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 8' 11" tall -- the BIGGEST man who ever lived.
Robert Pershing Wadlow was born in Alton in 1918, a normal-size baby, but soon his perky pituitary gland triggered abnormal growth. At the age of 13, already 7 ft. 4 in., he was proclaimed the world's biggest Boy Scout. And he kept getting bigger.... he eventually topped out at 8 ft. 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 a mute challenge to those who would measure themselves against him. All bigness is fleeting, and Wadlow's grave lies in nearby Upper Alton Cemetery. In 1940 he marched in a 4th of July 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 does not end with his death. He was, it should be remembered, trapped in a world of lesser, tinier men -- men who might view his passing as an opportunity for revenge, not reflection. This might explain why the world's biggest tombstone was denied the world's biggest man, and instead given to someone named Daniel Moriarty in New Orleans' Metairie Cemetery (at 85 feet tall, its construction bankrupted two stonecutters).
Before passing on, Wadlow traveled the country as a spokesperson for a shoe company. As part of the promotion, he'd leave behind his own shoes for store owners to display.
Today you can see World's Biggest Man shoes in many places: