Madison County, Illinois
Robert Pershing Wadlow
February 22, 1918 - July 15, 1940
In 1985, a life-size bronze statue of Wadlow by Ned Giberson was erected at the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville School of Dental Medicine in Alton, Illinois.
Harold Franklin Wadlow was born November 8, 1892 in Jersey County , Illinois the son of Sherman Sylvester and Nettie Delight White Wadlow. He married Addie Johnson on June 3, 1917. Their son Robert was born on February 22, 1918 . The 1920 census finds the family living in Quarry Town , Jersey, Illinois on main street. , By 1930 they were living in Wood River Township 3600 Gillham Ave., Alton, IL and Robert's sister Helen Ione and Betty Jean and brother Eugene Howard were all born. Harold Franklin Wadlow Jr. was born in 1932. and passed away in the year 2000;
Robert P.Wadlow reached 8 feet 11.1 inches (2.72 m) in height and weighed 490 pounds (220 kg) at his death. His great size and his continued growth in adulthood was due to hypertrophy of his pituitary gland which results in an abnormally high level of human growth hormone. He showed no indication of an end to his growth even at the time of his death. On July 4 1940 Wadlow was taken ill in Manistee, Michigan; while walking in a parade a brace had caused a blister and it became infected. Doctors treated him with blood transfusions and emergency surgery but his condition worsened. On July 15 1940, he died in his sleep. He was buried in Alton on July 19.
1000 Attend Rites for Alton Giant
Robert Wadlow's Body Viewed by 33,295 Within 28 Hours
ALTON ,Ill ., July 19 - Robert Pershing Wadlow , whose height of 8 feet 10.3 , inches made him the tallest man in American medical history , was buried in Oakwood cemetery here today in a grave 12 feet long and 46 inches wide; A crowd estimated at 1,000 jammed near the Streeper funeral home where services were conducted by the Rev . W . L . Hanbaum , pastor of the Main street Methodist church of which the 22-year-old giant was a member . Masonic services were conducted at the grave . Twelve masons and six undertakers assistants carried the steel 10 1/2 foot , 855-pound casket with the body of the 491-pound youth who died last Monday in Manistee , Mich ., of complications resulting from a foot infection . Flags were at half staff on public buildings and along the mile and a half route from the funeral home to the cemetery . Chief of Police Paul Smith estimated an additional 5 ,000 persons heard the services through loud speakers . At the church, a short distance from the funeral home, hymns played on the Robert Wadlow Memorial organ were carried over the amplification system to those at the services. Funds for the organ had been raised with Wadlow's assistance . [Daily Illini, 20 July 1940]
Robert Wadlow Dies After Brief Illness
Manistee, Mich., July 16 - Robert Pershing Wadlow, whose 8 foot 10.3 inch height made him the tallest human being in medical history, died today. The body of the giant youth, who was 22 years old and weighed 491 pounds, will be taken to Alton, Ill., his home, in a special casket for burial.
Wadlow died of complications following a foot infection which resulted from the chafing of an ankle brace. On July 4 he suffered a foot injury while appearing here professionally as "the world's tallest man."
Harold F. Wadlow, the young giant's father said today that his son's body will not be turned over to medical men for scientific investigation. Wadlow's abnormal height, scientists said, was due to an over-active pituitary gland. In all other respects, Wadlow was considered normal. At Alton high school he won a scholarship to attend Shurtleff College at Alton. He completed his freshman year. Both of his parents and his two brothers and two sisters were of normal stature. At birth, Feb. 22, 1918, Wadlow weighed 9 pounds. Although he reached 30 pounds at the end of six months, his unusual growth was not noticed until he was a year old.
At 18 months he weighed 62 pounds.
Clothes and shoes were Wadlow's toughest problems. Everything, including neckties and pocket hand-kerchiefs, was made to order. An ordinary suit required nine yards of material, and his shoes were size 39.
The young giant's only other illness was a foot infection which confined him to a St. Louis hospital bed for eight weeks in 1835. He was carried to the hospital on a special stretcher lifted by eight men. [Lexington Herald (Lexington, KY), Tuesday, July 16, 1940; Page: 10]
Robert Was Unhappy About Many Things, Including His Feet, Which Lacked Normal Sensitivity, But He Was Especially Offended If Anyone Asked How Much He Ate.
Robert Pershing Wadlow the tallest man in all medical history, went to his final rest the other day in a rush-order coffin, so long that it required the plots of two normal graves in Oakwood Cemetery at his home town of Alton, Illinois. He was 8 feet 10.3 inches tall and weighed 495 pounds — and just as his clothes, shoes, hats, gloves and everything else had to be specially made for him during most of his 22 years of life, so in death he had to have a specially built coffin. The coffin was 10 feet 8 inches long and weighed 855 pounds. Eighteen pallbearers were needed to carry it and when it was placed in the hearse it stuck out several feet in the rear, so that a black cloth had to be draped over the open doors to conceal it. The young giant died as he had lived, a real-life Gulliver, bravely striving to adjust himself to a world that seemed to him to be peopled by Lilliputians. His deathbed was nine and a half feet long and specially-built, like all the others in which he had slept for years, during which he traveled in an automobile with specially-built body, sat in specially-designed chairs, ate at tables, extra high and wide in order to accommodate his size 37 feet, at the end of stilt-like legs, wore made-to-order clothes, including gloves that cost $11.90 a pair and those shoes that cost $100.
