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. He toured as a sideshow performer , the Alton and Illinois monikers reflect that he was born and raised in Alton, Illinois.
Wadlow reached 8 ft 11.1 in (2.72 m) 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.
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). 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 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. 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. 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".
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.
|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.||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 lb (48 kg)||14 year old||1922|
|5 years||5 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 old||1923|
|6 years||5 ft 7 in (1.70 m)||146 lb (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)||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.||1931|
|14 years||7 ft 5 in (2.26 m)||331 lb (150 kg)||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.||June 27, 1940|