Today in Transportation History – 1978: The Passing of a World Record-Setting Circumnavigating Walker

More than a half-century after establishing a record for walking around the world, Dumitru Dan died in the city of Buzău in his native Romania at the age of 88. His path to international fame began in 1908 while he was a student in Paris. The Touring club de France initiated a contest for circumnavigating the globe by foot; the prize for completing this journey would be 100,000 francs.

Dan took up the club’s challenge. He was joined by three fellow Romanians likewise studying in Paris at the time – Paul Pârvu, George Negreanu, and Alexandru Pascu. The four young men returned to Romania to prepare for their ambitious round-the-world journey. They learned new languages, taught themselves cartography, and did weight training and other exercises on a daily basis. In addition, the group walked approximately 27 miles (45 kilometers) each day in all types of weather and on everything from mountains to plains. In order to help support themselves financially during the course of their extensive trek, Dan and his fellow prospective globe-trotters also learned how to perform various Romanian folk songs and dances.

Finally, in 1910, the four men – all of them wearing native garb and sandals — started out on their walk around the world along with a dog named Harap. The eastward journey would take several years and, tragically, none of Dan’s human companions lived to complete it. When the group made their way through India in 1911, Pascu died of opium poisoning while visiting the palace of the Rajah of Bombay. About a year later, Negreanu died due to injuries from falling onto some rocks while the group was crossing a narrow pass in the Nanling Mountains of China. Pârvu developed gangrene during the 1,615-mile (2,600-kilometer) portion of the journey through Alaska and was finally forced to stop walking altogether when they reached Jacksonville, Florida. Despite receiving urgently needed medical attention and having both legs amputated there, Pârvu died in 1915. (The dog Harap likely remained there in Jacksonville.)

As the only surviving member of this group, Dan had to put the walk on hold for several years due to World War I. He eventually managed to finish the journey by 1923, having crossed five continents and 76 countries en route. He also visited over 1,500 cities and wore out 497 pairs of footwear. In the time since Dan and his group had begun the walk, the value of the prize money was significantly lessened by inflation and war. It has been estimated that, in 1908, the money offered by the Touring Club de France had been the equivalent of nearly $600,000 today; by 1923, however, this amount was worth less than $50,000 in contemporary U.S. dollars.

Nonetheless, Dan earned renown across the globe and especially in Romania for his achievement. About six years after his death, his accomplishment was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records.

For more information about Dumitru Dan, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dumitru_Dan.

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