His life was short, as is usually the case with very tall persons, and he died not long after his 22nd birthday, a victim of his extremities. It was not, however, the constant bumping of his forehead against doors, merely seven feet high, or scraping his scalp along 8 foot ceilings which brought on the tragedy, but his overburdened feet, forced to carry and balance the weight of nearly a quarter of a ton.
Robert's death was the direct result of an infection caused by the chafing of an iron brace he was forced to wear on one foot and ankle. However, it was no fault of construction of the brace but the faulty construction of the youth himself which allowed the blood-poisoning to get such a start on the doctors that they could not save him. The lines of nerve communication between the youth's feet and his brain were not only about a yard longer than normal but so ineffective that Wadlow would not be conscious of a wrinkle in his sock or even a pebble in his shoe until a serious blister had been formed. Those other life-lines, the blood vessels, supplied the over-sized and distant feet so feebly that by the time he was ten years old, a medical report described his feet as cyanotic, which an ordinary person would call "blue from lack of circulation" These seem to be usual and probably inevitable weaknesses in giants which should make even the smallest "sawed-off runt" more content with his fate.
The average person gazing up at Wadlow or other towering human beings supposes that they are built of the same materials as himself, but more of each kind. Such would perhaps be the fact, if Nature had taken a few hundred thousand years of evolution to increase the average stature to nearly nine feel but the occasional giant, like Robert or Goliath, whom David slew, is something very different.
In these rare instances, Nature forgets to put the usual governor on the pituitary gland, at the base of the brain and possibly on some of the others. This causes the skeleton, the bony framework of the body to be built several stories higher than the normal human blueprints call for.
If Nature increased her appropriation proportionately in all departments, the result might be a healthy, long-lived creature, but she doesn't do that. The giant's eyes remain standard size, which doesn't matter because elephants and even whales get along nicely on eyes that are hardly bigger than those of some show girls.
Giant's eyes, as in Wadlow's case, are usually set somewhat further apart because the giant skull has to be bigger. This is not because the tall person is a more profound thinker but for the reason that so much more bulk of body calls for increase in the automatic, bureaucratic departments of the brain. Lungs, heart, stomach, kidneys and other important organs have to be made oversize to handle the bigger job but they are usually barely big enough to get by under ordinary circumstances, with little reserve for emergencies. For instance Robert's lungs, though of larger capacity than normal, nevertheless kept his blood under-oxygenated. When it comes to plumbing and wiring these giants, Nature is downright stingy.
Instead of installing bigger nerve cables and blood pipes to care for the longer and heavier traffic, she tries to get away with standard size ones or even smaller. Of course the extremities suffer, like the last houses on inadequate water and electric mains. Robert Wadlow who has beaten all authentic records might possibly have gone well over nine feet had death spared him a little longer. Giants of his type frequently keep right on growing, past the age of twenty-one, sometimes into their thirties. The unusual feature of Robert's case is the even steadiness of his growth. Most giants show a rather normal history for several months or years, until some injury or infectious disease apparently upsets the governor of the pituitary. Their growth then comes in tremendous spurts, followed by periods of quiescence in which they appear to have gotten over the trait.
Robert's parents, two brothers, two sisters and all known relatives being normal, there was no suspicion that his arrival as a nine-pound blessed event was going to make history. But, at six months he weighed 30 pounds instead of 18 which is par for that distance and at one year he was 62 pounds but could walk and, as in all his later years, was mentally well above average. At six he entered school dressed in the very largest youth-size suit his father could buy, in Chicago. Three years later even the men's department had nothing to offer this tremendous child. From then on he was a tailor's customer which was the least of his troubles.
From the start no desk or seat would do for this intelligent, obedient child, who nevertheless was a problem, child because of his tremendous size. The department of education undertook the desk and seat expenditure but on Robert's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Harold F. Wadlow, fell the big expense. They soon found that the hat store, the glove counter, the sock, shirt and underwear counters had nothing for their boy but profound astonishment. The fad of going hatless came to their rescue summers and Mrs. Wadlow managed to make big caps that looked all right for the winter. Also underwear could be made at home, and socks and mittens of any size could be knitted but shoes became a financial calamity. Old-time shoemakers were willing to make shoes big enough' for Robert at $25 to $35 a pair but mere size was not enough. Already it was evident that Nature had skimped on the bones and sinews of Robert's feet. These fairly impressive foundations were settling under the vast weight of his super-structure. It soon became a matter of shoe engineering, with all sorts of pads, arch-supports and reinforcements to jack up the failing underpinning. Finally he got what he wanted from a shoe company in St. Louis, but the complicated footgear cost $100 a pair. Worst of all, no sooner had he broken in new ones than his feet started to outgrow them. He was buried in a pair of 37s, but already a pair of 39s were under construction. This ruinous overhead or rather underfoot became such a problem that finally Robert solved it by appearing for the shoe company at their various stores. For this he received a salary and expenses. The important item was the expenses because this included keeping the giant supplied with shoes. Foot and ankle troubles had long been chronic with Wadlow, bringing him to the Barnes Hospital, at St. Louis once each in the years of 1930 and 1931 and twice in 1932 and 1933. At the age of 14, while he was pushing a boy on his tricycle, one of Robert's large feet slipped into a slight depression in the street. This would hardly have caused more than a laugh from an ordinary child but it broke two bones in the boy's foot. After that he had to wear the iron brace.
