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kottke.org posts about Guinness Book of World Records

Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest ever human

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2018

When I was a kid, I devoured books like locusts ravage crops on the plains. My sister and I would go to the library, get 5 or 6 books each, and when I was done reading all of mine, I’d read hers — Little Women, Judy Blume, The Baby-Sitters Club…I was not picky. I read Roald Dahl, all the Little House books, Where the Red Fern Grows, Encyclopedia Brown, E.B. White, the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, all kinds of biographies of famous people, and almost everything else in our local library. Reading was how I learned about the world outside my tiny town. Reading was how I came to know about Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest man.

In 1981, when I was 8 years old, our household acquired two books that I would read more than any other during my childhood: a set of World Book encyclopedias and the Guinness Book of World Records.1 The encyclopedia, a prized family possession, sat on a shelf in the living room and one of my favorite things was to grab a random volume, crack it open to a random page, and start reading. The Guinness Book of World Records, in contrast, sat on a small table in the bathroom; I read it while sitting on the toilet.

The first few pages of the book, which I am pretty sure is still sitting on that table in my dad’s bathroom, contained records related to the human body. I particularly remember reading about Robert Earl Hughes, then the world’s heaviest human, and The McGuire Twins, the world’s heaviest twins; they liked to ride motorcycles:

Mcguire Twins

But most captivating part of that book was the section about Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest person: 8ft 11in tall, shoe size of 37AA, wingspan of 9.5 feet, and he could carry his father up the stairs at age 9, a feat unimaginable by a scrawny Wisconsin boy of the same age. The tallest person I’d ever seen up until then was probably like 6’3” — a man almost 9 feet tall was like something out of the stories I read from the library. Who needs fiction when you’ve got facts like these?

I hadn’t thought about any of this in years until I ran across a short video of Wadlow the other day (there’s more footage here, here, and elsewhere on YouTube):

Holy shit. Suddenly this almost mythical person from my childhood is walking across my screen! Digging a little, I found the Retronaut’s collection of Wadlow photos, only a couple of which were included in my Guinness book. Here’s Wadlow at 10 years old, when he was already 6’5”:

Robert Wadlow

And here are a couple more photos that show just how tall he was:

Robert Wadlow

Robert Wadlow

You can read more about Wadlow on Wikipedia, on Retronaut, or, yes, on the Guinness World Records site. I don’t care what anyone says…the World Wide Web is still a marvel. It brought Robert Wadlow alive for me, all these years later. What a thing.

  1. I will leave as an exercise to the reader how these books massively influenced my current choice of vocation.