Robert Wadlow

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Robert Wadlow
Robert Wadlow.jpg
Robert Wadlow compared to his father, Harold Franklin Wadlow, whose height was 1.82 m (5 ft 11 12 in)
Born (1918-02-22)February 22, 1918
Alton, Illinois
Died July 15, 1940(1940-07-15) (aged 22)
Manistee, Michigan[1]
Cause of death
Parasitic infection
Nationality American
Education Alton High School
Alma mater Shurtleff College
Known for Tallest verified human being
Home town Alton, Illinois
Height 8 ft 11.1 in (2.72 m)[2]
Weight 492 lb (223 kg)
Parent(s) Harold Franklin Wadlow
Addie Johnson

Robert Pershing Wadlow (February 22, 1918 – July 15, 1940) also known as the Alton Giant and the Giant of Illinois, is the tallest person in recorded history for whom there is irrefutable evidence. The Alton and Illinois monikers reflect the fact that he was born and grew up in Alton, Illinois.[1]

Wadlow reached 8 ft 11.1 in (2.72 m)[2][3][4] in height and weighed 439 lb (199 kg) at his death at age 22. His great size and his continued growth in adulthood were due to hyperplasia of his pituitary gland, which results in an abnormally high level of human growth hormone. He showed no indication of an end to his growth even at the time of his death.

Early life[edit]

Robert Pershing Wadlow was born to Addie Johnson and Harold Wadlow in Alton, Illinois, on February 22, 1918, and was the oldest of five children. He was taller than his father at age 8, and in elementary school they had to make a special desk for him due to his size. After graduating from Alton High School in 1936, he enrolled in Shurtleff College with the intention of studying law. By the time he had graduated from high school, he was 8 ft 4 in (2.54 m).[1]

Later years[edit]

Wadlow's size began to take its toll: he required leg braces to walk and had little feeling in his legs and feet. Despite these difficulties, Wadlow never used a wheelchair.

Wadlow became a celebrity after his 1936 U.S. tour with the Ringling Brothers Circus and his 1938 promotional tour with the INTERCO. He continued participating in tours and public appearances, though only in his normal street clothes. His shoes were provided to him free of charge by a shoe company for which he did promotional work and appearances.[5] Examples still exist in several locations throughout the US, including Snyder's Shoe Store of Ludington and Manistee, Michigan, and the Alton Museum of History and Art. Wadlow possessed great physical strength, even being above average in strength for someone his own size, until the last year of his life, in which his strength and his health in general had begun to deteriorate rapidly.

Wadlow was a Freemason. In 1939, he petitioned Franklin Lodge #25 in Alton, Illinois, and by late November of that year[6] was raised to the degree of Master Mason under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Illinois A.F & A.M. Wadlow's Freemason ring was the largest ever made.[citation needed]

One year before his death, Wadlow passed John Rogan as the tallest person ever. On June 27, 1940 (eighteen days before his death), he was measured at 8 ft 11.1 in (2.72 m) by doctors C. M. Charles and Cyril MacBryde of Washington University in St. Louis.[citation needed]

On July 4, 1940 (11 days before his death), during a professional appearance at the Manistee National Forest Festival, a faulty brace irritated his ankle, causing a blister and subsequent parasitic infection. Doctors treated him with a blood transfusion and emergency surgery, but his condition worsened due to an autoimmune disorder, and on July 15, 1940, he died in his sleep at the age of 22.[citation needed]


A life-size statue of Wadlow stands on College Avenue in Alton, opposite the Alton Museum of History and Art. The statue was erected in 1986, in honor of the hometown native.[1][7] Another statue of him stands in the Guinness Museum in Niagara Falls, and others are at several of the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museums. A group of six life-size models, made by artist James Butler, exist, and are shipped and displayed in replica caskets.[8]

Another life-size statue may be viewed at Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum in Farmington Hills, Michigan. In front of the statue is a small, quarter-operated 'TV-box', which plays a short, documentary movie about the extraordinarily short life of this tall man.

He is still affectionately known as the "Gentle Giant."[9]

In music[edit]

The 1998 song "The Giant of Illinois," by The Handsome Family (and later covered by Andrew Bird) honors Wadlow. In 2005, Sufjan Stevens recorded "The Tallest Man, the Broadest Shoulders" about Wadlow for the Illinois album. A picture of Wadlow with his family is featured on the back cover of the VHS version of the Talking Heads music video compilation, Storytelling Giant.

