Robert Pershing Wadlow was world renowned for his whopping height at 8’11.1″. Born in Alton in 1918, he was known as the boy who never stopped growing. Records indicate that the “gentle giant” was 6’2 by his eighth birthday. By adulthood, his life was pretty difficult compared to the average sized person. He had to purchase immensely large clothing, bedding, and shoes. He spent a fortune on his shoes- $100 a pair. Today that equates to nearly two-thousand dollars.
So what was the cause of his enhanced growth? According to doctors, he had an overactive pituitary gland which produced far too much human growth hormone. Unfortunately, there was no remedy at the time; so, he was never able to be treated. However, like the Altonian he was, Robert made the best of the cards he was the dealt.
Luckily for Robert, his height allowed him to become a sort of travel-marketer for the international shoe company. After notching 300,000 miles, 41 states, and 800 towns, Robert was something of a celebrity. Tragically, because of his extremely calloused feet from a lifetime of shoe issues he had no little feeling in his feet. This ultimately led to the giant’s demise as he formed blisters at an event in Michigan that later became infected and prematurely ended his life. However, the legend of Robert Pershing Wadlow is well-maintained by the Alton Museum of History & Art as well as the greater Alton community where a statue still stands on College avenue.
Aside from the exhibit at the museum, there exists a great statue of the Gentle Giant in Alton, right across the street. You can even sit in a bronze chair made to show visitors how big his seats had to be!