A Brief History of Walking

Evolution of Walking
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What's the history of walking as a sport or physical challenge—beyond just getting around on two feet? Take a tour of the milestones walkers have achieved through the ages.

Milestones in Walking History

4 million years B.C. or thereabouts (subject to scientific and philosophical debate): Australopithecus afarensis begins the fad of two-legged walking, the defining trait of family Hominidae. Two-legged walking frees up the hands to use for making tools, tying shoes, etc.

8,000 to 10,000 years B.B. (before Birkenstocks): North American natives make and wear sandals. Sling backs and slip-ons are the most popular styles.

100 A.D.: Emperor Hadrian tours his whole empire on foot, marching 21 miles a day in full armor. The Romans define a mile, with 1000 military paces (a pace is two steps) equal to a mile.

1140: Pilgrimages on the Camino de Santiago had become so popular that the world's first travel guide, the "Codex Calixtinus" is published.

1589: Sir Robert Carey walks 300 miles from London to Berwick on a wager.

1600s: King Charles II of England racewalked from Whitehall to Hampton Court. The distance is about a half-marathon, over 13 miles, which is very impressive.

1762: John Hague walked 100 miles in 23 hours, 15 minutes, the first Centurion walk.

1801 to 1803: Johann Gottfried Seume walks from Germany to Sicily and back, then from Germany to Russia, Finland, and Sweden 1805–1807. He is known for the quote, "Woe to the land where they sing no more." Which country would that be?

1809: Captain Robert Barclay walks 1000 miles in 1000 hours. The walk was done on a measured mile at Newmarket Heath, and was the subject of an estimated 100,000 wagers and before large crowds. He was the last Laird of Urie and noted for his many walks in the Scottish hills.

1864: Black Forest Wanderverein formed in Germany—now world's oldest surviving walking club.

1860 to 1903: This was the Pedestrian Age when walking is the leading sport in Europe and America. Big money comes to walking as long distance walkers earn more per race than today's basketball players, the equivalent of 100 years of the salary of the day.

1861: Edward Payson Weston, "the father of modern pedestrianism," has his first major walk. It occurred because he bet that President Lincoln would lose the 1860 election. Upon Lincon's win and Weston's loss, Weston walked from Boston to the inauguration in Washington D.C.

1867: Weston walks from Portland, Maine to Chicago, Illinois (1326 miles) in 25 days, earning $10,000, the equivalent of a million dollars today.

1874: Weston walks 500 miles in six consecutive days. Daniel O'Leary breaks his record and becomes "Champion Pedestrian of the World." From these competitions, the Astley Belt Races are developed.

1877: Mary Marshall walks 50 miles in 12 hours.

1879: Charles Rowell earns $50,000 in two 6-day Astley Belt Races.

1879: First women's 6-day race is won by Bertha Von Berg, with a distance of 372 miles and $1000 purse.

1906: The Athens Olympics (Interim Games) includes the 1500-Meter Walk Olympic record set by George Bonhag, USA 7:12:6, and the 3000-Meter Walk won by Gyorgy Sztantics, Hungary 15:13.2.

1908: London Olympics: Walking events included the 3500-Meter Walk, 10-Miles Walk, and the 20-Kilometer and 50-Kilometer Racewalks.

1909: The Nijmegen Vierdaagse (Four-Days Walk) is hosted for the first time.

1911: First U.S. racewalk held on Coney Island.

1964: The modern athletic shoe company is born as Phil Knight and his trusty waffle iron create Blue Ribbon Sports, which will become Nike, Inc. They will continue to ignore their biggest customer category, walkers, for the rest of history.

1968: The International Federation of Popular Sports (IVV), is formed to promote non-competitive walking events. Volksmarch walking begins.

1969: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon. "That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind."

1970: First March of Dimes is held in Columbus, Ohio. This is one of the first charity walks, which would become ubiquitous.

1976: First sanctioned volksmarch in the U.S. is held in Fredericksburg, Texas.

1984: The first Oregon volksmarch is held in Forest Grove.

1987: The International Marching League is formed. This organization promotes the top multi-day walking event in each member country.

1990s: Walking is the most popular form of exercise in the USA, with 65 million regular walkers. It beats all other forms of sport and exercise by over 100 percent. Athletic shoe companies respond by gearing advertising to runners and professional sports. No respect is paid to walkers.

1997: The Walking site debuts at Mining Company and is one of its top 25 sites throughout the year.

1998: The first three-day walk for breast cancer is held. These walks become very popular and raise millions of dollars for breast cancer charities over the next 17 years.

1999: Marathon run/walkers and pure walkers steal marathons away from the realm of elite runners.

1999/2000: Millennium Walks and World Walking Day Walks held worldwide. Computer systems fail to crash and life goes on.

2000: Poland's Robert Korzeniowski sweeps the men's 20K and men's 50K walk in the Sydney Olympic Games. There is much controversy as competitors are disqualified in the last mile before the finish, some not notified of disqualification until after finishing.

2004: Polly Letofsky becomes the first American woman to walk around the world.

2011: Movie "The Way" with Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez ignites more interest in walking the Camino de Santiago.

2014: 30 years after the first Oregon volksmarch, a pioneer shares 10 things she learned in 30 years of walking.

2015: Record numbers of pilgrims walk the Camino de Santiago.

2016: About Health transforms into Verywell, and keeps bringing you the best information on walking for health, fitness, and fun.