Robert Wadlow

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Robert Pershing Wadlow
File: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 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 439 lb (199 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, was 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 raised 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

Wadlow was born to Addie Johnson and Harold Wadlow in Alton, Illinois, on February 22, 1918, and was the eldest 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. By the time he had graduated from Alton High School in 1936, he was 8 ft 4 in (2.54 m).[1] After graduating he enrolled in Shurtleff College with the intention of studying law.

Later years and death

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, he never used a wheelchair.

Wadlow became a celebrity after his 1936 U.S. tour with the Ringling Brothers Circus. In 1938 he did a promotional tour with the International Shoe Company (since 1966 called INTERCO). They provided him his shoes free of charge. 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. He continued participating in tours and public appearances, though only in his normal street clothes. [5] He possessed great physical strength until the last year of his life, when his strength and his health in general began to deteriorate rapidly.[citation needed]

Wadlow was a member of the Order of DeMolay, the Masonic-sponsored organization for young men. He was also 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 and A.M.. His 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, Missouri.[citation needed]

On July 4, 1940, during a professional appearance at the Manistee National Forest Festival, a faulty brace irritated his ankle, causing a blister and subsequent 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, 11 days after contracting the infection, he died in his sleep at the age of 22.[citation needed] He was buried at the Oakwood Cemetery in Upper Alton Madison County Illinois, USA.


A life-size statue of Wadlow stands on College Avenue in Alton, opposite the Alton Museum of History and Art. It was erected in 1986, in honor of the hometown native.[1][7] Another one 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 of him, made by artist James Butler, exist, and are shipped and displayed in replica caskets.[8]

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

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

In music

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

Wadlow's shoe, size 25 (US, size),[2] size 24 (UK size), size 68 (European size)
Wadlow's shoe compared to a size 12
Age Height Weight Notes Size of Year
Birth 1 ft 8 in (0.51 m) 8 lb 6 oz (3.8 kg) Normal height and weight Average February 22, 1918
6 Months 2 ft 10.5 in (0.88 m) 30 lb (14 kg) 2 year old August 22, 1918
1 Year 3 ft 6 in (1.07 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. 4.5 year old February 22, 1919
18 Months 4 ft 3 in (1.30 m) 67 lb (30 kg) 8 year old August 22, 1919
2 years 4 ft 6 in (1.37 m) 75 lb (34 kg) 10 year old 1920
3 years 4 ft 11 in (1.50 m) 89 lb (40 kg) 12 year old 1921
4 years 5 ft 3 in (1.60 m) 105 pounds (48 kg) 14 year old 1922
5 years 5 ft 6.5 in (1.69 m) 140 pounds (64 kg) At 5 years of age, attending kindergarten, Robert was 5' 6 1/2" tall. He wore clothes that would fit a 17-year-old boy. 15 year old 1923
6 years 5 ft 7 in (1.70 m) 146 pounds (66 kg) 15 year old 1924
7 years 5 ft 10 in (1.78 m) 159 lb (72 kg) Height of adult male 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) up the stairs to the second floor. 1927
10 years 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m) 210 lb (95 kg) Height of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson 1928
11 years 6 ft 11 in (2.11 m) 241 lb (109 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 19 (U.S.) shoes.[9] Billed height of Andre the Giant 1931
14 years 7 ft 5 in (2.26 m) 331 lb (150 kg) Peak height of Peter Mayhew 1932
15 years 7 ft 10 in (2.39 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). Height of Sultan Kosen, the tallest living man. 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, he was the world's tallest man according to the Guinness World Records.[2] June 27, 1940

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "Robert Pershing Wadlow". Alton Museum of History and Art. Retrieved March 7, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 "Tallest Man". Guinness World Records. March 19, 2010. Retrieved 2010-03-19.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> at Wayback machine
  3. "World's Tallest Man". Retrieved March 7, 2012. External link in |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Robert Wadlow, World's Tallest Man, Alton Illinois". Roadside America. Retrieved March 7, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "The King of Giants". The World's Strangest Mysteries. New York: Gallery Books. 1987. p. 702. ISBN 0-8317-9678-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 Colombraro, Rosemarie (2007). "The world's tallest Boy Scout". Boys' Life (February 2007): 24–25.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • 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