Abraham Lincoln is best remembered for being the first 16th President of the United States, serving from 1861 until his assassination in 1865. He was also the first, and one of the only Presidents to wear a beard!
He is well documented as a tall man, and for his time period stood 8-10 inches over the average height of an American man, and he surely did seem like a giant to some people!
But how tall was he, did he have a tall family, and was he the tallest ever American President? Let's investigate these ideas by finding out his height claims, what others say, and we will also showcase some instances of how he used his tall height to his advantage!
What Was His Real Height?
When Abraham Lincoln stood straight and at his full height, I believe that he woke in the morning standing comfortably over 6'4" tall, then for the majority of the day he stood very close to 6'4" (193 cm), dipping to 6'3.75" (192.4 cm) in the late afternoon/evening.
1: In late 1859 Abraham wrote an autobiographical sketch (1) including his height and weight, saying:
"I am in height, six feet, four inches, nearly; lean in flesh, weighing, on an average, one hundred and eighty pounds".
2: The book Conversations with Lincoln (2017) (2) references Abraham's height claims, such as in response to being asked his height, he said: "I'm six feet four in my stockings"
"Mr Lincoln remarked that he himself was a little short of six feet four inches, with his boots off"
Regarding these claims, Abraham appears to state he is around 6'4' in height. However, it is also believable that he stood closer to 6'4" than 6'3.75" when standing straight.
Height as a Child
It appears that Abraham was destined to be tall and lanky, as by 6 years old he was already shaping into his adult self, and also leaving a positive impression on people.
As The prairie president (1930) (3) mentions:
"BY THE TIME Abraham Lincoln had passed his sixth birthday he had grown quite tall, though considerably lacking in width".
"People, young and old, not only liked but trusted as well this tall, unusual boy."
Reaching His Adult Height Aged 17-19
Lincoln was also a very tall teenager, as Abraham Lincoln a biographical essay (1907) (4) mentions:
"Abraham Lincoln was fourteen years of age, then more than six feet high"
He didn't stop growing there! Abraham Lincoln; the prairie years (1961) (5), mentions a measurement in his shoes:
"When he reached seventeen years of age, and they measured him, he was six feet, nearly four inches, high, from the bottoms of his moccasins to the top of his skull."
Finally, it appears Abraham reached his adult height somewhere between 17-19. The Wit and Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln (1965) (6), frequently references Abraham's height.
"By the time he is nineteen, Abraham Lincoln is six feet four inches tall".
"Six feet four inches tall, Abraham Lincoln towered over most men".
1:The physical Lincoln complete (2008) (7), says that Abraham enjoyed showcasing his height for challenges:
"He could go over 6 feet 4 if he drew himself up, which he loved to do when challenging another tall man to a measure."
2: Another instance of a measuring competition comes from the book Conversations with Lincoln (1954) (10), where Abraham challenged a tall colonel to a measure.
Firstly, Abraham asked how tall the colonel was, to which he replied:
“Well, taller than you, Mr. Lincoln”
Abraham then said “You are mistaken there” and challenged the colonel to a measure, and after Abraham came out a quarter of an inch taller, he said, "you go home and tell your folks that Old Abe tops you a little.”
1: In Letters and addresses of Abraham Lincoln (1903) (8) it writes that Abraham would start his speeches "nervously awkward on rising to speak", but then:
"He would toss back his head and show his figure, seemingly expanded beyond its lank proportions, at the extent of its gigantic height."
and he was known for his "force and magnetism".
2: This is also pointed out in An edition of Autobiography (1894) (9), where "At first his voice was shrill and hesitating", but then:
"he looked a foot taller as he straightened himself to his full height, and his eyes flashed fire"
"There stood Lincoln in the forefront, erect, tall, and majestic in appearance"
Wooing His Future Wife
The book Letters and addresses of Abraham Lincoln (8), mentions that Abraham once used his height to draw his future wife Mary Todd closer to him when he was once challenged to a duel with a man who was also an admirer of Miss Todd, named James Shields, a future senator of 2 states, who was of small stature.
Unfortunately, due to the large reach difference between the combatants, friends interfered and the duel was called off, but not without Abraham using his height to mock his opponent:
"pulling himself up to his full height of six feet four inches chopped off a twig at an almost incredible distance above his head, watching Shields the while with a humorous twinkle in his eye".
Not a Laughing Matter
In the book The Wit and Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln (6), it mentions that: Once Abraham was in a with a Russian ambassador, discussing National traits, where his height was referenced:
Abraham: "Would you have taken me for an American if you had met me anywhere else than in this country?"
