Robert Wadlow, World's Tallest Man.
One of Robert Wadlow's many public appearances. He's resting his hand on his dad's head.

Relics of the World's Tallest Man

Field review by the editors.

Alton, Illinois

Robert Wadlow was born on February 22, 1918, as an average-size baby. His overactive pituitary gland soon put a stop to that. When he died 22 years later, Robert was the tallest man in the world.

Robert's hometown of Alton preserves his memory with a room of relics -- expanded as part of Robert's 100th birthday celebration -- in its Museum of History and Art. Wadlow mementos are rare. Most of his personal things were destroyed by his mother, who was fearful he would only be remembered as a freak. The museum takes pains not to do that, presenting Robert as a "Gentle Giant," a civic-minded citizen, and a worthy ambassador for the town.

High school senior Robert Wadlow stands next to his father.
High school senior Robert Wadlow stands next to his father.

We spoke with museum president Brain Combs and secretary John Langley, who shared details of Robert's unique life. His feet were so long that he had to walk sideways on stairs. His legs and arms were so long that he had to drive a car sitting in the back seat. The only time he lost his gentle temper was when people would kick him in his pants legs, convinced he was standing on stilts.

Robert was a roving ambassador for the Peters Shoe Company, which produced dozens of promotional size 37 shoes, still occasionally found in old shoe stores across the country. A bank once held a contest to see if anyone could guess how many dimes would fit into a Robert Wadlow shoe (The answer was 6,250).

Because he continued to grow throughout his life, Robert's final shoe size was actually 44.5. And although his official height was recorded as 8 feet, 11.1 inches, both Brian and John believe he was over 9 feet tall when he died.

Rather than the usual six pallbearers, Wadlow's casket needed 18. It weighed, with Robert inside, nearly 1,000 pounds. It was so long that the rear door of the hearse had to be removed. He was buried in a reinforced concrete vault to prevent anyone from digging up his body for experimentation or ghoulish souvenirs.

The Robert Wadlow artifacts on display in the museum include many photos and promotional items (including several shoes), his oversized childhood sled, his giant fountain pen, his school desk (which had to be raised on wooden blocks), his high school graduation cap and gown (which required 14 yards of fabric), several small-scale test versions of the Robert Wadlow statue across the street, life-size photos of Robert posed so that visitors can stand beside him and look tiny, and a copy of his Masonic ring, size 25, big enough to slip a half-dollar through the center. One of Robert Wadlow's many claims-to-fame was that he had largest hands ever recorded.

The other members of Robert Wadlow's family were all standard-size.
The other members of Robert Wadlow's family were all standard-size.

Relics of the World's Tallest Man

Alton Museum of History and Art

Address:
2809 College Ave., Alton, IL
Directions:
Alton Museum of History and Art. East side of the city. Hwy 3 exit onto Hwy 140/College Ave. Drive west about a mile. Museum is on the left, just before the stop sign intersection with Seminary St.
Hours:
W-Sa 10-4, Su 1-4 (Call to verify)
Phone:
618-462-2763
Admission:
Adults $5.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Robert Wadlow, World's Tallest ManRobert Wadlow, World's Tallest Man, Alton, IL - < 1 mi.
Curiosity Museum, formerly Historic Museum of Torture DevicesCuriosity Museum, formerly Historic Museum of Torture Devices, Alton, IL - 2 mi.
Lincoln-Douglas Debate StatuesLincoln-Douglas Debate Statues, Alton, IL - 2 mi.
In the region:
Hollow Head, St. Louis, MO - 19 mi.

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April 19, 2018

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