Clarence E. Willard: The Man of Could Grow at Will

Jun 1, 2021 1 comments

In 1913, while in England, Clarence E. Willard had to renew his passport in order to travel, and most importantly, in order for him to return back to the United States where he was a resident. In order to complete the necessary paperwork, Clarence walked into the U.S. Embassy in London. He gave his name to the Embassy clerk Edward Hobson, and also filled in the necessary details needed for documentation, such as his age, place of birth, the color of his hair, his weight, etc. But when the clerk asked for his height, Willard gave an astonishing reply: “Oh, anywhere from five feet nine and three-quarter inches to six feet four.”

Hobson gave Willard an incredulous look, at which point Willard obliged: “I’m Willard, the man who grows. I will show you what I mean.” And Willard did exactly that.

Clarence E. Willard

The newspaper article recounting this story claimed Willard “began slowly to grow, increasing in height until, instead of looking straight into the eyes of Hobson, who is a medium-sized man, he was gazing down at the top of the clerk’s head. Hobson called in Frank Page and Harold Fowler, the American Ambassador’s son and private secretary, and for their edification Willard gave a regular side-show in the reception-room of the embassy, telescoping up and down apparently with the greatest ease. Page and Fowler inspected the man carefully, feeling his legs in an attempt to find hidden springs or other mechanical apparatus, but they were finally convinced that he was only a freak.”

The remarkable demonstration at the US Embassy was an act that Clarence E. Willard had perfected for the past several years performing for the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Born in Painesville, Ohio, in 1882, Willard discovered his extraordinary talent when recovering from a childhood case of paralysis. While conducting certain stretching exercises Willard realized that he was able to increase his height by straightening his spine.

Demonstration of height increase. Photo: Science of Invention

Demonstration of arm extension. Photo: Science of Invention

While on stage, Willard would invite a volunteer from the audience to join him, usually someone taller than him. Standing next to each other, Willard would stretch himself until he stood taller. Willard was found that he could add seven and half inches to his natural height of 5 feet 10 inches simply by stretching. He was also able to extend the length of his arms by 8 to 15 inches and make one leg 4 inches longer than the other.

In the September 1927 issue of the Science of Invention, the magazine set out to explain how Willard grew on demand. Editors took x-rays of his spine and determined that his spinal curvature is “perhaps greater than that of the average man.”

“The spine has a graceful compound curve which is its normal condition. This curve increases materially when people slump in their chairs and make no attempt to straighten up even while walking,” explained the magazine.

“By purely muscular exertion,” the magazine continued, “he is able to cause the vertebrae to assume a nearly perfectly straight line. In this way he can extend the length of his neck, according to some measurements, for a distance of 2 inches, but in these X-ray photographs to the length of 1 1/12 inches. In the act of stretching his hands out sideways and increasing the tip to tip measurement, most of the stretching is done at the shoulder. The shoulder is capable of quite a movement, laterally from the center of the spine. By training, Mr. Willard has been able to increase this movement so markedly that his demonstration is daily surprising thousands.”

Willard later became associated with Robert Ripley and his Ripley's Believe It or Not! franchise and made appearances across the United States and Canada through the NBC. He died in 1962 at the age of 79.

X-ray of Clarence E. Willard’s spine in relaxed and extended positions. Photo: Science of Invention

# Wikipedia
# Marc Hartzman, The Man Who Grows Reached the Height of Vaudeville and Astounded Scientists, Weird Historian
# Science of Invention


  1. Just watched Mr. Willard doing his growing routine on an old Ed Sullivan show. It really was remarkable. I've never seen anything like that. He was such a nice man, as well.


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