While the General Sherman is the largest currently living tree, it is not the largest tree known to humans. The Crannell Creek Giant, a coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) near Trinidad, California, is estimated to have been 15 to 25% larger than the General Sherman tree by volume. The tree was cut down in the mid-1940s. And another larger coast redwood, near 90,000 cu. ft., the Lindsey Creek tree, was reported in a 1905 Humboldt Times Standard article.
In 1879, the General Sherman was named after the American Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman, by naturalist James Wolverton, who had served as a lieutenant in the 9th Indiana Cavalry under Sherman. In 1931, following comparisons with the nearby General Grant tree, General Sherman was identified as the largest tree in the world. One result of this process was that wood volume became widely accepted as the standard for establishing and comparing the size of different trees.
In February 1978, a four-foot diameter, 140-foot-long (43 m) branch collapsed from the tree. This collapse better revealed its largest branch, which was a little higher on the tree and, curiously, had a similar size, shape and position on the tree (leaving the appearance of the tree relatively unchanged). The remainder of this branch is visible from the classic viewpoint as the second large stump up the trunk on the right. In January 2006 the largest branch on the tree (seen most commonly, in older photos, as an "L" or golf-club shape, protruding from about a quarter of the way down the trunk) also broke off. There were no witnesses to the incident, and the branch—with a bigger circumference than the trunks of most trees, a diameter of over 2 meters (7 ft) and a length of over 30 m (98 ft)—smashed part of its enclosing fence and cratered the pavement of the walkway surrounding the sequoia. The breakage, however, is not believed to be indicative of any abnormalities in the tree's health, and may even be a natural defense mechanism against adverse weather conditions. The branch loss did not change the General Sherman's status as the largest tree, as its size has been calculated using measurements of trunk volume, excluding branches.