No sports figure of that sport-happy time in America's brief history garnered more ink in the press or cash at the turnstile. Twice in his fabled career, Dan Patch drew crowds in excess of 100,000 at a reported one U.S. Dollar per head. His name appeared on everything from cut-plug tobacco cans and cigars to washing machines and pool cues.
He traveled in a custom built railcar with his picture appearing on both its sides, and, they say, its interior was lined in red velvet. The Jersey Lilly, the famous Lilly Langtry, came to meet him. President Eisenhower remembered seeing him at the Kansas State Fair in 1904 and as a boy, President to be, Harry Truman, sent him a fan letter. Dan Patch even had his own pet dog.
So dominating were his performances that often no horse would challenge him and he would pace against the clock. Dan Patch lost just two heats in his career and never lost a race. Fourteen times he broke world speed records and his official record for one mile stands at 1:55 1/4.
At the Minnesota State Fair in 1906 he scorched the track in 1:55 flat, an unofficial record which stood for thirty-two years until matched by Billy Direct in 1938. It was a four horse race with two of the contenders staying close to Dan, but video footage shows that both of these horses have broken and are galloping by the race's end. It was not until 1960 when Adios Butler paced a mile in 1:54 .3, that Dan Patch's unofficial record was broken.
The 111 year old video of the Minnesota State Fair race of 1906 follows. Imagine the times that Dan Patch might turn on today's modern tracks and using today's sophisticated equipment.
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Copyright 2015 by Loren R. Schumacher
Photo of B.F. Wano from the author's collection.
All other photos and videos belong to Getty Images or Youtube by unknown sources.