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Glenn Cunningham

Glenn Cunningham

Athlete.  Born: August 4, 1909, Atlanta, Kansas.  Died: March 10, 1988, Menifee, Arkansas.

When he was seven years old, Glenn Cunningham's physicians told him that he would never walk again after suffering from severe leg burns from a gasoline explosion at his schoolhouse. His older brother Floyd died from his burns. Cunningham not only walked but was one of the premiere milers in the 1930s. The Morton County athlete also starred in the 1932 Olympics.

He attended the University of Kansas from 1930 to 1933, where he earned a bachelor's degree. He earned a master's degree in physical education from the University of Iowa in 1936, and a Ph.D from New York University in 1938.

For three years, from 1932 - 1934, he won the Big Six indoor titles and was again at the Olympics in 1936. He was known as the "Kansas Ironman." Then on March 3, 1938, Cunningham became the world's fastest miler as he set a new record at Dartmouth College. That same year he also received a doctorate degree from New York University.

During World War II he entered the Navy and established new physical training programs at both the Great Lakes and San Diego training stations.

Cunningham received much recognition over a long period of time but perhaps one of his most satisfying experiences was Elkhart's Glenn Cunningham day, held in 1933 when he returned from Europe after winning 11 straight races. Cunningham would eventually see his records broken by three more Kansas milers - Archie Romani, Jr., Wes Santee and Jim Ryun.

Newspaper article describing the Stevens County, Kansas schoolhouse fire that injured Cunningham.  CLICK TO ENLARGE.He taught athletics and physical education at Cornell College in Iowa. Later Cunningham and his wife established the Glenn Cunningham Youth Ranch, taking in numerous foster children. 


Entry: Cunningham, Glenn

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: June 2003

Date Modified: January 2016

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.