ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Robert Wadlow, Alton's Gentleman Giant

Updated on April 10, 2015

The world’s tallest man was born, lived, and died in Alton, Illinois. Robert Pershing Wadlow was known as the “Gentleman Giant” because of his positive attitude and pleasant disposition.

Robert was born February 22, 1918 to Harold F. and Addie Wadlow. The oldest of the couple’s five children, the family lived on Monroe Street in Alton. His was a normal birth, weighing 8 pounds, 6 ounces when he was born, but it quickly became apparent that something was awry. At six months, he weighed 30 pounds. A year later, he weighed 62 pounds.

By the time he was eight years old, Robert had grown to 6’2” and weighed 195 pounds and was wearing clothing that would fit a 17-year-old.

Despite his ever-increasing height, Robert tried to live a normal life. He joined the Boy Scouts (it took 14 yards of 36” material to make his Boy Scout uniform) and, later, the Masons. He was the advertising manager of the Tatler – Alton High School’s yearbook.

After he graduated from Alton High School in 1936, he enrolled in Shurleff College with the intention of getting a law degree. Shurleff College is now Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville’s Dental school.

It’s unclear when exactly he was diagnosed with hypertrophy of his pituitary gland, which results in an abnormally high level of human growth hormone. But certainly doctors in that era had no idea how to help him. At the time of his death, he showed no indication that he had stopped growing.

Me and Robert Wadlow, the world's tallest man. I'm 5'6"; Robert Wadlow was  8' 11"
Me and Robert Wadlow, the world's tallest man. I'm 5'6"; Robert Wadlow was 8' 11" | Source
Galax Furniture Co. made a special chair for Robert Wadlow that accommodated his large frame.
Galax Furniture Co. made a special chair for Robert Wadlow that accommodated his large frame. | Source

Robert was well-traveled, active in the community and religious organizations and had a positive attitude and a gentle manner, which earned him the nickname “Gentleman Giant” and “the giant of Illinois.”

Like any teenager, Robert had an appetite, consuming 8,000 calories each day. His feet seemed to be too large, even for him. With a shoe size of 37AA, shoes were not easy to find but he was able to get them custom-made from International Shoe Company. They were expensive, costing more than $100 so he at age 20 he became a goodwill ambassador for the company in exchange for getting his shoes for free.

Robert eventually clocked more than 300,000 miles on his goodwill tour, visiting more than 800 towns and 41 states. In order to accommodate his large frame, his dad modified the family’s car, removing the front passenger seat so he could sit in the back seat and stretch out his long legs.

A trip to Virginia for an ad campaign in November 1939 resulted in a unique gift. The president of Galax Furniture Co., C.L. Smith, saw how uncomfortable Robert was while sitting in a normal-sized chair so he had one designed and built especially for him. It was made of black walnut and southern red gum wood and covered in 11 yards of wine-colored brocatelle. The original is displayed in the Franklin Masonic Lodge in Upper Alton.

All this time, Robert was continuing to grow. By the time he was 22, he was 8’11”and weighed 490 pounds. Because of his size, his bones were brittle and he wasn’t able to walk without leg braces and a cane. He also wasn’t able to feel his feet and this led to his death.

On a trip to Manistee, Michigan, his foot became infected from a blister caused by an improperly fitted leg brace. He had emergency surgery and blood transfusions but the infection spread and he died in his sleep on July 15, 1940 at age 22.

Robert Wadlow was buried in a specially designed casket that was placed in a 12-foot long reinforced concrete tomb in Upper Alton Cemetery. His gravestone simply reads “At Rest.” More than 40,000 people signed the guest register.

When Robert died in 1940, his family had nearly all his belongings destroyed because they didn’t want his personal items to be on display as “freak” memorabilia.

In 1985, a statue was erected in a small park across from the old Shurtleff College he once attended. A replica of his chair was added later.

Robert Wadlow's Growth Chart

Age
Height in feet/inches
Weight in pounds
Birth
NA
8.7
6 months
NA
30
18 months
NA
62
5 years
5' 6"
105
8
6' 2"
195
10
6' 5"
200+
13
7' 4"
NA
22
8'11"
490
 
 
 

Alton IL

A
2800 College Avenue Alton, IL 62002:
2800 College Avenue, Alton, IL 62002, USA

get directions

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Danette Watt profile imageAUTHOR

      Danette Watt 

      6 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks for reading mythicalstorm273. It is a little sad, isn't it? You have to wonder how he and others like him felt about being so tall and why he was able to stay so positive while others might not have.

    • mythicalstorm273 profile image

      mythicalstorm273 

      6 years ago

      I have read about him before. I always find the idea of these 'giants' as very interesting and yet very sad. I love the fact that he continued to embrace life instead of letting it affect him in a negative manner. It really is in inspiring story!

    • profile image

      fdrec 

      6 years ago

      he is huge

    • Danette Watt profile imageAUTHOR

      Danette Watt 

      7 years ago from Illinois

      Hi Eloise, Yes, that was my thought as well. From what I've read, he had many friends and was treated well by classmates and such. But I think if I had a child who was odd like this, I would feel sad for him.

    • Eloise Hope profile image

      Eloise Hope 

      7 years ago from Portland, Oregon, USA

      What an interesting story! I hope he wasn't lonely - sounds like a bit of a difficult life, in many ways. Every kid feels odd, even those of average height. I can't imagine how things must have been for him. Hard to blend in at over eight feet! Thank you for a memorable story.

    • Danette Watt profile imageAUTHOR

      Danette Watt 

      7 years ago from Illinois

      Ha,Dee, there is actually quite a bit of history in this little old town, a lot of it civil war related, so watch for some hubs about that! LOL Yes, the photos definitely illustrate his height.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Wow, what a fascinating story and all part of the Alton Town History - who knew? Thanks for sharing. Voted up BTW Great photos; really makes the point.

    • Danette Watt profile imageAUTHOR

      Danette Watt 

      7 years ago from Illinois

      Hey Sheri! Email me and let me know how you are doing. I didn't make it across the street to the museum b/c I was working that day, waiting for Oktoberfest to start.

      @ AliciaC - Thanks for reading and commenting. I hadn't planned to have myself in the photos but saw a couple of young women there who were able to take the pictures for me. They definitely say more than words can.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      7 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a very interesting story, Danette, and the photos illustrate Robert Wadlow's huge height very well. It's great to read that he was such a nice man despite his physical problems.

    • profile image

      Sheri Wellen 

      7 years ago

      My grandfather had film footage of him visiting "Peter's shoe store" in Colorado. I donated it to the Wadlow museum in Alton.

    • Danette Watt profile imageAUTHOR

      Danette Watt 

      7 years ago from Illinois

      It is, and a little sad. Thanks for reading

    • homesteadpatch profile image

      homesteadpatch 

      7 years ago from Michigan

      That is simply incredible.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)