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The Greatest Walker: Edward Payson Weston

History is a valuable tool for us to learn and not repeat what shouldn't be repeated.

Weston's Transcontinental Map

Weston's Transcontinental Map

Edward Payson Weston was born in 1839 in Providence, Rhode Island, to Silas and Martha Weston. He was a sickly youngster, and as he got older, he felt that walking would improve his health and outlook.

During the 1800s, walking was the number one spectator sport. Along with the walking contests, gambling was rampant. The public was clamoring for entertainment, and these events drew thousands of spectators. Weston was perfect for being a part of this sport. He was a dashing charmer, and that would ultimately lead to his divorce later in his life.

Weston would become known as "The Father of Pedestrians."

One day in 1860, Weston and a friend had a bet on who would win the presidency. The loser would have to walk to Washington, DC. Weston lost that bet and had to walk to see the new president, Abe Lincoln. He departed from Boston, Massachusetts, arriving in DC at 5 P.M. He shook President Lincoln's hand at the Inaugural Ball.

From that time on, Weston realized the health benefits and started on a long journey of long walks. Here is a list of some of his accomplishments.

  • 1861: Walked from Boston to Washington DC in 10 days, 10 hrs
  • 1867: Walked from Portland, Maine to Chicago, Illinois, 1200 miles, in 26 days
  • 1869: Walked 1058 miles in New England in 30 days
  • 1871: Walked backward 200 miles around St. Louis, Missouri in 41 hours
  • 1876: Walked 24 hours in England against the champion
  • 1879: Walked 550 miles, beating "Blower" Brown to win the Ashley Belt
  • 1906: Walked from Philadelphia to New York, 100 miles, in 24 hours
  • 1907: Walked from Maine to Chicago in 24 hours at age 68
  • 1909: His transcontinental walk across America
  • 1913: Walked 546 miles from New York to Minneapolis in 51 days
Edward Payson Weston

Edward Payson Weston

The 1909 Transcontintal Walk Across America

Weston had long wanted to walk across America, and now at the age of 70, he was planning to complete this event. Publicity was high, there were huge crowds, and bands were playing as Weston began his walk on March 15, 1909. He was anticipating to cover 40 miles per day to meet the 100-day finish time.

We must remember that in 1909, there were no real paved roads, no I-70 or I-80. There were probably few road signs and no cell phones along the way.

The weather would turn out to be a significant factor. Along the way, Weston would deal with mud ruts, flooding, rain, snow, and dangerous winds. He knew that there had been fraudulent claims of walking across America, so he was determined to validate his walk at all times. Weston also knew that a carriage with horses was not too reliable as the horses would tire out. He arranged for an automobile and driver to carry the supplies, such as extra clothing, food, and blankets.

Along the way, the automobile broke down and had to be replaced. Weston was grateful for the kindness of strangers. Food and shelter were constantly being offered to him. He arranged for lectures in the cities he passed through for financial help.

Weston would give the New York Times daily updates of his progress, both for his growing fans and to establish credibility.

Weston used the railroad tracks when possible, but he found them hard to maneuver, and they slowed his walk.

In 1929, while walking in New York City, Weston suffered severe injuries when he was struck by a cab. He spent several days in the hospital and would never walk again. He died a couple of years later and is buried in St. John's Cemetery, Middle Village, New York.

Walking would soon be replaced by the popularity of the bicycle and baseball games throughout America.

Weston Walking the Rails

Weston Walking the Rails

Help From the Railroads

Weston found he had a lot of help from the workers on the railroads along the way. The heads of the railroads told their engineers to be on the look-out for him and, if possible, to assist in any way. The workers would drop food, water, and ice along the tracks for Weston.

States Weston Crossed

The walk across America started in New York and ended in San Francisco, California. This journey took Weston through many states, each giving him different weather conditions to face.

Upon reaching Wyoming, towns were fewer and fewer apart, making lodging and food harder to obtain. But he found it hardest in Nevada to deal with severe weather. Temperatures were so hot that it was almost impossible to find any reprieve. The fierce winds blowing sand in his face and eyes made it hard for him to see even a few feet in front of him.

By the time he got to Los Angeles, his route would now take him north to San Francisco. He followed the Pacific Coast Rail lines for the last 475 miles of his walk.

Weston completed his transcontinental walk in May 1910; he walked 3100 miles at the age of 70. He maintains that walking is better than doctors, and he is certainly proof of that fact.


fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on June 29, 2020:

Walking is so beneficial, physically and mentally. Thanks for reading.

Liz Westwood from UK on June 28, 2020:

A lot of people I know have been walking much more during lockdown, but this article puts their achievements into perspective.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on June 27, 2020:

Linda, thanks for reading, I appreciate it.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on June 26, 2020:

I admire Weston's walking ability. His achievements are impressive. Thank you for sharing the information about him, Fran. I had never heard of him before I read your article.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on June 26, 2020:

Thank you for your comments. Yes, walking is such a health benefit.

Rosina S Khan on June 25, 2020:

Fran, Weston, being born as a sickly child, as he got older it's good that he realized walking would help him and was better than doctors. It's interesting to see how he became a renowned walker, walking miles after miles, getting help from the people on the way. It's really tragic that he was hit by a cab, got hospitalized with severe injuries and passed away a few years later, never being able to walk again. A wonderful article.