The Journey of Joseph Hoffman

On September 5, 1913, a man strolled into the McHenry Plaindealer’s office. His name was Joseph Hoffman and he was on a walking journey from Cincinnati, Ohio to Bismarck, North Dakota. The adventure started out as a dare at Hoffman’s athletic club because he wasn’t much of a walker. One thing led to another and Hoffman was on his way to Bismarck. He was to get there and back in about 4 months and would be able to do this if he averaged about 30 miles a day. If Hoffman met this goal, he would be paid $400 in Bismarck and $400 after his return to Cincinnati.  Part of the bet was that he couldn’t take any money with him or take up any jobs. The main way he was to make money was to sell postcards with his likeness on them. He could make money with his adventure when he got home, as he worked for the Cincinnati Post.

The Cincinnati Post Office, where Hoffman’s walk began. Compliments of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

Leaving Cincinnati on August 19, by the time he had reached McHenry, he had gone through Indianapolis, Frankfurt and Chicago. On his best day, he actually was able to walk 42 miles. From McHenry, he was going to Lake Geneva, Madison, LaCrosse and Minneapolis before reaching his target of Bismarck. He carried with him a 25 lb bag full of provisions. When on his journey, Hoffman didn’t like to stay in hotels and often slept outdoors and noted only a few tight scrapes. He did his laundry in lakes and streams and went through two pairs of shoes during his journey. In Cincinnati, Hoffman was a chef who didn’t go outdoors often. He noted that he was pale and doughy, but after his trip, he was bronzed and trim.

Map showing the route that Hoffman took to Bismarck and back.

On his way through Minnesota, Hoffman ran out of his postcards and had to improvise to make money by selling local newspapers his story. He also picked up something of a follower for a short time. A Mr. Rodekopf, who worked for the Ortonville Journal, walked with him to Clinton, MN, some 12 miles. Rodekopf noted that most of the trip he had to keep a “keen trot” to keep up with Hoffman.

He reached Bismarck on October 9 ahead of schedule. He stayed for three days in Bismarck, partly to wait for his $400. However, the money never came so Hoffman had to walk back to Cincinnati without the money. He made it back to McHenry on November 22 and was confident he would get home well before his scheduled time. When he reached Chicago two days later, he noted he could actually slow up a bit and that he averaged about 33 ½ miles a day. Hoffman reached Cincinnati on Dec 6th, logging in about 2,400 miles in about 109 days. Afterwards, he said he might walk from New York to Los Angeles the following year.      


“Joseph Hoffman Arrived.” Cincinnati Enquirer 7 Dec 1913: 31. ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Web. 23 Mar 2018.
“Hiker Arrives After 1300 Mile Stroll.” Bismark Daily Tribune 10 Oct 1913: 1,4. . Web. 12 Mar 2018.
“Joseph Hoffman, the Walker.” McHenry Plaindealer 27 Nov 1913: 1. Web. 12 Mar 2018.
“Hoffman On Long Hike.” The Inter Ocean (Chicago, IL) 3 Sep 1913: 13. Web. 12 Mar 2018.
“On Long Walking Journey.” McHenry Plaindealer 11 Sep 1913: 1. Web. 12 Mar 2018.
“Second Weston Nears Bismarck.” Bismark Daily Tribune 7 Oct 1913: 4. Web. 12 Mar 2018.
“Walks From North Dakota.” The Inter Ocean (Chicago, IL) 25 Nov 1913: 13. Web. 12 Mar 2018.