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from German das eiserne kreuz, instituted by Frederick Wilhelm III of Prussia, originally for distinguished military service in the wars against Napoleon.
Prussian military decoration instituted in 1813 by Frederick William III for distinguished service in the Prussian War of Liberation. Use of the decoration was revived by William I for the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, recreated in 1914 for World War I, and last revived by Adolf Hitler on Sept. 1, 1939, the same day that German forces invaded Poland.