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Jim Porter

According to "The Louisville Encyclopedia," James "Big Jim" Porter was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, in 1810 but moved to Shippingport, Ky. (known today as Louisville's Portland neighborhood), in 1811.

Although he was a small child, Jim Porter later became known as "the Kentucky Giant".

At his final height, Porter measured some 7 feet, 8 inches tall and weighed 300 pounds. According to J. Michael Higgs of the Louisville Historical League, Jim Porter was considered the second tallest person in the world during his lifetime.

The legendary tavern owner, passenger coach and politician was immortalized and gained international notoriety after meeting writer Charles Dickens in 1842. In his "American Notes", Dickens described Jim Porter as a lighthouse among lampposts.

One-hundred-and-fifty years after his death, "Louisville Life" visits the Portland Museum, where Jim Porter is celebrated, to learn more about the man who gave real meaning to the term "living large".

We also check out Jim Porter artwork and memorabilia at the Filson Historical Society and meet a former Porter interpreter.

Fast facts about Jim Porter:

  • Jim Porter was a cooper for a while, until his size interfered with his work.
  • According to The Voice-Tribune, James legally changed his name to Big Jim Porter at one point in his life.
  • Jim Porter's Good Time Emporium on Lexington Road is only linked to the "giant" by name; none of the taverns owned by Jim Porter himself ever bore his name.
  • Jim Porter died in 1859 and is buried at Louisville's historic Cave Hill Cemetery. His obituary from The New York Times states that his coffin was "nine feet on inch in length, and two feet across the breast." Plans are in the works to give him a new memorial at Cave Hill.
  • Jim Porter was not Kentucky's only "giant". In the 1800s Captain Martin Van Buren Bates and his wife, Anna Haining Swan had a combined height of 14 feet, 8 inches, according to The New York Times.
  • Guiness World Records lists the tallest man in medical history as Robert Pershing Wadlow from Alton, Ill., where a statue stands in his honor. Wadlow was 8 feet, 11.1 inches tall. Learn more about him from the Alton Museum of History and Art.
  • For additional information on Jim Porter, Robert Wadlow, The Bateses and more of the world's tallest people, check out The Tallest Man.
Program 411
"Louisville Life" recalls a Louisvillian who stood nearly 8 feet tall - the legendary Jim Porter, meets a glaciologist at the top of his field, looks back at the infamous Ford Edsel and more. (#411)