“Big”Jim Porter- The Kentucky Giant

“Big” Jim Porter

The Kentucky Giant

This to my knowledge is the only image of Jim Porter . The image has been used for various promotional items- it is actually a drawing that he posed for during his life time.

7 Feet 8 Inches Tall

An Inch Shorter Than He Claimed

Jim was very small and sickly as a child. He became a jockey at the age of fourteen at Elm Tree Garden, a racetrack on Shippingport.

At age seventeen something began to happen to him that would change his life forever.

He started growing and growing for three years until he reached 7 feet 8 inches.

He grew so fast that locals would take bets on how much he would grow in a week. Every Saturday night he would allow himself to be weighed and measured.

Around 1830 “Big” was added to his name and he became known as “Big” Jim Porter- The Kentucky Giant.

He worked as a hackney or coach driver carrying passengers and goods from Louisville to the Portland Wharf.

In 1836 Jim toured for one year with midgets performing Gulliver’s Travels. When asked how tall he was he would respond 6 feet 21 inches.

April 6, 1842 Charles Dickens stayed briefly in Louisville. He visited Jim and wrote in his book “American Notes”- ‘When he had shown himself and talked awhile, he withdrew his pocket instrument and went bobbing down the cabin, among men of six feet high and upwards, like a lighthouse walking along lamp-post.”

P.T. Barnum contacted Jim after reading what Charles Dickens had written and asked him to join his famous circus. Porter turned down the offer.

He opened a tavern near the Portland Canal in 1836. He prospered early and was able to build an eighteen room house which had ten foot doors and furniture made to suit his large build.

A manufacturer of Springfield Mass. Presented him with an eight foot rifle and a five foot sword. He nicknamed his riffle “The Little Riffle” to the amusement of many. He also had a four and a half foot cane made that resembled a spiral bedpost. He enjoyed very much showing these items to children and visitors.


Charles Dickens was one he showed his riffle to with amusement. His entry of this encounter is also recorded in his book “American Notes”- “He brought his fun with him as a curiosity. Christened “The Little Rifle”, and displayed outside a shop window, it would make a fortune of any retain business in Holborn.”

April 24, 1859 James D. Porter died quietly in his sleep. It is believed his suffered from heart problems.

Jim’s enormous size not only caused problems in life but also in death. A special nine foot casket had to be made.

The remains were placed in a vault in Cave Hill Cemetery. Visitors from all over would come to the cemetery just to look through the ornamental opening in the door to see Jim’s huge casket beside an ordinary size to show the contrast.

The vault was nestled into the hillside and fell into ruin. Many dilapidated hillside vaults in this section of the cemetery were torn down before 1900. There is a marker that simply states he was 7 feet, 8 Inches tall- an inch shorter than he claimed.


Jim Porter’s Hand- From his middle finger to his wrist measured an amazing 13 inches. One story is told about a little girl sitting on the palm of his hand while he walked across the street.


This picture shows just how big a nine foot coffin would be!


This view made from a picture found in the cornerstone of the Old Masonic Temple (shows North side of Main Street from 3rd Street about 1850) showing two-horse tandem drays then used for hauling hogsheads of tobacco etc. In the foreground is shown the omnibus driven from Louisville to Portland by Jim Porter, the famous Kentucky giant. the building where steps are shown is the Bank of Kentucky. This was probably one of the first photographers taken in Louisville, KY.

Online Quiz About Jim Porter


We also have this information in booklet form and would be glad to send you a copy- leave a comment with your details.

More Information on Acromegaly/Gigantism

Acromegaly/ Gigantism is a very rare disease. Gigantism occurs in youths while the bones are still growing while Acromegaly occurs in adults. It is due to a high exposure of Growth Hormone that is secreted by the Pituitary Gland over a long period of time.

Acromegaly/Gigantism is usually caused by a benign tumor on the Pituitary Gland however it might be caused by other disorders.

The major problem of the treatment is that by the time the patient has symptoms the tumor is in a very aggressive phase. Some of the symptoms might include headaches and visual changes.

