Tragic Story of the Tallest Man in History

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)

Image Credit: Ullstein Bild / Getty Images

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.

Left: Wadlow at age 10. (1928) Right: Wadlow at age 17 with his brothers. (1935)

Image Credit: Imagno / Austrian Archives / Getty Images

1939

Image Credit: Ullstein Bild / Getty Images

The Wadlows at dinner. (1938)

Image Credit: Keystone-France / Gamma-Keystone / Getty Images

April 15, 1937

Image Credit: Keystone-France / Gamma-Keystone / Getty Images

Left: Wadlow travels aboard the Queen Mary. (April 1937) Right: Wadlow is fitted for a jacket. (1939)

Image Credit: Keystone-France / Gamma-Keystone / Getty Images

April 1937

Image Credit: Keystone-France / Gamma-Keystone / Getty Images

“Major Mite” of the Ringling Brothers Circus compares hand sizes with Wadlow. (1937)

Image Credit: Eddie Jackson / NY Daily News Archive / Getty Images

“Major Mite” compares his size 4 shoes with Wadlow’s size 36. (1937)

Image Credit: Eddie Jackson/NY Daily News Archive/Getty Images

In a nod to Gulliver’s Travels, performers from Ringling Brother’s Circus tie up Wadlow as a means of getting acquainted. (1937)

Image Credit: Eddie Jackson / NY Daily News Archive / Getty Images

1939

Image Credit: Ullstein Bild / Getty Image

Wadlow visits an orange grove in Miami, Florida. (1940)

Image Credit: Keystone-France / Gamma-Keystone / Getty Images

Wadlow stoops for a drink during a visit to the Daily News offices in New York. (1937)

Image Credit: W. Hoff / NY Daily News Archive / Getty Images

1937

Image Credit: W. Hoff / NY Daily News Archive / Getty Images

Wadlow chats with a friend after appearing at a charity event in Omaha, Nebraska. (April 1, 1937)

Image Credit: Underwood Archives / Getty Images

Leave a comment