Tallest Human Ever Recorded Was Born in Illinois, Died in Michigan
As fate would have it, I first crossed paths with Robert Wadlow a few weeks ago in Farmington, Michigan. No, I didn't meet Robert in person. Rather, I encountered a life-size replica of this marvel of a man at the aptly named Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum on the east side of the state.
It was at Marvin's where I first learned the bittersweet story of the tallest human ever in recorded history "of whom there is irrefutable evidence" as verified by the Guinness Book of World Records.
Birth of Mr. Wadlow
Robert Pershing Wadlow was born in February 1918 in Alton, Illinois just north of St. Louis. At first Robert was just as ordinary as any baby, weighing just over 8 pounds at birth. However, Robert began growing at a rapid rate and by age 5 he was just over 5 feet, 4 inches tall-- that's taller than some full-grown human adults that I know, including myself!
Though the Wadlows had other children, it was only Robert that seemed to grow so instantaneously. By the time Robert was age 17 he already measured 8 feet tall and was dubbed, "The Tallest Teenager Ever."
A wonder of nature, it's no surprise that traveling circus groups began to court Robert. His extraordinary height no doubt caused expensive complications, both health-wise and lifestyle-wise. For example, Robert often used leg braces and a walking stick. Soon Robert began making promotional appearances with Ringling Bros. Circus where the rest of the world got to meet him. Though his situation was unique he used it to his advantage to earn money from promotional appearances.
Why Was He So Tall?
Doctors believe what caused Robert Wadlow to be so extraordinarily tall was "hyperplasia of his pituitary gland" or essentially an overactive pituitary gland that caused his body to produce high levels of human growth hormone. Though it's possible to manage the condition with medical intervention nowadays, back then there was no treatment for "pituitary gigantism".
Death in Michigan
Sadly, Robert passed away from complications due to his gigantism at only 22 years of age. Robert had been visiting Manistee, MI at the time and he passed away at his hotel during the early morning hours of July 15, 1940. Doctors believe Robert's demise was, "a result of a septic blister on his right ankle caused by a brace, which had been poorly fitted only a week earlier." Ouch! How unfortunate that someone so large could be taken out by something so small.
Today Robert's legacy lives on in life-size statues like the one at Marvin's Museum in Michigan. His hometown of Alton, IL also erected a life-size statue of Robert across from the Alton Museum of History and Art.
Of course the legend of Robert Wadlow still lives on in his Guinness World Record; a record that has yet to be broken to this very day.