top of page

Hidden Hero - Will Hoagland

Running is one of today's most popular sports worldwide with over 70,000 participants in the United States alone. Strange as it sounds, during the 1870s and 1880s, America's most popular spectator sport wasn't baseball, boxing, or horse racing - it was competitive walking known as pedestrianism. Inside sold-out arenas, competitors walked around dirt tracks almost nonstop for six straight days (never on Sunday), risking their health and sanity to see who could walk the farthest - 500 miles, then 520 miles, and 565 miles! These walking matches were as talked about as the weather, the details reported form coast to coast.

World champion "pedestrian" Willard Hoagland was born in Union Springs in 1872. His father, Joshua Hoagland, and grandfather, Charles Hoagland, pioneer settlers of Union Springs, were both blacksmith and carriage makers. As a child, Will showed an aptitude for walking and walking fast. His early training was in the boat house of Charles Courtney who served as Hoagland's mentor and manager. At age 17, Hoagland started competing with walkers in this area defeating them decisively. Later Hoagland took on the more notable pedestrians with a career of many victories and few defeats. He participated in over 450 races during his career putting away his walking gear in 1912 following a record of courage, endurance and strength. In 1887, Hoagland set the world record of 100 miles in 18 hours and four minutes without a stop. As a result, considerable money changed hands as the odds were 3 to 1 against Hoagland. At his peak, Hoagland would give handicaps of 1 to 15 miles against the best walkers of the world and still outwalk his competitors. Record books show that he was known to cover 500 miles in individual races.

In later years, Hoagland served as a game manager in Cayuga County apprehending hundreds of persons for violations of game laws. Hoagland took great pride that no violator every laid a hand on him while resisting arrest. His professional career also included serving as an umpire in the National Baseball League. With the many thousands of miles which he traveled in his walking matches and game protector patrol, Hoagland took great pride that his feet were without a blemish. Proper fit of shoes and proper foot care were his advice to those who suffered from "pedal ailments", advice that is still relevant today.

Will Hoagland


bottom of page