If you look carefully at the image above, you might notice something odd. The man on the right is not just the shorter of the two, he also has a proportionally smaller face, head and hands, almost as though he’s been slightly miniaturised. The man on the right is Harold Wadlow, father of the ten year-old boy on the left, Robert Wadlow,who was six feet, six inches tall in this photo. He would eventually reach a height of eight feet, eleven inches, about the same height as an elephant. Once, walking into a basketball stadium directly behind NBA player Luc Longley, I was amazed at how incomprehensible large he was yet at seven feet, two inches, he would have been dwarfed by Wadlow.
The second tallest human on record was another American yet one who lived a very different life from Robert Wadlow. John Rogan, a slave’s son, was an African-American born in Tennessee only a few years after the end of the civil war. Crippled for his most of his life due to ankylosis caused by his rapid growth, he was unemployed and lived an impoverished life. He was eight feet, nine inches tall but weighed only 79 kg.
The Potsdam Giants were a Prussian infantry regiment founded in 1675 and composed of men of well above average height. Obtaining tall men for the division became something of an obsession for King Frederick I. Many of his ‘recruits’ were actually abducted from various parts of Europe. In an early attempt at eugenics, Frederick paired his soldiers with abnormally tall women in the hope that any resulting children would be even taller. He never risked the regiment in battle.
Perhaps the most remarkable giant of all was the Austrian Adam Rainer. At a height of seven feet, eight inches, he doesn’t rank near the top of the list – there are at least thirty people ahead of him. However, he is the only giant who was also a dwarf. At the age of eighteen he was four feet, six inches tall, easily under the four feet, ten inches which is the defining characteristic of dwarfism. Over the next fourteen years he grew a further 38 inches but, as a result, his health deteriorated and he spent most of his adult life bedridden.