Robert Pershing Wadlow (1918-1940) of Alton, Illinois, was the tallest person ever recorded in history, with a height, when fully grown, of 8 feet 11 inches. He was a normal baby, but by the age of 6 months he weighed 30 pounds, and by the time he was eight he was already over six feet tall: at 13, he became the world's tallest Boy Scout at seven feet four inches. His abnormal growth was due to a pituitary imbalance which would probably have been treatable today.

Robert had a close and loving family, all of normal height, who encouraged him to live as normally as possible, and unlike many other unusually handicapped people he seems to have had a fairly ordinary life as a valued and loved member of his local community. By all accounts he was a friendly and laid-back character, very easy-going: the townsfolk of Alton called him the Gentle Giant, and documentaries and books about him are full of affectionate memories from his neighbours. When Robert was twenty, the company that made his enormous (and very expensive) shoes decided to donate them for free, and Robert became a travelling ambassador for the company, driving around with his father in their specially-adapted car, visiting 800 towns and 41 states.

Two years later, after having trouble with his feet for some time, he contracted a fatal infection from a blister while making an appearance in Michigan. There were no hospital beds big enough, so the doctors treated him in the hotel where he was staying, and despite emergency surgery and blood transfusions, he died in his sleep on 15 July, 1940. He was taken back to his home town for burial and buried as requested in a cement-lined tomb, to prevent anyone digging his body up as a medical curiosity. (Despite this, the museum at Loma Linda University in California has a skeleton which they claim is his) In 1984 the townspeople of Alton petitioned for some kind of public recognition of their local hero, and in 1985 a life-size bronze statue was erected to his memory on the campus of the Southern Illinois University School of Dental Medicine.

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