesen meinen geringsten Brudern, das habt ihr mir gethan”) in capital letters. Stylized pentapetalous flower as a separation symbol was minted at the very top.
Medals were struck in gold, silver and gilt bronze.
First two non-portable medals weighing 20 ducats were minted of gold on October 08, 1802 and were presented during that same month.
The next decoration took place in 1804, when twelve silver medals were presented to distinguished lifesavers who participated in relief efforts following floods in the Silesian mountains. It is noteworthy that holders of those silver medals were authorized to solder eyelets and wear decorations as neck awards on blue ribbons.
Come spring 1804, another non-portable gold medal with the weight of 16 ducats has been minted. Medaille fur Rettung aus Gefahr measuring 49,99 mm in diameter and weighing 54,98 g was presented on May 03, 1804 to Christoph Ludwig Kruger (1736-1820), Lutheran priest who officiated at the churches of Wilmersdorf and Steinhoefel near Neu-Angermunde. That medal was bestowed by Friedrich Wilhelm III in violation of its statute, not for the extraordinary heroism in saving human life but for the writing of a book “Annotations to the Small Catechism by Dr.Martin Luther” (Anmerkung zu Dr.Martin Luthers kleinen Katechismus, 1804).
Another non-portable gold medal weighing 20 ducats was minted in July 1806. Totally four gold medals were presented in recorded history.
The next documented presentation of medals took place on August 26, 1811 when chimneysweep Langhammer and blacksmith Mattibe received decorations for their heroism during fighting fire in the church of Freyhan (now Cieszkow in Poland) in July that year. However, those two heroes were not allowed to wear their medals as portable awards (unlike twelve lifesavers mentioned above who received decorations in 1804). Prohibition was subsequently legitimated by the Royal Order dated December 09, 1811 drafted on the basis of the proposals made by the General Order Commission of the Kingdom of Prussia.
Totally six non-portable medals have been presented in the year of 1811.
Medals manufactured of gilt bronze measured 49-50 mm in diameter and weighed 29,5 g approximately.
Medals for Saving from Danger of 1802 pattern were presented until 1832 or 1833.
Non-portable Commemorative Medal for Saving from Danger (Erinnerungsmedaille fur Rettung aus Gefahr) was instituted on September 23, 1833 by the Decree of Friedrich Wilhelm III, the King of Prussia who ruled from November 16, 1797 until June 07, 1840. It should be noted that non-portable medal was regarded as the lowest class of the lifesaving decoration, its highest class being portable Honorary Medal of Merit for Saving from Danger (Verdienst-Ehrenzeichen fur Rettung aus Gefahr, since 1902 – Rettungsmedaille am Bande) instituted on August 16, 1833. The medal was awarded to any person (not only Prussian subject, by the way) who either had saved another person without direct danger to his own life or risked his life to save another person from deadly danger but failed. Name of the awardee and saved person could have been minted on the edge of the medal.
All non-portable medals were struck in silver.
Erinnerungsmedaille fur Rettung aus Gefahr was manufactured by the Berlin-based company of Gottfried Bernhard Loos until 1881. As its die stamp was created by the medalist Christoph Carl Pfeuffer (29.10.1801-24.12.1861), medals of first two models, i.e. manufactured in 1833-1882 bore Latin inscription “Guided by G.Loos, Executed by C.Pfeuffer” (“G. Loos D. C. Pfeuffer F.”) in small capital letters minted just below the bust of the monarch. Come 1881, Karl Hermann Bitter (27.02.1813-12.09.1885), Prussian Finance Minister, issued a decree granting Royal Mint with an exclusive right to mint that decoration. According to the instruction of the Prussian State Ministry dated November 07, 1881, production of lifesaving medals, both portable (Verdienst-Ehrenzeichen fur Rettung aus Gefahr) and non-portable (Erinnerungsmedaille fur Rettung aus Gefahr) ones had been transferred to the Royal Mint. First batch of non-portable medals was manufactured there in December 1882.
As a rule, medals were awarded to subjects who have attained the age of 18 years. Matters of decoration of those under that age were considered by the King of Prussia personally.
Certain awardees ordered non-regulation eyelet to be soldered to the medal and wore decoration tagged on to the watch chain.
Obverse with raised border showed bust of the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm III facing left and circumscribed “Friedrich Wilhelm III King of Prussia” (“Friedrich Wilhelm III Koenig von Preussen”) in capital letters. Large stylized pentapetalous flower was minted at the top of the legend as a separation symbol. Latin inscription “Guided by G.Loos, Executed by C.Pfeuffer” (“G. Loos D. C. Pfeuffer F.”) in small capital letters was minted just below the bust of the monarch, protruding on the right.
Reverse with raised border had inscription “For Saving from Danger” (“Fur Rettung aus Gefahr”) in capital letters running in four horizontal lines encircled with wide oak leaves wreath.
Circular medals measured 50,6 mm in diameter and weighed 58,5 g. Approximately 1,500 medals were minted.
Design of the M1870 medal was nearly identical to that of the 1833 model except for the following details: stylized flower was slightly smaller in size; inscription below the bust didn’t project beyond the overall width of the neck; font size on reverse was slightly bigger. Interestingly, unlike portable medals, spelling of the word “King” in the old orthography, i.e. “Koenig” remained unchanged on non-portable medals until the end of their production in 1918.
Totally 420 medals were minted.
After production of medals has been transferred to the Berlin Mint in 1881, new die stamp was created by the medalist Emil Weigand (20.11.1837-25.03.1906) who slightly changed design of the royal bust. Inscription below bust of the King was absent. Pentapetalous flower at the top of the legend on obverse gave way to a heptapetalous one, with additional eighth dot in its centre.
Circular medals measured 50,7 mm in diameter and weighed 55,7 g. Approximately 1,350 medals were minted.
Design of the M1911 medal was nearly identical to that of the 1882 model except for the outline of the letter “A” on reverse: its transversal line was of angular nature. Totally 310 medals of that pattern were minted.