Robert Wadlow (1918-1940) was the tallest man in medical history, according to The Guinness Book of World Records. He stood 8 feet, 11.1 inches tall, thanks to gigantism, a rare condition in which too much growth hormone makes a child unusually large. He was more than 50 percent taller than the average man.
Also known as giantism, or acromegaly in adults, the condition is often caused by a benign tumor on the pituitary gland (a small organ behind your nose). These days it can be treated, but back then it could not.
At birth, Wadlow weighed a normal eight pounds, six ounces. But he started growing quickly, and reached 30 pounds at just six months. He stood six-foot-two at age eight and kept growing even into his early 20s. By the end of his fairly short life, Wadlow weighed 490 pounds.
He was the oldest of five, and his two sisters and two brothers were all normal in size, like his folks.
Wadlow’s clothes were all custom-made, as were his size 37 shoes, which he started receiving free of charge from the International Shoe Company at age 20. That year, he and his dad started a long road trip to publicize the shoe company. The car’s front passenger seat was removed so he could sit comfortably in the back seat. They visited more than 800 towns in 41 states, eventually covering more than 300,000 miles.
Despite those custom shoes, Wadlow’s feet were his eventual undoing. He could barely feel them, so when blisters formed he didn’t notice. One blister became infected during a visit to Manistee, Michigan, in 1940. Unable to fit into a bed at the local hospital, Wadlow was ordered to stay in bed at his hotel. But his fever rose and he became sicker, needing transfusions and surgery and eventually dying in his sleep.
He was buried in Alton, Illinois, his hometown. The Wadlow family had his clothes and effects burned to prevent collectors from selling them as memorabilia.