How Tall Was the World’s Tallest Man?
Many claims have been made, but the tallest man about whom we have clear, recorded evidence was Robert Pershing Wadlow, who was born on February 22, 1918 in Alton, Illinois, in the United States of America, with normal height and weight at birth, an overactive pituitary gland led to his extraordinary growth.
Dr. C.M. Charles, the Associate Professor of Anatomy at Washington University’s School of Medicine in St Louis, Missouri, measured Wadlow on June 27, 1940. At that time, Wadlow was 8feet 11.1 inches.
Wadlow began growing at an abnormal rate early in life. At the age of five he was 5 feet 4 inches. Nine years later he was 7 feet 5 inches. He was still growing at the age of 22, when he died on July 15, 1940. The cause of death was cellulitis (severe inflammation) of the feet, which was brought about by a badly fitting brace which he wore as a support.
As a youngster, Robert was in very good health, but his large feet had troubled him for many years. While on a tour in Michigan he developed blisters on his feet which became infected. Doctors performed surgery and administered blood transfusions but the infection lingered and his temperature continued to rise. He passed away on July 15, 1940.
At the time of his death, Wadlow weighed 439 pounds, his shoes were 18 inches long and his hands measured 12 inches from wrist to tip of middle finger. Robert’s body was brought home to his home town of Alton, Illinois for burial. His 1000 pound casket required a dozen pallbearers and the assistance of 8 other men.
Out of respect for Altons ‘Gentle Giant’, all city businesses closed for the funeral. Also, 40,000 people attended the funeral. In 1985 a life sized bronze statue of Robert was erected on the Southern Illinois University School of Dental Medicine. 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”.
History abounds with tales of hugely tall men and women, but it’s only in the past couple of hundred years that we’ve had medical explanations for the phenomenon. Pituitary gigantism, Marfan syndrome, eunuchoid tallness, Sotos syndrome, and acromegaly are all conditions that can cause those afflicted to grow beyond the human norm.
Pituitary gigantism is by far the most common cause of extreme height. It usually occurs due to over-secretion of growth hormone from cells in the pituitary gland or as a result of a tumor on this same gland at the base of the brain. Many of the world’s largest individuals – from the tallest person ever, Robert Wadlow, to the world’s current tallest living man, Sultan Kösen – have suffered from conditions related to their pituitary glands. Yet the stories of the individuals affected by gigantism are as interesting as the causes behind their conditions.