HomeRobert Wadlow: Story of the Tallest Man Ever

Robert Wadlow: Story of the Tallest Man Ever

Robert Wadlow also popularly referred to as the Alton Giant and the Giant of Illinois was the tallest person ever recorded by the Guinness Book of World Records.

Robert Wadlow who died at the age of 22 was 8 ft 11.1 in (2.72 m) and weighed 439 lb (199 kg) at the time of his death.

Let us explore the story of Robert Wadlow, the tallest man ever in our article below!

Everything you need to know about Robert Wadlow

Robert’s abnormal height and huge size in adulthood were because of hypertrophy of his pituitary gland. There was no indication that his growth had ended even by the time of his death.

Early Life

Robert Pershing Wadlow was born in the year 1918 in Alton, Illinois. When he was 8 years old, he was taller than his dad. When he was admitted to elementary school a special desk was made exclusively for him.

He completed his studies at Alton High School in 1936 and later enrolled in Shurtleff College to study law. He had four younger siblings – Helen, Eugene, Betty Jean, and Harold Jr. Harold Jr.

While many of his friends and siblings were still being carried by their parents, Robert was capable enough to lift his father up the stairs of their family home.

His middle name, Pershing, was inspired by World War I General John J. Pershing, who was the commanding officer of the European conflict.

Interesting facts

  • Robert passed the 2.45 m (8 ft 0.5 in) mark when he was just 17 and made the record of the tallest teenager ever.
  • He was accustomed to people staring at him as his height was 7 feet, 4 inches just before his 13th birthday. In an interview, he said, “The last time I was in St. Louis we stopped at the corner of 6th and Locust streets. You should have seen the crowd. They came from everywhere.”
  • He did not take part in the basketball game while he was in high school as the team coach was afraid that he might get hurt. Also, because of his unusual height, there were no shoes available in the market and by the time they ordered special basketball shoes exclusively for him, the season was over.
  • Robert used to read around 300 books a year. He once said, “I like boys’ adventure stories. They’re sure thrilling.”
  • He along with his siblings started a soft drink stand in their front yard when he was a teenager. Many customers used to visit their shop not because they wanted to drink but to see him.
  • Robert paid a visit to the iconic New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and appeared on the balcony. The trading on the floor of NYSE was halted for a while as the men saw him and broke into applause.
  • He used to travel in cars that had no front passenger seat so that he could sit in the back seat and extend his legs.


Robert’s career took a giant leap when he went on tour with the famous “Ringling Brother Circus” in 1936. He was asked a question during a radio interview if he was annoyed when people around him keep staring at him, and he simply replied, “No, I just overlook them.”

The Ringlings circus was of the opinion that he will make an excellent addition to their show especially if he is showcased along with the existing staff of the Circus who are below average height. Robert accepted the offer made by them.

The world’s tallest man was successful in pulling huge crowds to the show wherever he went during the tour. In a very short period of time, he became a celebrity.

He used his popularity to make money from public appearances. He did a promotional tour with the International Shoe Company under an arrangement that the company will arrange shoes for free.

Robert then became an ambassador for Peters Shoe Company. He went to more than 41 states and 800 towns to promote the brand. He became so popular that he was the de-facto face of the shoe company. He used to get customized 37AA shoes free of charge.

It was actually a blessing in disguise for Robert as the shoe size of US 37AA (UK size 36, roughly a European size 75) used to cost approximately $100 which is equivalent to $1,500 in today’s currency.

Peters Shoe Co. also displayed the shoe in the Alton museum as an advertising gimmick, to attract clients stating, “Display Robert’s shoe right in the center of your best window, insert the picture and write-up about Robert in your newspaper and you will be agreeably surprised at the attention this shoe will attract to your store.”

The world’s tallest man also boasted the largest hands ever, measuring 32.3 cm (12.7 in) from the wrist to the tip of his middle finger.

Condition of Pituitary Gigantism

Doctors concluded that his exceptional size was due to hyperplasia of his pituitary gland after examining him. This condition causes a super normal high level of the human growth hormone and Robert was never treated for the same to halt the growth.

Dr. Donald Rau, Medical Consultant, Guinness World Records explained, “Robert Wadlow escaped the attention of surgeons, as they were not confident enough to operate on him. Therefore he might remain the tallest man for a very long time.”

Robert’s Untimely Death

Robert surpassed John Rogan as the tallest person ever just 12 months before his death. Unfortunately, it was Robert’s legs that led to his untimely demise when he was just 22. He passed away at 1:30 A.M local time on 15 July 1940 in a hotel in Manistee, Michigan.

He died due to a septic blister on his right ankle caused by a brace, which was not fitted properly a week earlier.

His last words were, “The doctor says I won’t get home for the…celebrations”, in an apparent reference to his paternal grandparents’ golden wedding event.

His coffin measured 10 ft 9 in (3.28 m) long by 2 ft 8 in (0.81 m) wide by 2 ft 6 in (0.76 m) deep and weighed more than 450 kg. It was carried by twelve pallbearers and eight assistants. He was cremated at Oakwood Cemetery in Upper Alton, Madison County, Illinois.

A huge statue of Robert Wadlow was erected just opposite the Alton Museum of History and Art in 1986.

The tallest man’s title was one of Craig Glenday, Editor-in-Chief at Guinness World Records, most favorite title. He said, “This record resonates across the whole world because every country understands how powerful this record is.”

Even though the life of the world’s tallest man was an exciting one without an iota of doubt but it was also most difficult at times. Basic necessities like homes, public spaces, and general household goods were not made of his size, and he had to frequently make adjustments to be able to perform basic tasks.

Robert continues to live on in the history books and the archives of Guinness World Records that perhaps will never be beaten.

Hope you liked reading the article. Stay tuned for more interesting articles like this!

Archana Kabra
Archana Kabra
Archana Kabra is a Freelance Writer and has been extensively writing stuff related to Entertainment, Lifestyle, and Technology. She is also an ardent music lover. Twitter handle: @archana153sarda


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