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Adam Rainer, Born a Dwarf Grew Into a Giant

Being a dwarf (less than 4 feet 10 inches tall) or a giant (over 7 feet tall) can certainly be difficult.

In addition to the practical issues of finding appropriate clothing, footwear, and furniture, both conditions may also involve health issues and there is the inevitable psychological impact that comes from being so different to the average. 

It certainly can’t be easy being either very short or exceptionally tall, but just imagine what it must have been like for the only person in recorded history to experience being both a dwarf and a giant at different stages of his life.

This is the unique story of Adam Rainer.

Photo of Adam Rainer next to an average size man.

Early Life

Adam Rainer was born in the cosmopolitan city of Graz in southern Austria in 1899. His parents were of average size, but it became apparent very quickly that Adam wasn’t growing as fast as the other children around him.

By the time he reached the age of 15, he was less than 4 feet and six inches tall, though there was one feature that didn’t seem to fit with his small stature: his hands and feet were huge and out of proportion with the rest of his body. Adam was said to have taken a size 10 shoe.

In 1914, World War One began, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire found itself fighting alongside its principal ally, the German Empire. Like many other young Austrian men, Adam Ranier tried to join the Austrian army as soon as he reached the age of 18. 

However, the minimum height required of any recruit in the Austro-Hungarian army was just 4 feet and ten inches, and when Adam was examined, he was found to be more than four inches too short. This led to his application being rejected. 

Adam did grow a little in the following year and once again tried to join up in 1918, but he was still two inches short of the minimum required height, and his application was rejected again.

A photo of Adam Rainer as a young boy.

World War One ended later in 1918, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was broken up, and Austria became a separate and independent country. Despite the changes taking place around him, life seemed to continue as it had for Adam Ranier. 

In 1920, he reached 21, the age at which boys usually stop growing. A routine health check showed that he was still well below average height and very thin.

It seemed that Adam Ranier was destined to spend the rest of his life as a dwarf, but between 1920 and 1930, something truly extraordinary happened to him.

A Decade Of Growth

The first clue that something very odd was happening to Adam Ranier was that soon after his 21st Birthday, he began to require larger shoes and hats.

It was said that, by the time he was 23 years old, he needed a size 20 shoe, a size so large that it was challenging to find. Soon, the rest of his body also began to grow extraordinarily.

By 1930, an examination showed that Adam Ranier was 7 feet and one inch tall, exceeding the height classified as a giant. And he was still growing…

Austrian doctors were astonished by Adam’s unprecedented growth spurt, and two, Dr A. Mandl and Dr F. Windholz, examined him in 1930 to try to find the cause.

They diagnosed acromegaly, a rare condition caused by a defect in the pituitary gland, a pea-sized gland located beneath the brain that produces growth hormone. The most common cause is a non-cancerous tumour on the gland known as an adenoma. 

The doctors agreed that if Adam’s growth was allowed to continue unchecked, his life might be at risk, and they decided that an operation should be attempted to remove the adenoma.

In the 1930s, antibiotics were virtually unknown, and any operation involved an element of risk. In addition, removing a tiny tumour from an equally tiny gland was considered by many medical experts to be impossible.

Nevertheless, in December 1930, a Viennese doctor who specialised in pituitary gland surgery, Dr Oscar Hirsch, went ahead and carried out the operation. 

To the surprise of many medical observers, Adam not only survived the operation, but the tumour was also successfully removed, and his incredible rate of growth finally began to slow.

The operation didn’t stop Adam Ranier’s growth completely – by 1950, he would be measured at 7 feet and 8 inches tall, but it did at least slow the rate at which he continued to grow.

Medical Problems

Acromegaly is associated with a number of health conditions, including diabetes, heart problems, and arthritis.

It also leads to an unusual and distinctive physical appearance where facial features, including the forehead and jaw, become unusually extended and teeth are widely spaced.

The hand of an individual with acromegaly.

Some famous people, including wrestler and actor Andre the Giant (who played Fezzik in The Princess Bride, 1987) and actor Fred Gwynne (who played Herman Munster in the hit television show The Munsters, 1964 – 1966) were both victims of this rare condition.

Adam Ranier began to suffer health issues from the age of around 25. The first problem was a loss of hearing in one ear, but the most serious effect was a curvature of the spine that became apparent by the time Ranier was 30 years old.

His sudden growth had left his spine twisted to one side, and even after the operation in 1930, this worsened as he continued to grow, though at a slower rate. 

During the 1940s, Adam lost the sight in his right eye, but he was not, as some reports suggest, completely incapacitated by medical issues.

Most of what we know about Adam Ranier comes from a 1961 report compiled by the man who performed the surgery on him in 1930, Dr Oscar Hirsch.

Hirsch reported that, after the successful operation to remove the adenoma, Ranier moved to the small town of Rottenmann in southern Austria, where he was able to live on his own.

Later Life And Death  

At some point after the end of World War Two in 1945, Adam Ranier entered a “Home for the Aged” in Rottenmann.

Adam Rainer is the only known case where an individual was classified as both a dwarf and a giant in a lifetime.

Even there, he was not bedridden. Dr Hirch notes that, although he was clumsy, he was able to care for himself and was notably kind to other patients in the home. 

In February 1950, Adam Ranier was admitted to the hospital, suffering from a perforated intestine and resulting peritonitis. He underwent an operation, but though he survived this, he died soon after at the age of just 51. 

The story of Adam Ranier is astounding, but it does seem to be completely true. However, we know very little about his life other than the medical facts contained in Dr Hirsch’s report from 1961.

As to how he left about being first a dwarf and later a giant, we will never know. Those who knew him noted that he was a kindly man who did not seem in the least bitter about his conditions. 

This lack of information is probably unsurprising in that he grew up and lived in Austria during a period of tumultuous change. Defeat in World War One led to the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, previously one of the most powerful in Europe.

Austria was still struggling to come to terms with this fundamental change when it was invaded and incorporated as part of Nazi Germany in 1938.

The defeat of Germany in 1945 left parts of Austria in ruins and occupied by French, British, American, and Russian forces. 

Given this period of disaster and upheaval, it is unsurprising that the story of one unfortunate individual did not receive more publicity at the time, and it seems likely that if it were not for the 1961 report by Dr Hirsch, few people today would have heard of Adam Ranier.


Dwarfism is now generally associated with a condition known as achondroplasia, a genetic mutation that causes bones to grow more slowly and reach a smaller size than average.

It can be inherited or, as in the case of Adam Ranier, it can develop as a new and spontaneous mutation where both parents are of average height. It’s a rare condition that affects somewhere in the region of one in every 20,000 people.

Adam Ranier was very unlucky to develop this condition, but his life was further blighted when he went on to develop an even rarer and completely unrelated condition, acromegaly.

The odds against a single individual developing both of these rare conditions in a lifetime are astronomical, but that’s what seems to have happened to Adan Ranier.

At the age of 20, he was classed as a dwarf. Just ten years later, he had become a giant. To suffer from either of these conditions is unfortunate and very rare.

To suffer from both is genuinely extraordinary, and Adam Ranier remains the only person in recorded history to have experienced this.   


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