When Watching People Walk Was America's Favorite Spectator Sport
By Matthew Algeo


272 Pages, 6 x 9

Formats: Cloth, PDF, EPUB, Mobipocket, Trade Paper

Cloth, $24.95 (US $24.95) (CA $29.95)

ISBN 9781613743973

Rights: WOR X UK, AU, NZ & IE

Chicago Review Press (Apr 2014)


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Strange as it sounds, during the 1870s and 1880s, America’s most popular spectator sport wasn’t baseball, boxing, or horseracing—it was competitive walking. 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 from coast to coast.

This long-forgotten sport, known as pedestrianism, spawned America’s first celebrity athletes and opened doors for immigrants, African Americans, and women. The top pedestrians earned a fortune in prize money and endorsement deals. But along with the excitement came the inevitable scandals, charges of doping—coca leaves!—and insider gambling. It even spawned a riot in 1879 when too many fans showed up at New York’s Gilmore’s Garden, later renamed Madison Square Garden, and were denied entry to a widely publicized showdown.

Pedestrianism: When Watching People Walk Was America’s Favorite Spectator Sport chronicles competitive walking’s peculiar appeal and popularity, its rapid demise, and its enduring influence, and how pedestrianism marked the beginning of modern spectator sports in the United States.


“Matthew Algeo’s ‘Pedestrianism: When Watching People Walk Was America’s Favorite Spectator Sport’ (Chicago Review) is one of those books which open up a forgotten world so fully that at first the reader wonders, just a little, if his leg is being pulled.” —The New Yorker

“Algeo brings to life an inspiring and fascinating account of human endurance from athletes centuries ahead of their time.” —Rory Coleman, International Performance Coach, ULTRA-marathoner and Guinness World Record holder

"An entertaining biography, step by step, of a diversion in the earliest days of today’s sports industry." —Kirkus Reviews

“This book offers a fascinating take on what was once ‘America’s favorite spectator sport’...The overall writing style is captivating and treats its obscure subject matter with zest. Readers interested in lesser-known aspects of American history and tradition will be fascinated with the stories of the major players of this oft-forgotten pastime.” —Library Journal

“Mathew Algeo strides fearlessly into a rich and little-known area of sporting history.  Even the most knowledgeable fans of pedestrianism will find much to amaze them here.” —Geoff Nicholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science, and Literature of Pedestrianism

“Algeo’s mastery of the time period and his approachable writing style turn an obscure pocket of sports history into an interesting weekend read.” —Chicago Book Review

Author Biography

Matthew Algeo is the author of Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure, Last Team Standing, and The President Is a Sick Man. An award-winning journalist, he has reported from three continents for public radio’s All Things Considered, Marketplace, and Morning Edition. He lives in Washington, DC.