Robert Wadlow Statue - World's Tallest Man
Robert Pershing Wadlow, born February, 22, 1918, was and still remains the World’s Tallest Man at 8 ft. 11 in. Wadlow weighed 439 lbs. and also holds the title for the World’s Largest Hands at 12.75 in., and the World’s Largest Feet at 18.5 in. Wadlow’s ring size was 25 and his shoe size was a 37 AA men’s that had to be custom made.
Robert Wadlow was the oldest child of five born to Harold and Addie Wadlow and he put the big in big brother. Wadlow was born an average size but, by only a few months old, it was clear he was far from typical. He gained weight and size at an alarming rate and it was discovered later in 1929 that he had hypertrophy (an enlargement) of his pituitary gland- the gland responsible for dictating human growth hormone (HGH). The enlarged gland released far too much HGH which caused exponential growth in Robert- by the time of his death, there was no indication he had ever stopped growing.
By the age of eight, Wadlow was taller than his father and by nine he was strong enough to carry his father up and down a full flight of stairs with little effort. Robert attended elementary school in Roxana and then at the Milton Schoolhouse in Alton. A special desk was made so he could sit more comfortably. Robert was the tallest Boy Scout and a member of Troop 1 in Alton. He loved boy’s adventure stories and purportedly read approximately 300 books a year.
Having four siblings- three sisters and one brother- Robert was often seen in their company and considered them his closest friends. The kids once set up a lemonade stand. Customers came to see Robert but he would only stand up if someone bought a drink- the siblings once made over $100 in one day (over $1,500 today!) – talk about the height of ingenuity!
Robert went to Alton High School and graduated in 1936, after which he promptly enrolled at Shurtleff College in Upper Alton (now the SIU School of Dental Medicine) with the intention of studying law. That same year, Wadlow began a tour with Ringling Brothers Circus and appeared in the center ring at Madison Square Garden and Boston Garden. He maintained his dignity by refusing to dress formally and he never appeared in the sideshow.
In 1938 he began travelling with his father representing the International Shoe Company. The father-son duo allegedly drove over 300,000 miles going to locations for the company and in return Robert received a paycheck and free shoes which before had cost him a hefty $100 a pair. Robert always considered his role for the shoe company one of advertisement, rather than pageantry.
As a teen, Robert belonged to the Order of DeMolay, a masonic organization for young men. He later became a Freemason and in 1939 became a Master Mason under jurisdiction of Grand Lodge of Illinois A.F. and A.M.
On July, 4, 1940, Robert was attending the Manistee National Forest Festival in Michigan and an ill-fitting brace rubbed a sore on his ankle. Robert had worn braces on his legs for years and used a cane to help support his immense frame. He had little feeling in his legs or feet and didn’t notice that the sore on his ankle had become infected. He developed a high fever and was treated with a blood transfusion and surgery. Due to an autoimmune disorder exacerbated by his pituitary gland dysfunction and a high fever from the infection, Robert P. Wadlow passed away in his sleep on July, 15, 1940 at the age of 22.
Streeper Funeral home (now Elias-Smith) of Alton drove all the way to Michigan to pick up Robert’s body. His coffin, made of redwood, was 10 ft. 9 in. long and weighed 1,000 lbs. The casket had to be carried by twelve pallbearers and eight assistants. Robert Wadlow was laid to rest in Upper Alton at Oakwood Cemetery.
The life-sized bronze statue of Robert Wadlow was sculpted by Edward Englehardt Giberson and stands across the street from the Alton Museum of History and Art. A bronze chair, replicated after his seat at the Masonic Lodge, sits beside the statue.