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 ever in human recorded history for whom there is irrefutable evidence.[5] He toured as a sideshow performer , the Alton and Illinois monikers reflect that he was born and raised in Alton, Illinois.[2]

Wadlow reached 8 ft 11.1 in (2.72 m)[8][6][7] 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 death.



Early life

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 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).[2] 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 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. He possessed great physical strength until the last year of his life, when his strength and his health in general began to deteriorate rapidly.

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[8] 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.

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.

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. 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.[2][19][20] He was buried at the 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.[2][9] Others stand in the Guinness Museums in Niagara Falls and Gatlinburg, 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 caskets.

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".

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

AgeHeightWeightNotesSize ofYear
Birth1 ft 8 in (0.51 m)8 lb 6 oz (3.8 kg)Normal height and weightAverageFebruary 22, 1918
6 Months2 ft 10.5 in (0.88 m)30 lb (14 kg) 2 year oldAugust 22, 1918
1 Year3 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.5 year oldFebruary 22, 1919
18 Months4 ft 3 in (1.30 m)67 lb (30 kg) 8 year oldAugust 22, 1919
2 years4 ft 6 in (1.37 m)75 lb (34 kg) 10 year old1920
3 years4 ft 11 in (1.50 m)89 lb (40 kg) 12 year old1921
4 years5 ft 3 in (1.60 m)105 lb (48 kg) 14 year old1922
5 years5 ft 6.5 in (1.69 m)140 lb (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 old1923
6 years5 ft 7 in (1.70 m)146 lb (66 kg) 15 year old1924
7 years5 ft 10 in (1.78 m)159 lb (72 kg) Height of adult male1925
8 years6 ft 0 in (1.83 m)169 lb (77 kg)  1926
9 years6 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 years6 ft 5 in (1.96 m)210 lb (95 kg)  1928
11 years6 ft 11 in (2.11 m)241 lb (109 kg)  1929
12 years7 ft 2 in (2.18 m)287 lb (130 kg)  1930
13 years7 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. 1931
14 years7 ft 5 in (2.26 m)331 lb (150 kg)  1932
15 years7 ft 10 in (2.39 m)354 lb (161 kg)  1933
16 years8 ft 1.5 in (2.48 m)374 lb (170 kg)  1934
17 years8 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 years8 ft 4 in (2.54 m)391 lb (177 kg)  1936
19 years8 ft 6 in (2.59 m)480 lb (220 kg)  1937
20 years8 ft 7 in (2.62 m)488 lb (221 kg)  1938
21 years8 ft 8 in (2.64 m)492 lb (223 kg)  1939
22.4 years8 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.[8] June 27, 1940

See also