ALTON, Ill. – Nicknamed “The Gentle Giant,” the tallest man alive in history was 3 feet 2 inches taller than the average man.
Robert Pershing Wadlow was born in Alton, Illinois, in February 1918. He grew to be 8 feet 11 inches tall, weighed 490 lbs, and had a shoe size of 37, according to an online article by the Alton Musem of History and Art.
The article states that Wadlow’s augmented size was caused by his overactive pituitary gland, “which produced much higher than normal levels of growth hormone.”
“Today’s medical science can compensate for such problems – but in the 1920s there was no therapy available.”
He was the oldest of five children to Addie and Harold Wadlow – all of who were of average height and weight.
At birth, Wadlow was average-sized, weighing 8 pounds, 6 ounces. It was not until he was six months old that he started to grow exponentially. At six months, he weighed 30 lbs, and at 18 months, he weighed 62 lbs.
By the time Wadlow was eight years old, he had reached a height of 6 feet 2 inches and weighed 195 lbs, according to the online article.
At 13, he was the tallest Boy Scout at 7 feet 4 inches. He later became a member of DeMolay and the Masons. Some of his other hobbies were collecting stamps and photography.
By the time Wadlow turned18, he was 8 feet 4 inches tall. It was then he became the new titleholder as being the tallest man. The record was formerly held by an Irishman who died in 1877.
“His clothing required three times the normal amount of cloth, and his size 37 shoes cost $100.00 a pair (a lot of money back in the 1930s),” according to the online article.
His shoes eventually were provided free by the International Shoe Company.
Growing up, Wadlow was overall in good health, except for his feet.
“He had little sensation in his feet and did not feel any chafing until blisters formed,” the online article states.
In July 1940, he died from an infectious blister. He was 22.
Wadlow’s casket weighed 1,000 lbs that took about 12 pallbearers along with eight other men to carry. All businesses in Alton closed for his funeral where more than 40,000 people signed his guest book, according to the online article.
“He is remembered as a quiet young man who overcame a unique handicap, and who was an inspiration to all of those that knew him,” the article states.
A statue of Wadlow can be seen on the campus of the Southern Illinois University School of Dental Medicine.
For more facts and other information about Wadlow, visit the Alton Museum of History and Art’s website.