Genealogy Trails

Hardin County, Illinois

Robert Wadlow

Source: Hardin County Independent News-Originally submitted by Becky Curtis Brandt

The photographs of Robert Wadlow were taken in Rosiclare in the 1930's by my father, Fowler Curtis, Sr.  In one picture, he is ducking under the Rosiclare Cafe sign to enter the restaurant.  Mom (Mary Curtis) told us that once inside the owner locked the door and pulled the shades, so Robert could eat in peace without the crowd that followed him everywhere.  At that time they didn't know they were looking at the world's tallest man, who holds that record still today.  In the other picture, he is standing with average height people who come about to his waist.

Robert Pershing Wadlow was born in Alton, IL., February 1, 1918.  His weight and size at birth were normal.  He soon started to grow at a fantastic rate.  By his eighth birthday he was six feet tall and weighed 195 pounds.  At 18 he surpassed the then world record held by an Irish man who died in 1877.

Wadlow had an above average I. Q. and after high school attended college for a year, but due to his constant growth it soon became too difficult to fit in.  In his youth he had led an active life and joined the boy scouts, the order of the DeMolay, the Alton Main Street Methodist Church, and Franklin Masonic Lodge.

His clothing had to be custom made and his size 37AAA shoes cost $100, a fortune in the 1930's.  International Shoe Company offered to make his shoes fee and hired him to make good will tours for the company.  His father removed the front seat of the car so Robert could sit in the back seat and stretch out his very long legs.  They covered 300,000 miles from town to town across the United States this way.  When they stopped for the night he was accommodated with three double beds pushed together, and he slept on them sideways.  It is said he had a happy and kind personality, and was known as the gentle giant.

He always had problems with his feet and legs having little feeling in his feet.  He leaned on a cane most of the time.  In July, 1940, while on tour in Chicago he developed a blister on his foot that became infected.  Within a few days the deadly infection spread through his body and he died July 15, 1940 at the age of 22.  At the time of his death he was eight feet, 11.1 inches tall and weighed 420 pounds.

In a coincidence of fate, 15 years after Robert's death and 267 miles from Alton, IL, Sandy Allen was born in Shelbyville, IN in 1955.  She now holds the record of world's tallest woman.  In the 1970's, she underwent surgery for a disorder of the pituitary gland that stopped her uncontrollable growth at seven feet, seven inches.  It is thought the same disorder caused Robert's great height though it wasn't known about in his lifetime.  Miss Allen now resides in Indianapolis, IN.

Robert Wadlow is buried in his hometown of Alton, IL.

Two books were written about Wadlow, The Boy Giant and The Gentle Giant.

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