In the last week of January 1940, an interesting figure walked into the city of McHenry. Carrying 14 scrapbooks and a pad of paper, Ralph Bradford must have been an interesting sight. Ralph was from Indianapolis, Indiana and was on a world tour. Born in Indiana in 1900, Ralph was deaf and couldn’t speak and had to overcome polio at the age of three. None of this could stop Ralph though. After he graduated from the Indiana School for the Deaf in 1923, he started to walk for his health. Feeling much better from walking, he set out to see the world. In 1928, he made his first trip out to Los Angeles. One of the most interesting things about his traveling, was that Ralph made his way through his world travels by working at jobs in the towns he stopped in. He would also sell cards describing some of the things he had seen on his adventure. When he made enough money, he would move on. When traveling overseas, he would often work in the ship’s kitchen. Notably, when he communicated with others, it was through his trusty notepad and pencil.
Initially, Ralph would either walk or hitchhike to his destination. (He stopped hitchhiking in the 1940s, when it became illegal in more places.) One newspaper called him the World’s Worst Shoe Punisher, however most referred to him as the Silent Hoosier. He was featured in an illustration in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not in 1930. By June 1934 he had traveled an estimated 41,500 miles. The first place he would go to when he reached a town was the local newspaper, as they would know the interesting places to see and who to meet. He would often collect signatures and well wishes from local officials from the places he went. His travels took him all over the world. He visited every state in the U.S., England, Germany, Nova Scotia, Mexico, Cuba as well as others. Through his travels he kept careful documentation of everything, putting it in a scrapbook. He kept letters he received from dignitaries, and was reported to have met Thomas Edison, Calvin Coolidge and FDR. Part of the reason for dutiful record keeping was that Ralph intended to write a book about his adventure called “Treaded Travels For An Education.” Later he said he would call it “My Million Silent Miles.”
Ralph was described by most being a neat dresser, very friendly and was most always smiling. Depending on the climate, he wore a hat the “motorcycle riders would wear” with big glasses or goggles to help with the sun and usually had a heavy overcoat. He noted that the cold didn’t bother him and didn’t like the heat of the south. In 1949, he started to wear leg braces as the effects of polio started to wear on him. Ralph also started to use buses and trains more frequently for transportation. In December 1949, he was in a bad accident while on a bus, injuring his spine. The next year, he was hit by a train. Like most things in his life, this may have slowed him down, but didn’t stop him. He listed his favorite cities in order as being: Long Beach, CA, Honolulu, HI, Greenwich, CT and Atlantic City, NJ. The toughest town he said was Peoria, IL, which he called 9 times tougher than Chicago. By the spring of 1962, Ralph was said to have traveled 975,000 miles and made three trips around the world. He had an atlas with over 11 thousand towns in the US. His plan was to see all of the towns by 1965 and retire up in Bangor, Maine with the sales he would make from selling his book. Sadly, fate had other plans. He was found deceased the day after Thanksgiving in 1962.
- “To Collect Material For Book In Alton” The Alton Evening Telegraph (Alton, IL) News. 9 Jul 1962, 2. Newspapers.com. Web. 19 Feb 2020.
- “Centralia Is Number 7,273 On His City List” Mt. Vernon Register-News (Mt. Vernon, IL) News. 10 Oct 1959, 6. Newspapers.com. Web. 19 Feb 2020.
- “Seeing Every City Is Goal Of Deaf Mute” Southern Illinoisian (Carbondale, IL) News. 11 Oct 1959, 8. Newspapers.com. Web. 19 Feb 2020.
- “It’s Been A Long Time Between Mt. Vernons Say Deaf Mute” Mt. Vernon Register-News (Mt. Vernon, IL) News. 11 Dec 1959, 2. Newspapers.com. Web. 19 Feb 2020.
- “The Silent Hoosier” The Jacksonville Daily Journal (Jacksonville, IL) News. 18 Nov 1931, 2. Newspapers.com. Web. 19 Feb 2020.
- “Deaf Mute Visited Here In Campaign To Visit 10,000 Cities” The Hardin County Independent (Elizabethtown, IL) News. 28 Apr 1960, 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 19 Feb 2020.
- “Deaf-Mute Traveler At Herrin” Southern Illinoisian (Carbondale, IL) News. 19 Feb 1960, 10. Newspapers.com. Web. 19 Feb 2020.
- “Globe Trotting Deaf-Mute Here on 150,000 Trip” Belvidere Republican (Belvidere, IL) News. 22 May 1940, 10. Newspapers.com. Web. 19 Feb 2020.
- “Deaf-Mute Traveling Over Nation” Freeport Journal-Standard (Freeport, IL) News. 9 Oct 1959, 7. Newspapers.com. Web. 19 Feb 2020.
- “Deaf Mute Terms Peoria Toughest City” The Times (Streator, IL) News. 10 Oct 1959, 12. Newspapers.com. Web. 19 Feb 2020.
- “Traveling Deaf Mute Here Collecting Data For A Book” The Edwardsville Intelligencer (Edwardsville, IL) News. 12 Mar 1962, 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 19 Feb 2020.
- “Ralph Kennedy Bradford, Deaf-Mute Traveler, Makes Ashley 7,289th Stop On His Tour Of Cities” Ashley News (Ashley, IL) News. 7 Jan 1960, 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 19 Feb 2020.
- “Ralph Bradford, Deaf Mute, Visits Here” Colorado Transcript (Golden, CO) News. 7 Sep 1950, 5. coloradohistoricnewspapers.org . Web. 19 Feb 2020.
- “Ralph Bradford Is Visiting Here” Daily Illini (Urbana, IL) News. 7 Nov 1931, 1. idnc.library.illinois.edu . Web. 19 Feb 2020.
- “Globe Trotter In City Today” Muncie Post-Democrat (Muncie, IN) News. 17 Jun 1938, 4. newspapers.library.in.gov. Web. 19 Feb 2020.
- “Mute Traveler Is Visitor In Capital” The Bismark Tribune (Bismark, ND) News. 14 Oct 1937, 7. chronicalingamerica.loc.gov. Web. 19 Feb 2020.
- “Deaf Mute Travels Over 503,553 Miles” The Journal (Caldwell,OH) News. 28 May 1953, 11. chronicalingamerica.loc.gov. Web. 19 Feb 2020.
- “Mute Travels 35,000 Miles” Calexico Chronicle (Calexico, CA) News.9 Dec 1930, 7. cdnc.ucr.edu Web. 19 Feb 2020.
- “Traveler” The Daily Banner (Greencastle, IN) News. 10 Apr 1957, 4. newspapers.library.in.gov. Web. 19 Feb 2020.
- “Deaf Mute Visits City To Collect Material For Book” McHenry Plaindealer (McHenry, IL) News. 1 Feb 1940, 1. newspapers.com. Web. 19 Feb 2020.