The Story of Clifford Thompson – The Tallest Wisconsinite to Ever Live

Clifford Thompson - The Tallest Wisconsinite to Ever Live

Did you know one of the tallest men in the world was a Wisconsinite?

Clifford Thompson claimed he was 8’7″ tall. Although, there has been some controversy over his actual height. According to, he towered 7′ 5″ above ground. And a researcher named Craig Albert, more recently used photo-analysis to determine his size was somewhere between 8’3″ and 8’6″ tall.

Either way – he was a famous Wisconsin giant who wanted people to know he was not a freak of nature and that his height was not at all related to a glandular condition. Rather, Thompson believed his height was a result of his Norwegian blood – since many Vikings were very tall men.

Cliff was known as the “Wisconsin Paul Bunyan”, “Count Olaf,” and the “Scandinavian Giant.” He actually grew up in Scandinavia, Wisconsin on his family’s dairy farm in Waupaca County.

3. thompsonFor that reason, he was also referred to as the world’s largest dairy farmer.

Cliff’s parents and two sisters were of average size, but Cliff didn’t stop growing until he was 27 years old!

And his life was anything but normal…

Everything he wore had to be customized. His shoe was size 22, his chest measured 46 inches across and his ring finger was the size of a 50-cent piece! Don’t ask me about you-know-what – nobody measured that.

Cliff’s 1935 Ford Sedan attracted about as much attention as he did. The front seats had to be removed and a 19-inch extension was added to the steering wheel so he could reach it from the backseat. He even had to sleep diagonally on two beds pushed together.

A typical meal for Cliff was twice as much as the average Joe – even though he said he didn’t eat much more than a normal person.

But at one meal he could down 3 lbs of steak, three extra large baked potatoes, several servings of veggies, a quart of milk and an entire apple pie! His first wife even divorced him because she was sick and tired of making his dinner.

Cliff was good-natured and had a positive attitude about his freakish height – most of the time.

As the story goes, his biggest fear was getting his head chopped off in one of those 4-bladed ceiling fans.

And, he sure did get annoyed by people asking him, “how’s the weather up there?”

But – he was a jokester himself. When he visited other people’s houses, he would slide his finger along the molding of the ceiling, show them the dust he collected, and joke about what a poor housekeeper they were.

Cliff wanted to become a math or science teacher. Unfortunately he struggled to land a job in that profession after graduating from college at UW Stevens Point. He spent an entire year applying for several positions with no success. Cliff assumed the school superintendents thought he would frighten all the children with his massive height.

At least he got to be a basketball referee in Appleton a few times. I bet he wasn’t bad at the sport himself!


Since teaching didn’t work out, Cliff decided to be a professional circus giant and live his life on display. He made $125 a week, which is way more than any Northeast Wisconsin teacher was making!

Cliff spent 12 years showing off his height with The Al G. Barnes, The Ringling Brothers and The Cole Brothers Circus, which featured the famous animal trainer Clyde Beatty.

Throughout his circus career, he also became the “tallest man to ever appear in the movies” – according to a 1931 Chicago Tribune article and modern film historians.

He made appearances in:

  • A Day in the Life of a Giant (his name was not in the credits)
  • Movie Town (1931) with Marjorie Beebe, Mack Sennett and Buster Crabbe (his name was not in the credits)
  • Seal Skins (1932) with Zasu Pitss & a monkey named Jocko
  • Twentieth Century (1934) Ben Hecht’s full length feature with John Barrymore & Carole Lombard
  • Murder in the Private Car (1934) Ben Hecht’s full length feature with Charles Ruggles & Una Merkel
  • Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) and Tarzan and His Mate (1934) – two early Johnny Weissmuller films

Cliff was definitely a traveling man. But he often made it back home to Wisconsin. He felt at peace on his parents farm in Waupaca. He even decided to move back in with them after all his time in Los Angeles. He got involved with social organizations near his hometown, including the Waupaca Lions Club and the Wisconsin Rapids BFO Elks. In the Waupaca community Christmas program one year, he even played the world’s largest Santa Claus!

