All of us at some point have wished to be an inch taller, since it’s not that fun to go to a concert and stare at someone’s back for two hours.
However, if you happen to be or know a really tall person, you surely know the downsides of having the gift of height, such as finding clothes that actually fit you, being constantly asked “how’s the weather up there?” always having to sit in the back because “you are so tall you can see from anywhere,” and a lot of other situations that can make the tall person uncomfortable.
This is the fascinating and sad story about the life of Robert Pershin Wadlow, nicknamed the “Giant of Illinois,” the tallest person in recorded human history.
On February 22 in 1918, Robert was born a perfectly healthy 8.7-pound boy in Alton, Illinois. One year later, on his first birthday, Robert stood 3 feet, 3.5 inches and weighed 45 pounds.
At age eight, he was taller than his father and his elementary school had to make a special desk for him. He kept growing, towering over everyone, and by age 13 he was 7 feet, 4 inches, making him the world’s tallest Boy Scout.
His extraordinary growth was the result of the hyperplasia of his pituitary gland resulting in an abnormally high level of the human growth hormone.
Wadlow loved playing guitar and photography, but as he kept growing his hands grew too large to do either. His great size began to take its tolls: he had to wear leg braces to walk and was constantly feeling numb in his legs and feet. However, he refused to use a wheelchair and wanted to stand on his own two feet as long as he lived.
Being a shy, quiet and mild-mannered young man led to him being affectionally known as the “Gentle Giant.”
After graduating high school, Wadlow joined the Ringling Brother Circus and traveled across the United States promoting the International Shoe Company that had provided him with his size 37AA footwear.
In 1937, Wadlow reached 8 feet, 4 inches (2,55 Meters) and became the tallest person in the world, surpassing the previous record holder John Rogan who was 8 feet (2.44 m).
Despite the inconveniences of his disorder, Wadlow was a very active young man. He was a member of the Order of DeMolay, the Masonic-sponsored organization for young men, and became a Freemason.
In 1940, when he was 22, a faulty brace irritated his ankle causing a blister and subsequent infection. Despite the emergency surgery and blood transfusion, the Gentle Giant succumbed to an autoimmune disorder and died in his sleep.
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Eighteen days before his death, he was measured at 8 ft 11.1 in (2.72 m), which indicated that he kept growing. Until the last days of his life, Wadlow possessed great physical strength and never gave up. He was buried in a 1,000-pound casket, carried by eight assistants and a dozen pallbearers.