Biography of Tallest Man in the World Robert Wadlow Part 1

About the world's tallest man Robert Wadlow, biography and history of the American giant.

FOOTNOTE PEOPLE IN U.S. HISTORY

ROBERT WADLOW (1918-1940). Giant.

Robert Wadlow's brief life is a cautionary tale for any child who daydreams about being a giant. Wadlow is the tallest person in history whose height has been verified. When he died, he was an inch shy of 9 ft. tall, a victim of his own growth.

Wadlow was born in his parents' Alton, Ill., home on Feb. 22, 1918. No one suspected him of being anything but normal. He weighed 8 1/2 lb., and his family had no history of exceptionally tall members. However, his rapid growth began immediately and never abated. At 6 months he weighed 30 lb.; at a year, 44 lb.; at 18 months, 62 lb. His first thorough examination came at age 5, when he stood 5 ft. 4 in. tall and weighed 105 lb. When he entered school at 5 1/2, he was wearing clothes made for 17-year-olds. He reached 6 ft. at age 8, and Wadlow, Sr., was soon wearing his son's hand-me-downs. At 10 Wadlow was 6 ft. 5 in., weighed 210 lb., and had to have all his clothes tailor-made. Shoes were a special problem; he occasionally outgrew them before they had been delivered.

It was only when Wadlow was nearing 12 that his rapid growth was diagnosed as excessive pituitary gland secretion. Thereafter the medical school of St. Louis's Washington University kept detailed records of his growth. Wadlow continued to grow about 3 in. every year until he died. He passed 7 ft. before he turned 13, and at 16 was 7 ft. 10 1/2 in.--the tallest person in the U.S. At 19 he became the tallest person ever measured--8 ft. 5 1/2 in. And still he grew. Several weeks before he died, he had reached 8 ft. 11 in.--with a weight of 439 lb., down from his peak of 491 lb.--and his pituitary malfunction might have kept him growing past the age of 30. His early death was probably inevitable since few pituitary giants live past 40. Wadlow was the fastest-growing of them all, so it is not surprising that his death came early. His body simply outgrew its own ability to function properly. The body's organs are not designed to meet the demands of excessive scale. Physical coordination becomes increasingly difficult as size exceeds normal ranges; accidents are frequent, they produce more serious injuries, and the body heals less quickly.

Wadlow's physical problems began early. At two, he was operated on for a congenital double hernia. As he grew older he suffered frequent injuries and serious illnesses. The strain of simply getting along in a normal-sized world was always a problem, and one which accelerated even faster than Wadlow grew. As a 6-ft.-tall 8-year-old he functioned reasonably well in the adult-sized world, but he spent much of his time in school, where he damaged his precarious posture in tiny desks and chairs. By his early teenage years he was outgrowing even the adult world. Everything became too small: furniture, buildings, cars, and anything that he had to use with his hands.

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