This paper presents 5-yearly data on the height of young adult men in 15 Western European countries for birth cohorts from the middle of the 19th to the end of the 20th century. The results indicate that from the 1870s to the 1970s average height increased by around 11 cm, or more than 1 cm per decade. The main finding is that for the northern and middle European groups of countries the gains in height were most rapid in the period 1911-15 to 1951-55, a period that embraced two World Wars and the Great Depression but also witnessed advances in public health and hygiene. For the southern countries growth was fastest in the period 1951-55 to 1976-80. These findings suggest that advances in height were determined not only by income and living standards but also by a variety of other socioeconomic trends.