He spent his youth in Neustrelitz and later went to study history and jurisprudence in Bonn. After finishing his studies, he went travelling to Italy and Switzerland. He became a Doctor of Civil Law of the University of Oxford.
Friedrich Wilhelm succeeded as Grand Duke on the death of his father on 6 September 1860.
During his reign, Mecklenburg-Strelitz became a member first of the North German Confederation and then the German Empire. Friedrich Wilhelm was a large land owner with more than half of the entire grand duchy his personal property.
17 October 1819 – 6 September 1860: His Royal Highness The Hereditary Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz 6 September 1860 – 30 May 1904: His Royal Highness The Grand Duke of Mecklenburg.