No One Taller: The Life Of The Gentle Giant Who Grew To 8.11 Feet


November 17, 2017 14:47 By Fabiosa

Robert Pershing Wadlow, or the Gentle Giant of Illinois, was the tallest person to ever live, as attested to by the fact that he is in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Suffering from a pituitary tumor and acromegaly, Wadlow died at 22. He continued to grow for his entire, although short, life. When he died, his height was 272 cm (8 feet 11 inches), his armspan was 288 cm (9 feet 5 inches), and he weighed 199 kg (438 lbs). His maximum weight reached 233 kg (491 lbs)!

At his maximum recorded height, he was 15 centimeters taller than Leonid Stadnyk of Ukraine (2 meters 57 centimeters), who died in 2014, and 21 centimeters taller than the still-living Sultan Kosen (251 centimeters). These figures are taken from the Guinness Book of World Records.


Robert was born in Alton, Illinois on February 22, 1918. He was the eldest of five children in the Wadlow family; the other children were not unusually tall, and neither were his parents. When Wadlow was born, he was a normal sized baby at 3.6 kg (8 lbs).

But just one year after he was born, he was already more than a meter (3 ft.) tall and he weighed 20 kg (44 lbs). At eight years old he was taller than his father. In order for him to go to primary school, his parents had to order a special desk!


Wadlow went to a normal school and was known for his kindness and optimistic attitude. He liked to play popular children's games with his friends, standing out only because of his immense size.

At age 8, Robert was 188 cm (6 feet 2 inches) tall, and at 9 he could easily carry his father up the stairs. At 10, he was 198 cm (6 feet 6 inches) and weighed 100 kg (220 lbs).

As the years went by the boy continued to grow, and he eventually surpassed everyone in height. By 13 he was already 2.23 meters (7 feet 7 inches) tall, which made him the tallest boy scout in the world.

Interestingly, the problem of shoes and clothing was solved without difficulty. Since the "young giant" became the pride of America, he ended up getting everything for free.


Doctors came to the conclusion that young Wadlow's unusual growth was due to hyperplasia of the pituitary gland, which leads to an abnormally high concentration of growth hormone in the human body.

Soon the teenager's huge size began to cause problems. Robert loved to play the guitar and take pictures, but his hands became too big for him to do either.

Additionally, the young man had to use crutches when he walked because he had lost some of the feeling in his lower legs. However, Wadlow firmly refused to use a wheelchair; as long as he was alive, he wanted to stand on his own two feet.


Robert had a shy, quiet, mild personality, so people began to fondly refer to him as Gentle Giant.


When Wadlow was 18, he graduated from high school and entered university to study law. In that same year he joined Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, traveling the country and advertising for an international shoe company, which in turn supplied him with shoes in his unique size - 37AA (49 cm; 19 inches).

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In 1937, Wadlow stood 2 meters 55 centimeters (8 feet 4 inches) tall. At that point he officially became the tallest man in the world, surpassing the previous record holder John Rogan, who was 244 cm (8 feet).

By way of comparison: In the 1960s, according to the World Health Organization, the average height of men in the USSR was 168 cm (5'6"), and women 157 cm (5'2"). Over the next 50 years, the height of both men and women increased by about 8 cm (3 inches): according to data for 2013, the average height of men in Russia was 174 cm (5'8"), and women 163 cm (5'4") .


Despite his health problems, Wadlow was a very active young man. He traveled extensively, made public appearances, and attracted a great deal of attention everywhere he went.

On July 4, 1940, during a public appearance on Independence Day, a faulty brace irritated his ankle, causing a blister and subsequent infection, which led to sepsis. Robert was 22 at the time.


For more than ten days, doctors tried to save the famous American's life with blood transfusions and emergency surgery, but despite their efforts, on July 15th, the tallest man in the world died peacefully in his sleep.

Forty thousand people attended Wadlow's funeral. His coffin weighed half a ton and had to be carried by 12 people. The family requested that the young man's grave be carefully sealed with concrete, as they were afraid that his remains would be stolen.

Robert Pershing Wadlow's gravestone is twice as big as a standard one. Only two words are written on it: "At Rest." 


Eighteen days before he died, Gentle Giant was measured for the last time. He was 2.72 meters  (8 feet 11 inches) tall, which showed that he was still growing.

Until the final days of his life, Wadlow had great physical strength and never gave up. The American public loved him not just for his amazing size, but also for his undying optimism.

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