Robert Wadlow (1918-1940) was a young man whose life was cut way too short. At just 22 years of age, he received a nasty cut on his ankle---the resulting infection spread rapidly and despite a blood transfusion and emergency surgery, Wadlow soon passed away. Some have speculated that his weight had something to do with his death (Wadlow weighed 490 pounds at his death), but since his body was in proportion (he was 8'11" tall), there's not much validity to that theory. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Wadlow is the tallest male who has ever lived.
Known as the "Alton Giant" (because of his hometown of Alton, Illinois), Wadlow's great size was due to hyperactivity of his pituitary gland which results in an abnormally high level of human growth hormone. He showed no indication of an end to his growth even at the time of his death--had he lived, some speculate he would have been in excess of 10' tall!
Wadlow and his brother
Wadlow, with his mother, in his specially made easy chair
Despite his large statue, Wadlow was no sideshow spectacle or genetic freak of nature. He was simply a person who happened to be very large. Trying to maintain a normal life, Robert enjoyed collecting stamps, photography, and became the world's tallest Boy Scout at 7'4" when he was 13 years of age. By the age of 20, he had to have his size 37 shoes specially made at a cost of approximately $100 a pair, quite a considerable sum for the 1930's. The International Shoe Company began to provide his shoes free of charge, on the condition that Robert would become the company's traveling ambassador. He did, visiting eight hundred towns in forty-one states. Robert's father, who would act as chauffeur, modified the family sedan by removing the front passenger seat so that Robert could sit in the back and stretch his long legs. Together, Robert and his father traveled over 300,000 miles in slightly less than three years on behalf of International Shoes.
The Boy Scout at age 13
Wadlow and his father traveled the US for several years as the Goodwill Ambassador for the International Show Company
Signing autographs, or maybe getting some phone numbers?
What's the connection to DC?
On this day in history, 15 July 1948, General of the Armies John "Black Jack" Pershing passed away. Pershing was the commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in World War One (see previous mention of Pershing here and here) and the only person to be promoted in his own lifetime to the highest rank ever held in the United States Army—General of the Armies (that's a 5 star general). For the record, George Washington was only a 4-star General, but was promoted posthumously to his 5th star.
General of the Armies Pershing
Robert Wadlow's middle name was "Pershing"; he was named in honor of Gen Pershing. Wadlow was born in 1918--shortly after Pershing took command of the AEF and the US entered WWI. Pershing would have been a household name at the time, and the Wadlow's named the baby boy after one of the most famous American military leaders of the day.
Pershing's Tombstone (Arlington, VA); Wadlow's Tombstone (Alton, Ohio)
I know---it's a dubious connection, but it made for a good story, right?