On January 2, 1890, the biggest alligator ever shot and killed was reportedly 19.2 feet long. The hunter was a younger version of Edward Avery McIlhenny before establishing a hot sauce empire. No photos or other records back up the facts about this beast of an alligator. Yet, the record stands, even today, as hunters actively seek the biggest alligator every year as a badge of honor. Is the Tabasco king telling a tall tale? McIlhenny is the creator and founder of Tabasco sauce, making the story an outstanding advertising gimmick.
The "big fish story" theme is common among small communities, which begs the question: Is the account of the biggest alligator ever shot factual? We can't know the answer because it's one man's word that can't be verified. Modern biological calculations of the biggest alligator skull put the size closer to 15 feet than 19. Nevertheless, sometimes the tale is worth more to a brand than the facts, especially if the tale has a sense of truthfulness, like how McIlhenny measured the alligator. He used the length of his shotgun placed end over end. He knew the shotgun's length, so he calculated the length at 19.2 feet.
Alligators grow very big in the hundreds of thousands of square miles of swamps and bayous that sprawl across the southeastern United States. Alligators are so plentiful in Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida, that some hunters make a living wage hunting them during a short hunting season that varies by state. Only the biggest alligators get a quick shot into their brains. No modern alligator hunter has ever come close to the 19.2-foot record.