The emergence of another possible billion dollar business, based on bottling and selling a natural commodity.
Robert Wadlow and the Valley of the Gentle Giant
Posted by Failed Success on 05/04/06 at 11:03 AM
In the early 20th century, a quiet man from a quiet town grew to become the tallest person in recorded history.
Robert Pershing Wadlow was born on February 22, 1918 in the small town of Alton, IL, located just a short drive from St. Louis, MO.
It became quickly apparent to everyone who saw him that this was no ordinary child. By the time of his death in 1940, he had become the tallest person in history as recorded by the Guinness Book of World Records, reaching a staggering 8 feet and 11.1 inches in height and weighing 490lbs.
From the Alton Museum of History and Art:
He tried his best to just be a kid and do all of the normal things that kids did at that time. He took up photography, collected stamps and matchbooks, as well as joined the YMCA to occupy his time. Eventually became a Boy Scout at the age of 13, by which time he had reached 7 foot 4 inches and was easily the world’s tallest Boy Scout.
In 1936 Wadlow received a scholarship from Shurtleff College of Alton and planned to become an attorney. He found college life to be extremely difficult due to his size. Pens and pencils were difficult for him to use and lab instruments were a nightmare. He quit after one year mostly because he could scarcely walk in icy winter conditions and he had difficulty moving from building to building between classes. Due to his rapid growth, his bones were brittle, and a single fall could put him in the hospital.
While he was unable to continue in his legal pursuits, he was able to find employment of a different kind thanks to his remarkable stature. At the age of 19 he joined the Ringling Brothers Circus and toured the United States. A year later, he became a goodwill ambassador for the International Shoe Company and embarked on a goodwill tour visiting over 800 towns throughout 41 states. One great perk for touring with the shoe company was that Robert was provided with free shoes, which at $100.00 a pair for his size 37 shoes (a lot of money back in the 1930’s), was a big savings.
Between these tours, as well as numerous other public appearances, Robert became one of the most popular American celebrities at the time. A man named D Heuer from Arkansas provides a first hand glimpse at what it was like when Robert came to town:
On July 4, 1940, Wadlow was hospitalized in Manistee, Michigan while making a professional appearance at the National Forest Festival in Manistee; a faulty brace had irritated his ankle, causing a blister and bad infection. Because of his size, Robert had lost most of the feeling in his feet and had continued problems with blisters and chafing on his feet because he could not feel the pain of his ankle brace rubbing into the skin.
Doctors treated him with blood transfusions and emergency surgery but his fever only worsened. On 14 July, his condition was said to be “very grave” and he was using a feeding tube. His temperature never dropped below 106F (41C) during that day. At 12:40pm on 15 July, 1940, he died in his sleep.
He was buried in Oakwood Cemetery in upper Alton, IL on 19 July. His half-ton casket required a dozen pallbearers and eight other men to carry. On the day of his funeral, all city businesses were closed out of respect. Around 40,000 people attended his funeral that day.
Robert Wadlow’s great size and his continued growth in adulthood were due to a tumor within his pituitary gland that excreted large amounts of grown hormone. This condition, known as Acromegalic Gigantism, does not generally attack the entire body. Usually it involves only the lower extremities, so that in most cases the head and trunk are of more or less normal size while the lower torso and legs attain extreme proportions.
In 1985, an impressive life-size bronze statue of Robert Wadlow was erected at the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville School of Dental Medicine. To this day he is still affectionately known as the “Gentle Giant.”
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