Most people are born of normal height. But every so often, the genetics of a person takes a different course, causing them to grow and grow to unusual heights. This requires lots of adjustments to “normal” life such as finding the largest bed size available to specially tailored clothes. Here are the stories of the two tallest known men in U.S. history.
Robert Pershing Wadlow (1918–1940)
Robert Wadlow is considered the tallest known person to have lived in the United States. Born in Alton, IL., he became known as the Alton Giant and the Giant of Illinois. He grew in height to 8 ft. 11 in. and weighed 439 pounds. He died at age 22. His height was the result of a medical condition known as hyperplasia of the pituitary gland. This causes an exceptionally high amount of human growth hormone. Robert was taller than his father by his eighth birthday. When he graduated from high school, Robert was 8 ft. 4 in. tall. Upon graduation he studied law at Shurtleff College. For a short while, Robert toured with the Ringling Brothers Circus in 1936 appearing center stage at the Boston Garden and Madison Square Garden. He also worked on a tour with the International Shoe Company – his shoe size was 37. Sadly, by age 22 Robert’s health began to deteriorate and he passed away. His coffin measured 10 ft. 9 in. and weighed 1,000 lbs. He was carried by 20 pallbearers. A life-size statue of Robert is housed at the Alton Museum of History and Art.
John William Bud Rogan (1868 – 1905)
John Rogan is considered the second tallest known person to have lived in the United States. Born in Hendersonville, Tn., John was the tallest known person until Robert Wadlow came along. John was the son of a former slave and the fourth of 12 children in the Rogan household. John was tall, but of relatively normal height for his age until he turned 13. At this time, he experienced ankylosis which is abnormally rigid skeletal joints. By age 14 he could not walk, nor stand. By age 31 he had reached 8 ft. 6 in. News of his exceptional height appeared in newspapers across the United States. To move places he modified a goat cart into a wheelchair. Goats pulled the chair to transport him. He could not work so he supported himself selling photos and postcards at a nearby train station. He was an artist and several of his drawings were published in the Kansas City Journal. He was approached by many of the local and national traveling circuses, but rejected offers to join their sideshows. Although John grew to 8 ft. 9 in., he weighed only 205 pounds. He died at the age of 37 from ankylosis.
Despite their difficult circumstances, both Robert and John made the most of their unusual lives. Through ingenuity and perseverance, they adjusted to life whether that was modifying a goat cart to get around to building furniture and of course, the largest bed size available to having specialty shoes made.