Old Ben didn’t grow up to become the world’s largest steer—he was born that way. From the moment his hooves hit the ground in 1902, Ben was an “object of wonder,” according to a sign in front of his now-stuffed carcass. Weighing 125 pounds at birth (the normal range is 60 to 80 pounds) Old Ben tipped the scales at between 4,585 and 4,720 pounds upon his death in 1910.
Born on a farm near Kokomo, Indiana, local legend states that Old Ben had to rest on his knees to nurse when he was less than a week old. He continued to gain weight as he grew, at a rate of nearly 100 pounds a month. Ben weighed one ton before he was two years old, and two tons at the age of four.
Old Ben was six-and-a-half feet tall and 16.25 feet long from nose to the tip of his tail. He was the offspring of a registered Hereford bull and a regular Shorthorn cow and was never fed any supplements or special food. No one can explain his large size, but his record remains today.
His unusual plus-sized frame made Ben a bit of celebrity around the small town of Kokomo, so his owners began exhibiting him at fairs and festivals. Despite receiving offers from circuses and sideshows to purchase Old Ben, the owners chose to take him on the road themselves, even providing a private tent for him. Unfortunately, in February of 1910, Ben slipped on ice, broke his leg, and was then shot as a result.
But Old Ben’s fame did not end with his death. His hide was sent to a taxidermist in New York, where it was stuffed and mounted for posterity. Wheels were added to his platform so his owners could continue to display him until they sold their farm in 1919.
During World War II, Old Ben’s image was seen far and wide when postcards featuring a girl named Phyllis Hartzell standing in front of him were mailed to servicemen around the globe. Old Ben got another spike in popularity when he was featured as part of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! in 1968.
For a period of time, Old Ben went into semi-retirement, only emerging for special events and publicity shots. But in 1989 the world record holder again became a full-time public attraction when he was placed inside a glass-enclosed pavilion next to the world’s largest Sycamore Tree Stump in Kokomo’s Highland Park. Unfortunately, vandals struck in 2004 and stole Ben’s tail. Three normal-size steer tails had to be stitched together to create a new one.