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In medical history, Robert Pershing Wadlow holds the record for tallest man, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. He continued to grow until the time of his death at age 22, reaching 8 feet 11 inches and 439 pounds.

When Wadlow was born in Alton, Illinois, in 1918, he was a rather normal 8 pounds 6 ounces. But when he was four years old, an undiagnosed pituitary gland tumor (something that has afflicted many extraordinarily tall men) caused a growth spurt that lasted for the rest of his life. By age eight, he was 6 feet 2 inches. At 14, he was the world’s tallest Boy Scout at 7 feet 4 inches. By the time he was 18, while studying law at Shurtleff College, he reportedly wore size 37AA shoes and had reached 8 feet 4 inches.

Wadlow, known as the “Gentle Giant,” became famous in 1936 by touring with the Ringling Brothers Circus and launching a series of promotional tours and public appearances. He had the largest and broadest hands in recorded history—they were so large, he could hide an entire quart bottle of soda in his hand. He died in 1940 when a bad infection in his ankle spread. At his funeral, it took 12 pallbearers to carry his half-ton coffin; 40,000 spectators attended. A life-size bronze statue of Wadlow stands on the Shurtleff campus, which is now a part of Southern Illinois University.