Ambassador (Grinning): "No, I should have taken you for a Pole."
"Lincoln drew himself up to his full height." "And so I am," he said, "and a Liberty Pole at that."
Meeting a Taller Man
The Wit and Wisdom (6) mentions the day Lincoln met someone from a Union army regiment who towered over him at "nearly seven feet tall", to which Abraham said:
"Hello, comrade," said President Lincoln, gazing earnestly upwards at the giant. "Say, how do you know when your feet are cold?"
Height VS Body Proportions
Not only was Abraham tall, but he also appears to have immense body proportions too!
The book Conversations with Lincoln (1954) (10) states Abraham had:
"long pendulous arms, terminating in hands of extraordinary dimensions, which, however, were far exceeded in proportion by his feet." and "arms long, longer than (those of) any man I ever knew."
"I was present when a number of persons measured the lengths of their arms on their legs"..."When standing straight and letting his arms fall down his sides, the points of his fingers would touch a point lower on his legs, nearly three inches, than was usual with other persons".
How Tall Was His Family?
Did Abraham inherit his height from his parents, and did his tall genes pass down to his sons?
Nancy Hanks Lincoln (1784-1818) was a seamstress, standing at 5'7" tall.
Thomas Lincoln (1778-1851) was a farmer and a carpenter, and stood between 5'9"-5'10".
Mary Todd Lincoln (1818-1882) was an Illinois circuit lawyer, standing at 5'2" tall.
- Robert Todd Lincoln (1843-1926), Eldest Son, 5'9.75", was a lawyer, businessman, and politician.
- Edward Baker Lincoln (1846-1850) (died aged 4).
- William Wallace Lincoln (1850-1862) (died aged 11)
- Thomas "Tad" Lincoln III (1853-1871). Youngest Son, 6'1". The nickname "Tad" was given to him by Abraham when he saw his bigger than average head and also as he wiggled like a tadpole when he was a baby.
Abraham's mother and father were taller than average for the time, and there were clearly taller genes in the family. His wife was short, but out of his four sons, the two who made it to Adulthood stood tall and very tall for the time period, where the average man was no more than 5'7".
Height VS Other American Presidents
American Presidents have varied in height over the years, let's find out where Abraham ranks among them!
- In the top 5 tallest ever American Presidents, 4 of them died between 140-225 years ago!
- Compared to the 45 heights on this list, Abraham Lincoln is the tallest President.
- Comparing Abraham's height of 6'4" to the shortest is James Madison at 5'4", there is a 12 inch/1 foot difference in height!
- The average height of all Presidents is 5'10.5" (179.1 cm). This is 5.5 inches shorter than Abraham's height.
After investigating Abraham Lincoln's height claims, what others said about his height, and many different instances where his height was a topic of conversation, I conclude that for the majority of the day, he stood somewhere between 6'3.75" (192.4 cm) and 6'4 (193 cm) tall.
Heights Connected to Abraham Lincoln
- James Buchanan (1791–1868), Preceded Lincoln as President 1857-1861, 6'0" (182.9 cm)
- Andrew Johnson (1808-1875), Succeeded Lincoln as President 1865, 5'10" (177.8 cm)
- William Henry Seward, Close Circle, 5'6" (167.6 cm)
- John Hay, Close Circle, 5'2" (157.5 cm)
- John Wilkes Booth (1838–1865), Perpetrator, 5'8" (172.7 cm)
Sourced from archive.org, referencing books below:
1: The Autobiography of Abraham Lincoln: By Abraham Lincoln
2:Conversations with Lincoln (2017) By Charles Segal
3: The prairie president (1930): living through the years with Lincoln, 1809-1861, by Warren, Raymond.
4: Abraham Lincoln a biographical essay by Carl Schurz (1907)
5: Abraham Lincoln; the prairie years, by Carl Sandburg, 1961
6: The wit and wisdom of Abraham Lincoln by Abraham Lincoln, Bill Adler Sr, First published in 1965
7: The Physical Lincoln Complete: Comprising The Physical Lincoln 1.1a and The Physical Lincoln Sourcebook 1.1a, by John G. Sotos, Mt. Vernon Book Systems, 2008
8: Letters and addresses of Abraham Lincoln (1903), by Abraham Lincoln
9: An edition of Autobiography (1894) Abraham Lincoln
10: Conversations with Lincoln : little-known stories from those who met America's 16th president by Leidner, Gordon, 1954