In Cliff’s last days as a circus performer, he fell in love with a Milwaukee nightclub dancer, Mary Mars. That’s around the time he decided to quit the circus life for good. He wanted a more normal life and a job that actually required some skills.

In his post circus career, he became the spokesperson for a few companies. He promoted the Ford V8 as “roomy enough for a giant” and he also represented the Big Shoe Store in Steven’s Point.

The Wisconsin Milk Industry hired him one summer to walk around at the Wisconsin State Fair wearing a sign that said “Drink Milk – Look what it did for me.”

6. Blatz-Beer-CT with wifeIt was there that he met a bigwig of Blatz Brewery – which would become Pabst Brewery in Milwaukee.

He mentioned to Cliff that he should be promoting beer rather than milk. He was half joking, but Cliff jumped on that opportunity anyway.

He went to the brewery that same night to convince the company to hire him as their spokesperson. That’s when he became the star salesman for Blatz Brewery.

With the stability of his job, Cliff and Mary were able to get married and buy a house in Milwaukee. The giant beer salesman and his wife traveled a hefty 40,000 miles every year.

Cliff liked his new job. He told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel three years into it that,

“The big difference is that as a circus giant, I was merely on display, whereas now I am doing a job the same as anybody else. Of course I think my show experience helps in my present work, as I have the knack of putting showmanship into my selling, which is chiefly the reason for my success as a salesman.”

It didn’t take long for Cliff and his wife to grow tired of all the travel. Especially because he was 460 pounds, walked with a cane and sleeping in hotel beds was not an easy task.

So he decided once again to explore other opportunities.

He registered for the military in 1942 when the US was entering World War II.

He was denied.

So instead, Cliff decided to stay put in Milwaukee and attend law school at Marquette University. Many of the classrooms at Marquette had to be renovated to fit his size. But as it turned out, he became the “tallest lawyer in American history” in only two years time.

He moved back to Waupaca County and opened his own law office in Iola, Wisconsin. But, after having some health issues, Cliff and his wife up and left for California. We don’t really know why. But most likely he was hoping to practice law and possibly make his way back into the Hollywood spotlight.

Newspapers from the Badger State went nuts. The Wisconsin State Journal reported, “Former Iola Giant Moves to California.” The Racine Journal Times wrote, “Human Skyscraper Heads Westward.” But the move to California didn’t last long. When he didn’t pass the bar exam to practice law there, the couple moved to Portland, Oregon. Cliff practiced law there for a good five years.

And just as he hoped, he ended up back in the Hollywood spotlight again – just five years before he died.

His final short film was called The Paul Bunyan of the Legal Profession and it showcased what everyday life was like for Cliff – the friendly Wisconsin giant.

See a Video Clip of Cliff Thompson and His Car

How Clifford Thompson Lives on

The World's Tallest Man Exhibit, Rugby North DakotaIf you visit Rugby, North Dakota – where Cliff was actually born – you’ll find “The World’s Tallest Salesman” exhibit at the Prairie Village museum. The 8’7″ mannequin is wearing one of Cliff’s old suits. You can also find Cliff’s eight foot tall photo cut out on display in Eckstein Hall of the new Marquette Law School in Milwaukee.

Plus, Clifford Thompson will always live on in his appearances in at least eight motion pictures.

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A Special Thanks to All My Sources:


  1. Clifford is Relation to me. My Grandma shared his story with me many times as a young boy. She had somebof these same original photos etc. I am optimistic that we will find the Family Tree that was put together.

  2. Toni Boardman says:

    My father had given me this ring from Cliff the gaint. My father told me when he was a little boy, lived in Durand Wisonsin. He had watered the elephants that were in the circus. Cliff had given my father his ring with his name on it. I now have this ring! Love it!

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