Height chart[edit]

Wadlow's shoe, size 37AA (US, size),[2] size 36 (UK size), size 71 (European size)
Wadlow's shoe compared to a size 12
Statue of Wadlow in Copenhagen
Age Height Weight Notes Year
Birth 1 ft 6.25 in (0.46 m) 8 lb 6 oz (3.8 kg) Normal height and weight. February 22, 1918
6 Months 2 ft 10.5 in (0.88 m) 30 lb (14 kg) August 22, 1918
12 Months 3 ft 5.75 in (1.06 m) 45 lb (20 kg) When he began to walk at 11 months, he was 3 ft 3.5 in (1.00 m) tall and weighed 40 lbs. February 22, 1919
18 Months 4 ft 3 in (1.30 m) 67 lb (30 kg) August 22, 1919
2 years 4 ft 6 in (1.37 m) 75 lb (34 kg) 1920
3 years 4 ft 11 in (1.50 m) 89 lb (40 kg) 1921
4 years 5 ft 4 in (1.63 m) 105 pounds (48 kg) 1922
5 years 5 ft 6.5 in (1.69 m) 120 pounds (54 kg) Taller than his mother Addie Johnson Wadlow 1923
6 years 5 ft 7 in (1.70 m) 160 pounds (73 kg) 1924
7 years 5 ft 10 in (1.78 m) 164.5 lb (74.6 kg) 1925
8 years 6 ft 0 in (1.83 m) 169 lb (77 kg) 1926
9 years 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m) 180 lb (82 kg) Weighing 180 pounds, he was strong enough to carry his father (who was sitting in a living room chair while being carried) up the stairs to the second floor. 1927
10 years 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m) 210 lb (95 kg) 1928
11 years 6 ft 11 in (2.11 m) 267.5 lb (121.3 kg) 1929
12 years 7 ft 2 in (2.18 m) 287 lb (130 kg) 1930
13 years 7 ft 4 in (2.24 m) 301 lb (137 kg) World's tallest Boy Scout, averaging a growth of 4 inches (10 cm) per year since birth and wearing size 25 (U.S.) shoes.[9] 1931
14 years 7 ft 5 in (2.26 m) 331 lb (150 kg) 1932
15 years 7 ft 8 in (2.34 m) 354 lb (161 kg) 1933
16 years 8 ft 1.5 in (2.48 m) 374 lb (170 kg) 1934
17 years 8 ft 3 in (2.51 m) 382 lb (173 kg) Graduated from high school on January 8, 1936 and was 8 ft 3 in (2.51 m). 1935
18 years 8 ft 4 in (2.54 m) 391 lb (177 kg) 1936
19 years 8 ft 6 in (2.59 m) 480 lb (220 kg) 1937
20 years 8 ft 7 in (2.62 m) 488 lb (221 kg) 1938
21 years 8 ft 8 in (2.64 m) 492 lb (223 kg) 1939
22.4 years 8 ft 11.1 in (2.72 m) 439 lb (199 kg) At death, Robert Wadlow was the world's tallest man according to the Guinness World Records.[2] June 27, 1940

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Robert Pershing Wadlow". Alton Museum of History and Art. Retrieved March 7, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Tallest Man". Guinness World Records. March 19, 2010. Retrieved 2010-03-19.  at Wayback machine
  3. ^ "World's Tallest Man". Retrieved March 7, 2012. 
  4. ^ "Robert Wadlow, World's Tallest Man, Alton Illinois". Roadside America. Retrieved March 7, 2012. 
  5. ^ Drimmer, Frederick (1991). "The Tallest Man in the World". Born different : amazing stories of very special people. New York: Bantam. p. 60. ISBN 055315897X. 
  6. ^ Robert Wadlow "worlds tallest man, worlds tallest mason" Illinois Freemasonry Magazine, Vol. 15, No. 1, Winter 2009 p.5
  7. ^ Brannan, Dan (2010-07-14). "Wadlow died 70 years ago Thursday". The Telegraph. Retrieved 4 March 2011. 
  8. ^ "The King of Giants". The World's Strangest Mysteries. New York: Gallery Books. 1987. p. 702. ISBN 0-8317-9678-2. 
  9. ^ a b Colombraro, Rosemarie (2007). "The world's tallest Boy Scout". Boys' Life (February 2007): 24–25. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Brannan, Dan. (2003) Boy Giant. Alton Museum of History and Art.
  • Fadner, Frederic, assisted by Harold F. Wadlow. (1944) The gentleman giant; the biography of Robert Pershing Wadlow. Boston, B. Humphries, Inc.
  • Hamilton, Sandra. (1993) Looking back and up: At Robert Pershing Wadlow, The Gentle Giant. Alton Museum of History and Art.
  • Phillips, Jennifer. (2010) "Robert Wadlow--The Unique Life of the Boy Who Became the World's Tallest Man." Nose in a Book Publishing.
Preceded by
John Rogan
Tallest Recognized person ever
Succeeded by

External links[edit]