The Tragic Story Of Adam Rainer, The Man Who Went From Dwarf To Giant

Published July 21, 2023
Updated August 8, 2023

When Adam Rainer turned 18 he was under four and a half feet tall. A little more than 15 years later he would be 7'1" — tall enough to be classified as a giant.

It’s unclear if Adam Rainer, whose height was less than five feet when he was 21, ever wished that he’d grow taller. But if he did, his story would epitomize the expression “be careful what you wish for.”

Adam Rainer

Public DomainA man believed to be Adam Rainer next to someone of more average height.

Not much is known about the personal details of the life Adam Rainer led, as it was his curious and unprecedented medical condition that dominated what’s known about it.

What is known has often become the stuff of legend, inadvertently exaggerated over the years. But Adam Rainer’s story needs no embellishment.

Adam Rainer was the only known person in history to have been recorded as both a dwarf and a giant, a medical marvel brought about by a combination of dwarfism and a tumor inside his pituitary gland that left doctors in shocked amazement. Unfortunately, this was also accompanied by several other serious health issues.

Adam Rainer’s Early Life

Adam Rainer was born in Graz, Austria, in 1899 to parents who were both of average height. However, it became clear early on that their son’s growth was drastically stunted. Even into adulthood, Adam Rainer still stood at roughly the size of a child.

When World War I broke out, he enlisted in the army, but his “conspicuously small” stature led doctors to conduct a series of tests to determine his eligibility. Standing at just 4 feet, 6 inches tall, doctors ultimately classified Rainer as a dwarf and deemed him unfit to be an effective soldier. The cutoff, according to IFL Science, was four-foot-ten.

The most striking and particularly unusual thing about Rainer’s dwarfism, compared to others, was the size of his hands and feet — they were far too large for his overall size. Despite his short height, he wore a size 10 shoe (or a 43, in European sizes).

Young Adam Rainer

Public DomainA photo of young Adam Rainer in Austria.

Just one year later, Adam Rainer had grown another two inches and tried once again to enlist with the army, but he was, once again, denied. Despite the growth spurt, he was still two inches too short.

As fate would have it, however, this would soon change.

Even in 1920, Rainer was still well below average height. Health records show that he was also relatively thin and underweight. At 21 years old, when a person typically stops growing, most doctors and people in his life assumed that Rainer was also done growing and would forever remain a dwarf.

But then something happened. Rainer didn’t just grow another two inches — he started to grow at an alarmingly accelerated rate without any sign of slowing down.

Within a decade, as Rainer entered his early 30s, he was well above that four-foot-ten cutoff; he now towered over those around him at more than seven feet tall.

Adam Rainer’s Sudden Growth

Doctors were baffled. Two men, Dr. A. Mandl and Dr. F. Windholz, started examining Rainer in 1930. They began to suspect that Rainer may have developed a specific kind of tumor that caused an extreme case of acromegaly: a condition, in this case, caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland, that causes abnormal growth of the face, hands, and feet due to an overproduction of growth hormones.

The condition may be known to most through individuals like iconic wrestler Andre the Giant or “The Munsters” star Fred Gwynne. Symptoms of acromegaly include enlarged hands and feet, which doctors noticed in Rainer. Additionally, over time, Rainer’s face became more square in shape, as his jaw and eyebrows protruded more and more due to the condition.

Rainer was also exceedingly tired a significant portion of the time, another common symptom of acromegaly.

In a 1961 report by Oscar Hirsch, another doctor who studied Rainer, it was remarked that the man was unable to perform a “normal” bite due to the immense size of his tongue. The now-giant Rainer had also begun to lose his hearing at around 26 years old.

As a result of his rapid growth, Adam Rainer also experienced issues with his spine, which had begun to curve sideways as each massive growth spurt made him taller and taller. Soon, the doctors discovered that their hypothesis was correct.

A Bold Operation On The Tumor

Oscar Hirsch Study

Oscar HirschAdam Rainer photographed for a study about his unexpected growth.

The tumor in Rainer’s pituitary gland had been growing for more than a decade, but Mandl and Windholz opted to remove it via surgery anyway. At the time, such a surgery was incredibly risky, as it would necessitate working closely with vital areas of the brain.

On Dec. 2, 1930, Rainer underwent the dangerous operation. Thankfully, the surgery, performed by Oscar Hirsch, was a success.

Several months passed, and Rainer returned to visit Mandl and Windholz once more for a checkup. They were glad to see that his height had remained the same — no more sudden growth spurts. However, his spinal curvature was even worse, which indicated that although it was occurring at a much slower rate, he was in fact still growing. And it showed no signs of stopping.

Unfortunately, Adam Rainer’s health problems only got worse. He started to lose vision in his right eye. As he approached middle age, Rainer’s spine curvature grew worse, and his vision continued to deteriorate.

Some accounts would later claim that he was often confined to bed and incapable of taking care of himself because of the pain, as he spent the last years of his life in a “home of the aged” in Austria.

He did live in such a home, but according to Hirsch’s report, Rainer was able to take care of himself and was never confined to bed.

“He was clumsy, but kind to his roommates,” Hirsch wrote he was told by Adam Rainer’s doctor at the home.

Adam Rainer eventually died at the age of 51 years old after undergoing surgery for “perforation of the large intestine and peritonitis.” No autopsy was performed.

At the time of his death, Adam Rainer stood, by most estimates, at a massive 7 feet, 8 inches tall (though some estimates put him at seven-foot-ten). He is still the only man in history classified as both a dwarf and a giant in the same lifetime.

If you found this story about Adam Rainer interesting, you may also want to check out 21 pictures of Andre the Giant that it’s hard to believe aren’t photoshopped. Then read the tale of the Eddie Gaedel, the smallest player in Major League history.

Kara Goldfarb
Kara Goldfarb is a writer living in New York City who holds a Bachelor's degree in journalism from Ithaca College and hosts a podcast for Puna Press.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.