Robert Wadlow, World's Tallest Man
Bigness is its own reward. You want to be a success? Sell a bigger burger. Open a megastore or a multiplex. Merge your way into multinational conglomeratehood.
Since size is the prize, it's only right that several towns bank on the man who towered head-and-shoulders above all others. His name was Robert Wadlow, and he stood eight-foot-eleven -- the tallest man who ever lived.
Robert Pershing Wadlow was born in Alton on February 22, 1918, a normal-size baby, but soon his perky pituitary gland triggered abnormal growth. At the age of 13, already seven-foot-four, he was proclaimed the world's biggest Boy Scout. And he kept getting bigger.... he eventually topped out at 8 feet 11.1 inches.
At the Franklin Masonic Temple in Alton, visitors can ponder the massive chair of this modern Goliath. Alton's business leaders can be forgiven if they sometimes sit in Robert's chair, musing over the fate that makes some men big while others suffer shortsightedness and shortfalls.
On October 20, 1985, a life-size bronze statue of Wadlow was unveiled on the grounds of SIU Dental School in Alton -- Wadlow had attended classes there -- offering mute inspiration to those who dare to dream tall dreams.
All bigness, however, is fleeting. Wadlow's grave lies in nearby Upper Alton Cemetery. In 1940 he marched in a July 4 parade, got an infected foot blister, and died. He was only 22 -- but it took 12 men to carry him to his final rest.
The story of Robert Wadlow did not end with his death. He was, it should be remembered, trapped in a world of lesser, tinier men -- men who might be happy that they no longer had to measure themselves against him. This might explain why the world's tallest tombstone was denied the world's tallest man, and instead given to a dentist in Philadelphia.
Before passing on, Wadlow traveled the country as a spokesman for a shoe company. As part of the promotion, he'd leave behind his own shoes for display. You can see World's Tallest Man shoes in a surprising number of places; our favorites would include: