Thursday, March 22, 2012

Robert Wadlow, the World’s Tallest Man

Robert Pershing Wadlow, the world’s tallest man, was 8 feet 11½ inches tall, and many people remember when he came to Munichburg.

He visited Jefferson City on September 11, 1939. A crowd was already gathered when his car pulled up in front of Chicken Schmidt’s South Side Shoe Store, 124 East Dunklin. Al Case, who as a teenager worked at the shoe store for his uncle Chicken Schmidt, recalled the visit.

The front passenger seat of the car had been removed, and Wadlow sat in the backseat, his long legs extending all the way under the dashboard. It took a while for Wadlow to “uncoil” from the standard size, four-door sedan.

He stood to full height and walked with a cane to a wooden platform, which he mounted, though for him it was certainly unnecessary! There, he greeted folks and posed for photographs. Here he is with his hand on Chicken Schmidt’s head.

Mr. Case remembers Mr. Wadlow coming into the shoe store. Fortunately, the ceiling was ten feet high! When he went to use the facilities, he handed his cane to young Al to hold—it was almost as tall as he was!

Mr. Wadlow toured for Peters Shoes, made by the International Shoe Company, and Schmidt’s South Side Shoe Store was the local dealer for those shoes. Peters Shoes made custom footwear for Wadlow in exchange for his touring as a goodwill ambassador for the company.(Wadlow wore a size 37AA!)

Wadlow was born February 22, 1918, and grew up in Alton, Illinois. Due to an overactive pituitary gland, he was 5 feet 6 inches by the time he was five. At nine, he was 6 feet 2 inches. By 16 and still in high school, he was 7 feet 10 inches—taller than any of the tall men playing professional basketball today.

He was active in Boy Scouts and in his local Methodist church. He was a DeMolay and became a Freemason in 1939. He attended Shurtleff College in Alton.

His extraordinary height destined him to a life of public appearances, not as a sideshow attraction in carnivals, but for shoe companies. He toured throughout the United States mostly for the International Shoe Company headquartered at St. Louis. When he was eighteen, he appeared at the 1936 Missouri State Fair; by that time, he was 8 feet 4½ inches.

Above all (no pun intended) Wadlow had a gentle nature and was kind to everyone, despite his unusual appearance and difficulty of getting around. He always appeared in normal street clothes and was friendly and courteous with the public, regardless of the gawking and staring.

His father was his escort and manager. After all, he was just a teenager when he entered a life of public appearances. He was only 21 when he visited Jefferson City. Several persons in Jefferson City today distinctly remember his visit on Dunklin Street in 1939.

On June 27, 1940, just eighteen days before his death, doctors at Washington University in St. Louis measured him at 8 feet 11.1 inches. He weighed 490 pounds. He may have grown further before his death.

In July 1940 he experienced a blister and infection from a faulty ankle brace while appearing in Michigan. His condition worsened, and he died on July 15, 1940, at age 22. He was buried in Alton, Illinois. Today, a life-size statue there commemorates the world’s tallest man, certified by the Guinness Book of Records.

The Alton Museum of History and Art includes a special exhibit on Robert Wadlow, Alton’s “Gentle Giant.”

In keeping with the pleasant and unassuming nature of Mr. Wadlow, the exhibit is tastefully done with knowledgeable curators.

Copyright 2012 by Walter A. Schroeder.

Jefferson City 1939 photo provided by Al Case. Other photos by Susan Ferber.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Missouri Sales Tax Tokens

Suppose you went to the gas station today and bought one gallon of gas advertised at $3.299 a gallon. The clerk would expect you to pay $3.30 and would not give you back any change. But that’s not the way it was when we had mills for tenths of cents.

When we went to the Capitol Movie Theatre in the 1940s, a ticket for kids under the age of twelve cost 10 cents and 2 mills. Without the 2 mills, Mr. Arnold Gould would not let us in. If we gave the ticket seller 11 cents, she gave us 8 mills in change. The 2 mills were for the sales tax that Mr. Gould had to remit to the state of Missouri.

A mill is one-tenth of a cent, or one-thousandth of a dollar (it’s from the Latin word mille, which means “thousand”). Missouri had a state sales tax of 2 percent and issued sales tax tokens to help collect the tax when it came to tenths of cents. If you wanted to buy some dress material at the Southside Dry Goods Store, and Mr. Schmidt’s price for it was $3.70, he would add on the state sales tax of 7.4 cents, so the total bill would be $3.77 and 4 mills. You either gave him the 4 mills, or you gave him another penny and he gave you back 6 mills change.

Beginning in August 1935, Missouri issued tokens in 1-mill and 5-mill values in order to collect the sales tax. They were made of thin cardboard and called “milk-cap tokens” because they looked like the cardboard caps that were used for glass milk bottles.

Then Missouri tried metal tokens, which were slightly larger than a nickel, but thinner. They were lightweight, dull, and ugly and would never be mistaken for a coin. The 5-mill token had a hole in the center. Boys tried to use them in pinball machines, but they jammed the coin slot.

When World War II came, all metal went for the war effort, so Missouri turned to plastic tokens. The 1-mill token was bright red, and the 5-mill token bright green. The plastic easily warped, even under slight heat like sitting out in the sun, but even if they were curled, Mr. Gould accepted them at the Capitol Theatre.

They were useless for pinball machines! We boys laid them on the Missouri Pacific railroad tracks when we heard a train coming and watched the train’s wheels flatten them into half-dollar size.

Inflation after the war caused prices to rise quickly, and separate tokens for tenths of cents fell out of favor. Merchants didn’t like to fool around with tenths of cents, which required doing long multiplication on a piece of paper, so they simply rounded the sales tax to the nearest whole penny. This is what is done today when you buy gas at the gas station. Shoppers were glad not to have to fool around with a separate set of coins in their pockets and purses.

Missouri finally got rid of its sales tax tokens in 1961. It was the last state to do so!

Are Missouri sales tax tokens worthy anything today? So many millions were produced, and they were made so cheaply, that their value is trivial today. Collectibles dealers often sell them in boxes with miscellaneous paraphernalia.

The mills (and the milk jug cap!) in the pictures are from my collection. Some of the information was taken from the website of the American Tax Token Society.

Copyright 2012 by Walter A. Schroeder.


It’s not very taxing to join the Old Munichburg Association! New memberships cost just $25 (and no mills!)—click here for a membership form!