Facts About the Tallest Man

Robert Pershing Wadlow (February 22,
1918 – July 15, 1940), also known as the
Alton Giant and the Giant of Illinois, was
an American who became famous as the
tallest person in recorded history for
whom there is irrefutable evidence.[3] He
was born and raised in Alton, Illinois.[1]
Wadlow reached 8 ft 11.1 in (2.72 m)[2]
[5][6] in height and weighed 490 lb
(220 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
Early life
Wadlow was born in Alton, Illinois on
February 22, 1918 to Harold Franklin and
Addie May (Johnson) Wadlow, and was
the oldest of five children. He was taller
than his father by the age of 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. They
provided him his shoes free of charge.
Examples of the shoes still exist in several
locations throughout the U.S., 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.[7] He possessed great
physical strength until the last year of his
life, when his strength and his health in
general began to deteriorate rapidly.[8]
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[9] 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 (18 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.[1]
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.[10][1] His coffin measured 10 feet
9 inches (3.28 m) long by 32 inches
(81 cm) wide by 30 inches (76 cm) deep,
weighed 1,000 pounds (450 kg) and was
carried by twelve pallbearers and eight
assistants.[1][11][12] His body was buried
at Oakwood Cemetery in Upper Alton,
Madison County, Illinois.
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 well-
known native.[1][13] Others stand in the
Guinness Museums in Niagara Falls,
Ontario and Gatlinburg, Tennessee, as well
as 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
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 extraordinary short life.
Wadlow is still affectionately known as the
"Gentle Giant".[15]
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.

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