The first emperor of the German Empire, Wilhelm I Hohenzollern, was born in Berlin on this day in 1797. According to his year of birth, Wilhelm I was a peer of Franz Schubert and Heinrich Heine. At the time when Wilhelm was a boy, his native Prussia was invaded by Napoleon’s troops. Wilhelm’s mother – Queen Louise of Prussia – distinguished herself on that occasion when she personally talked with Napoleon Bonaparte, trying to secure better peace terms for Prussia.
Already at the age of 10, Wilhelm was an officer in the Prussian Army, which was characteristic for that highly-militarized country. It is interesting that Wilhelm even fought at Waterloo, where Napoleon suffered his final defeat. Wilhelm attained the rank of general when he was still a young man.
In 1861, Wilhelm became the King of Prussia, succeeding his older brother. The famous Otto von Bismarck, one of the most influential statesmen in 19th-century Europe, became Wilhelm’s prime minister. During Wilhelm’s reign, Prussia defeated both Austria and France, proving itself to be a first-class European power.
After his victory over French emperor Napoleon III, whom the Germans even managed to capture, Wilhelm I was declared the German emperor in Versailles in 1871. At that moment he was already 73 years old, but still managed to rule another full 17 years. He died in 1888, at the high age of 90 years.