Within a year of Robert Waldow’s birth, his parents knew there was something wrong. Growing to be nearly 9 feet by the end of his short life, Robert endured many losses as his body never stopped growing.
Wadlow with his mother and brother. (1935)
On Feb. 22, 1918, a perfectly normal 8.7-pound boy was born to Harold and Addie Wadlow of Alton, Illinois.
By his first birthday, Robert Wadlow weighed 45 pounds and stood 3 feet, 3.5 inches.
He kept growing, towering over his father at age eight. At 13 years old and 7 feet, 4 inches, he was the world’s tallest Boy Scout.
Wadlow was a quiet and mild-mannered young man, which led to him be called a “gentle giant.” He enjoyed photography and playing guitar — until his hands grew too large to do either.
A hyperactive pituitary gland fueled his extraordinary growth.
Wadlow broke the record for world’s tallest man when he reached 8 feet, 4 inches in 1937.
After graduating high school, Robert went on tour with the Ringling Brothers Circus, and later crisscrossed the country to promote the International Shoe Company, which graciously provided Robert’s size 37AA footwear.
Wadlow suffered from weakness and lack of sensation in his legs and feet, and as he grew he required leg braces and a cane to walk.
In 1940, a faulty brace rubbing against his ankle caused a blister, which became badly infected. On July 15, 1940, Robert passed away at the age of 22. Eighteen days earlier, doctors had measured his height at 8 feet, 11.1 inches.
Robert’s body was returned to his hometown and buried in a 1,000-pound casket which was carried by a dozen pallbearers and eight assistants. A life-sized bronze statue honoring him still stands in Alton.