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Robert Pershing Wadlow – The Tallest Man in History
He was born on February 22, 1918 in Alton, Illinois (USA). He was the first of five children born to his parents, Harold and Addie Wadlow. They had two more boys and two girls. Surprisingly, both his brothers and sisters were only of normal height and weight. Robert’s own birth weight was not unusual at 3.85kg (8lb 8oz). In fact, for the first two years of his life, his growth rate was normal. When he reached the age of two, he had to undergo double hernia surgery. It’s impossible to say if it had anything to do with it, but things started to change dramatically from then on.
His growth rate increased significantly. When he was 5 years old, he reached 1.63 meters (5 feet 4 inches) and became 6 feet tall when he was only 8 years old. For the next 4 years, he grew an average of 2.5 inches per year until he was 12, when he reached 2.10 meters (6 ft 10.5 in).
In the next 3 years, his growth rate accelerated even more. He grew another 24 cm (9.5 in), by age 15 he was 2.34 meters (7 ft 8 in). 2 years after that, his growth rate slowed slightly to just over 2 inches per year. By the time he was 17, he was 2.45 meters (8 ft 0.38 in) tall, but he just couldn’t stop growing.
He grew another 8 cm (just over 3 inches) the following year, but only 2 inches the year after that. He was now 19 years old and 2.58 meters (8 ft 5.5 in) tall.
Over the next 2 years, his growth rate dropped to the slowest in a long time, but he still grew. When his teenage years ended, his height reached 2.61 meters (8 ft 6.75 in). He was 2.65 meters (8 ft 8.25 in) tall when he was 21 years old. His last recorded measurement was 2.72 meters (8 ft 11.1 in) when he was 22 years and 5 months old.
As you can imagine, he could not walk in public without attracting attention. People inevitably stared and crowds gathered around him. Some people quite unkindly kicked or squeezed his legs to check that he wasn’t on stilts.
His extreme height obviously made life difficult for him. He could not function like normal-sized people. He could not go on a bus, train or plane. The seats were only made for people who were 6 feet or shorter. Despite this, he was healthy, but he had circulation problems in his legs and his feet were not very palpable.
Not only was he the tallest man of all time, he also had the largest hands and feet of all time. His shoes had to be specially made, just like his clothes. His shoe size was 36 (37AA for US measurements) and was 47 cm (18.5 inches) long.
Human growth is caused by a hormone called ‘somatotropin’, the source of which is provided by the ‘pituitary gland’. When he was 12, doctors discovered that this gland had become overactive, causing him to grow abnormally. His parents were told that corrective surgery would be risky with no guarantee of success, so they decided against it.
Robert sadly died in his sleep on July 15, 1940. He was buried in his hometown. His coffin was 3.28 meters (10 ft 9 in) long and had to be carried by 12 men. The town was closed for business as a mark of respect and more than 40,000 people signed a register at his funeral.
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