The Short Life Of History’s Tallest Man

Published April 25, 2015
Updated April 22, 2015

Robert Wadlow Tallest Person

Born in Alton, Illinois in 1918, an abnormal pituitary gland would catapult Robert Wadlow into the public limelight while he was a teenager–and end his life at a mere 22 years old.

At the time of his death, Wadlow was 8’11” (2.72 meters) and weighed 439 pounds (199 kilograms). Wadlow initially aspired to go to law school after graduating from high school in 1936, but ended up spending most of his time participating in tours and festivals around the United States, some of which were sponsored by the Ringling Brothers Circus.

Throughout this period, his growth showed no signs of slowing, and it eventually began to take its toll on his health. Wadlow suffered from poor circulation in his legs and feet, and while he would have likely benefitted from a wheelchair, Wadlow instead used leg braces. At a professional event in 1940, one of Wadlow’s braces began to irritate his ankle, which caused a blister and eventual parasitic infection. His conditioned worsened while in the hospital, and 11 days after making what would be his last professional appearance at an event, Wadlow died in his sleep. It took 12 men to carry Wadlow to his final resting place.

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