Early symptoms may include the following:

Excessive growth during childhood

Prominent jaw

Large hands/feet with thick fingers and toes

Increased perspiration


After the disease has progressed other symptoms and noticeable changes to the body take place:

Coarsening of the features in the face

Widely spaced teeth

Increased ring and shoe sizes

Hands become enlarged, moist and soft

General thickening of the skin

Increased sweating and oiliness

Cardiovascular disease


Upper airway obstruction

Diabetes mellitus


Weight gain

Heat intolerance

Increased sleep requirements

Patients usually die from one of the following causes:

Death rates are higher when Diabetes Mellitus or Hypertension is associated.

Treatment includes surgical therapy, radiation therapy, and medication therapy.

Other Giants

Sandy Allen of Indiana reached 6 feet 3 inches by the time she was 10 years old. At age 16 she 7 feet 1 inch. Her final height was 7 feet 7 inches.

The Giant David fought in the Bible was suppose to be 9 feet 9 inches tall.

Vaino Myllyrinne was from Finland (1901-1963) and the tallest soldier measuring 8 feet 3 inches.

Aurangzeb Kahn joined Barnum & Bailey Circus and Sterling & Reid Circus measuring 8 feet tall.

Feng-Jun Wang measured 8 feet ½ inches.
Captain Bates and his wife

In Kentucky in the 1800’s was Captain Bates and his wife, Anne Hannen Swan. They both measured 7 feet 4 inches. In 1871 Captain Bates allowed himself to be placed on exhibit in London.

Henry Blacker lived in the 1800’s in Cuckfield, Sussex. He was known as the British Giant and stood 7 feet 4 inches.

Chang measured 8 feet 2 inches. He was placed on exhibit in London from 1865-1866 and once again in 1880.

Robert Wadlow was born in Alton, Illinois in 1918. He was simply known as the Alton Giant measuring 8 feet 11.1 inches. His shoe size was 18½ inches long and his hands measured 12 ¾ inches from his wrist to the tip of the middle finger. He wore a size 25 ring.
He died in 1940 at the age of 22 from an infected blister on his right ankle. A special coffin measuring 10 feet 9 inches had to be made.

Tallest Famous Folks

Robert Wadlow

Ukrainian Gulliver: a huge man in a tiny village

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8 responses

  1. very interesting.
    i’m adding in RSS Reader

  2. I believe that Jim Porter was an ancestor of mine. I have never been able to find a likeness of him. I notice that the image on the “Big” Jim Porter page does not display. Do you by any chance have this posted somewhere else? I would love to get a look at him.

    1. crystal robinson castleberry | Reply

      if you are part of the harpers from germany then yes jim porter is one of your ancestors my grandmother was a harper and he is one of my ancestors and is in our family tree book.

  3. very interesting article. on most issues I agree with the author:)

  4. I live a few miles from where Captain M.V Bates lived and is barried , he was 7’9″ and his wife Anna was 7′ 11″. My grandfather worked for him when he was a boy around 1902.

  5. My grand grand pa also worked for him. Very interesting facts

  6. I appreciate your Blog re: James Porter. Several years ago I read about James Porter in an obituary posted in a 1859 newspaper, The Rockport Democrat, Rockport, Indiana, the editor had lifted the clip from a Louisville paper collected via off a ‘river steamer’ (mail packet) traveling down the Ohio River. It seems the news both national and international news was passed along the river routes along with mail. I later searched the name James Porter on line. I was so intrigued with the life of Mr, Porter that I used his “eight foot” height as a stepping stone in creating a fictious character that I dubbed The Kentucky Big Foot, who lived in Kentucky in the early 1800’s. My character, called Big “Y” traveled with a pet bear, named Fuzzy. The short stories and adventures take the pair of travelers on a long hike from Louisville to Bardstown (circa 1815) where they meet up with Daniel Boone, James Bowie. young Abe Lincoln, the site of Mammoth Cave and others. I have home-published this as a historical fiction piece and have read the adventures to elementary school age children for the past several years. They love to listen to the adventures of The Kentucky Big Foor. posted by Stephen Meyer 12/2011

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