Life and Death of Robert Wadlow – The World’s Tallest Man

Tall height is a feature that most people wish for but like every other physical feature, too much of it becomes detrimental and in most cases could lead to the person’s death; this was the case with Robert Wadlow, the one-time tallest man in the world. Robert Wadlow or the Giant of Illinois as he was fondly called lived a humble life. He never sought to become popular but rose to prominence when he began to tour on the Ringling Brothers Circus. So many people were drawn to him because of his incredible height. Despite attaining this unsolicited celebrity status, Robert continued to live his life simply and humbly recognizing and dwelling on the things that were very important to him which was mostly his family. Here is a look at the life and subsequent death of the world’s tallest man.

Who Was Robert Wadlow?

He was born Robert Pershing Wadlow in Alton, Illinois on the 22nd of February 1918. His parents were Addie May and Harold Franklin Wadlow. They had regular heights and didn’t have any history of any exceptionally tall person in their families. Robert was the eldest of their five children and his mother revealed that he was a normal baby weighing 3.8 kg and was 1 foot 8 inches at birth.

His parents soon noticed his rapid growth, especially in his height. When he began to walk at 11 months, he was already 3 feet 3 and a half inches tall. At age 4, he was already 5 feet 3 inches tall. He was taken to the hospital where he was said to have hyperplasia of the pituitary gland which caused him to have a very high level of (HGH) human growth hormone.

By the time he was 8 years of age, he was already taller than his father and in 1936 when he was graduating from Alton High School, he was already a whopping 8 feet 4 inches tall. Even though his parents tried to help Robert Wadlow have a semblance of a normal life, growing up wasn’t very easy for him. Besides the constant attention and stares he got, they had to make him a special desk to use in school. Most of his clothes and shoes had to be custom made to fit. He also had difficulties handling everyday appliances.

robert wadlow
Wadlow beside his father image source

His Involvement with The Circus

After high school, Robert Wadlow got into Shurtleff College to study law but didn’t see that through as he got another opportunity which he decided to explore. In 1936, he was invited to tour in the United States with the Ringling Brothers Circus. They felt it would excite the crowd to juxtapose him with the small people they had on the circus. He appeared at the Boston Garden and the Madison Square Garden with them. He, however, refused the circus’s request to wear a tail and top hat. In all his performances, he was always appearing in his everyday clothes as he believed that he was working at advertising and not putting up a freak show.

During the tour, he was sighted by the International Shoe Company who invited him to be an ambassador and tour for the company. One of the good things about this endorsement was that they began to make his shoes for him for free.

Read Also: Life and Death of Muammar Gaddafi: How Did He Die, What Was His Net Worth?

Death: How Did Robert Wadlow Die?

As Robert enjoyed the benefits of his enormous height, he also had some health challenges. Firstly, he hardly had any feeling in his leg beside a tingling no matter how hard he worked or walked. Although he didn’t use a wheelchair, he had braces attached to his leg to aid his posture and walking. This braces caused the injury that ended up taking his life.

Robert Wadlow had some new braces fitted which didn’t sit well. Because he didn’t have feelings in his legs, he didn’t feel the braces bruising his ankle during a professional appearance in Manistee National Forest Festival. The bruise resulted in an infection that put his life in danger. He had to undergo surgery and blood transfusion but his situation didn’t get better due to his autoimmune disorder. Robert finally succumbed to death in his sleep on the 15th of July 1940.

He was buried in the Oakwood Cemetry, Upper Alton, Madison County, Illinois in a coffin measured at 10 feet 9 inches long. The coffin was carried by 12 pallbearers and 8 assistants. In 1986, to honor and celebrate him, a life-size statue of him was built and erected directly opposite the Alton Museum of History and Art on College Avenue in Alton.

When Was He Declared The World’s Tallest Man?

A year before his death, he was officially declared the tallest person ever as he grew taller than John Rogan who held the record before him. By the time of his death, he was 8 feet 11 inches tall. From all indications, Robert would have grown taller, as there was no indication that he had stopped growing by the time of his death.


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