Aged seventeen, he spent eight weeks in the hospital being treated for infection caused by a pad supporting one of his arches and from arthritis of the spine. It took eight men to carry him in on a reinforced stretcher. During the first six weeks he lost 60 pounds but gained them nearly all back in the last fortnight. The evening before he left, Robert ate what the nurses called an enormous meal, all there was on the table except 11 slices of bread and butter and three plates of cottage cheese. So after finishing his ___ he went back and polished these off. the hospital records show that his breakfast the morning he left was two ___ orange juice, a heavy helping of cereal, coffee and seven eggs. his suggestion he could eat more eggs was ignored. Robert was always good-natured __ his vast size and willing to discuss __ingly the inconveniences and perils of ___ in a pygmy world. Probably this was because the kidding of the children he grew up with was tinged with awe and ___tion. They all boasted that he ___ come the biggest man in the world __ he did. Strangely enough he was ___ and easily roused to anger when ___ asked about his appetite. It was gigantic but it had to be to nourish 495 pounds of body, to say nothing of the fuel required to move that weight around. In the Fall of 1937, Robert's parents planned to build him a home on a scale that would be right for their boy Gulliver, with doors 9 feet tall and ceilings 11 feet high, a bathtub ten feet long, tables, chairs and everything else in proportion, including stairs with two-foot steps. They were met by difficulties. No such bathtub existed, except as a swimming pool. It would have to be cast at a foundry, transported to an enameling plant and would cost from $500 to $1,000.
Such problems were pushed out of the parents' minds by those of his job for the shoe company which involved traveling. He could not possibly sleep in a Pullman berth or sit comfortably in a seat of a day coach. He couldn't even stand up straight anywhere in a train. The solution was a seven passenger automobile, with five of the seats made into one but hotels had to be notified two weeks in advance in order to devise a 9 foot and a half bed and sew bedding together to cover it. Hotels were able to solve the bed problem in two ways. They could either place three double beds side by side and let Robert sleep across the three of them sort of on a bias, or they could remove the footboards from two ordinary beds, clamp the sides together and thus give him a twelve foot stretch.
During his childhood, his relatives and friends were often puzzled over what to give him for birthday and Christmas presents. Roller skates, for instance, were out of the question. None could be bought ready made that would fit him and even if skates had been made to order for him, it would have been dangerous for him to try to use them. Bicycles were likewise impractical. In his home town of Alton, Robert never felt unpleasantly conspicuous because he had always been "Big Boy" to every-one but in other cities his appearance created such crowds that he was miserable. Once when he was in his teens he went to a circus and caused so much excitement that the side shows lost all their customers. A gentleman in a huge black hat and wide moustache came to Robert, examined his feet to see if he had high heels, then offered him $100 a week to come inside or else to please go home. If anyone wants to know how complicated is the life of a giant let him try to buy an eight and seven-eights hat, a 37 shoe and ask a tailor how much for a Suit of clothes containing nine yards of cloth.
The day after a Fourth of July appearance this Summer, Robert woke up feeling so sick that his father hastily sent for the doctor who found a temperature of 106, indicating a dangerous infection. Though Robert insisted his feet felt fine, the elder Wadlow had the doctor examine them. The doctor found an infected abrasion of such size and age as should have caused intense pain for several days. They put Robert to bed and finally had to amputate his leg. But on July 15, the tallest man on earth passed out of a world that was all wrong for him. Robert's closest rival on record was the Irish giant, Charles O'Brien or Byrn, who was 8 feet 4 inches (6.3 inches shorter than Robert) when he died in 1883. [Oregonian (Portland, OR), Sunday, August 11, 1940; Page: 58]
Robert Pershing Wadlow: February 22, 1918 - July 15, 1940
Eugene Harold Wadlow: 26 Apr 1922 - 24 Jul 1959
Betty Jean Wadlow: Apr 27 1924 - m/ Robert BRIDE
Helen Ione Wadlow Feb 6, 1920 - m/ Clelle Upchurch
Harold Franklin Wadlow II - Aug 12, 1932
Harold Franklin Wadlow
Sherman Sylvester Wadlow Feb 4, 1866 - Jan 5,1953 & Nettie Delight White 1870-1942
buried Meadow Branch Cemetery, Jersey County, Illinois
Luther Melvin Johnson & Lillie Meyers
Elijah Franklin Wadlow -- Mar 23 1835 - 23 Mar 1918 & Eliza Ruth Legate - 1837
William Johnson & Nancy E.
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