Walter Breuning

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Walter Breuning
Walter Breuning April 8, 2010.jpg
Walter Breuning at age 113 in 2010
Born(1896-09-21)September 21, 1896
Melrose, Minnesota, United States
Died(2011-04-14)April 14, 2011
(aged 114 years, 205 days)
Great Falls, Montana, United States
NationalityUnited States
OccupationRetired railroader
TitleWorld's oldest living man from July 17, 2009 till his death and oldest living retired railroader in the United States from September 21, 2006 till his death
Spouse(s)Agnes C. Breuning (née Twokey)
(m. 1922 – 1957, her death)
Margaret Breuning (née Vanest)
(m. October 5, 1958 – January 15, 1975, her death)
Parent(s)John Breuning
Cora Mae Breuning (née Morehouse)

Walter Breuning (September 21, 1896 – April 14, 2011) was an American supercentenarian who was the oldest recognized living man in the world between July 18, 2009 and his death. As of 2020, Breuning was the third-oldest verified American man ever, behind Danish-born Christian Mortensen and Mathew Beard, as well as the second-oldest man ever born in the United States. At the time of his death, he was the fourth-oldest verified man ever; as of 2020, he is the fifth-oldest.


Walter Breuning in seventh grade, second from left, top row with blue "x", October 1907

Walter Breuning was born in Melrose, Minnesota. He was the son of John and Cora (née Morehouse) Breuning, and had two brothers and two sisters.[1] In 1901, when he was 5, his family moved to De Smet, South Dakota, where he went to school for nine years until his family broke up in 1910. Breuning referred to this time as "the dark ages", as his family lived without electricity, water, or plumbing.[2] Apart from his parents, who died at 50 and 46, longevity runs in Breuning's family. His paternal and maternal grandparents lived into their 90s and his siblings lived to ages 78, 85, 91, and 100. His only surviving family at the time of his death were 1 niece and 3 nephews (all in their 80s), plus great-nieces and great-nephews.[3]

In 1910, aged 14, Breuning dropped out of school and began scraping bakery pans for $2.50 weekly.[4] He joined the Great Northern Railway in 1913, working for it for more than fifty years. During his early years, Breuning commented that he would have to hide from owner James J. Hill, as Hill did not want any railroad employees under the age of 18 (Breuning was first hired at age 17).[5] Breuning worked for the Great Northern Railway until age 66, and was also a manager/secretary for the local Shriner's club until age 99.[6] During World War I, he signed up for military service, but was never called up. When World War II began, he was too old to serve. He moved to Montana in 1918, where he continued working as a clerk for the Great Northern Railway. There, he met Agnes Twokey, a telegraph operator from Butte. He was married to her from 1922 until her death in 1957. They had no children, and it was believed that Breuning never remarried, as he stated that "Second marriages never work; even first marriages don't work today."[7] However, after his death, a marriage certificate was located, revealing that he married Margaret Vanest on October 5, 1958; she died on January 15, 1975.[8]

Breuning was a Freemason, and a member of Great Falls Lodge No. 118, Great Falls, Montana, for over 85 years. He held the 33rd Degree of the Scottish Rite.[9][10]

In later years[edit]

Breuning in 2009, at age 112

Breuning lived at the Rainbow Retirement and Assisted Living Center in Great Falls, Montana, for 32 years, moving in when it was The Rainbow Hotel in 1979 when he was 83. The Rainbow Hotel turned into Rainbow Assisted Living Center in 1996, the year he turned 100.[11][12]

Breuning was a lifelong cigar smoker, but said in an interview at age 110 that he quit in 1999, when he was 103, saying they had become too expensive.[13] However, at the age of 108 he briefly started smoking again, encouraged by gifts of cigars from as far away as London.[14] Breuning retained a sharp memory. For example, he could remember his grandfather talking about his experiences in the American Civil War when he was three years old, and remembered the day President William McKinley was shot as the day "I got my first haircut".[15]

On his 112th birthday in 2008, Breuning said the secret to long life is being active: "If you keep your mind busy and keep your body busy, you're going to be around a long time."[11] On April 24, 2009 Breuning was interviewed on CBS by Steve Hartman for Assignment America. When Hartman asked if he would do a second CBS interview in four years, Breuning said, "well hell you sure can!"[16] However, Breuning died two years later.

Public events[edit]

On his 110th birthday, in September 2006, Breuning was declared the oldest living retired railroader in the United States. The then Governor of Montana, Brian Schweitzer, and the city mayor attended his celebration.

On February 16, 2009, Breuning made an appearance on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer, giving his views about the current state of the economy and the newly elected president. Breuning said that the first president he ever voted for was Woodrow Wilson, and that the most memorable news item he ever heard about in his life was the Wall Street Crash of 1929. He also described life during the Great Depression.[17]

On April 24, 2009, Breuning was the focus of a segment done by Steve Hartman's "Assignment America" on the CBS Evening News.[18] and on September 21, 2009, his 113th birthday, he was the focus of another such segment.[19] During his 113th birthday celebrations, Breuning said: "Remember that life's length is not measured by its hours and days, but by that which we have done therein. A useless life is short if it lasts a century. There are greater and better things in us all, if we would find them out. There will always be in this world – wrongs. No wrong is really successful. The day will come when light and truth and the just and the good shall be victorious and wrong as evil will be no more forever."

The BNSF Railway named the west end of its new Broadview Subdivision, where it meets the ex-Great Northern Laurel Subdivision near Broadview, Montana, Walter Junction after Breuning. He was present at the dedication of the new line, which serves the Signal Peak Mine, on September 2, 2009.[20]

On February 25, 2010, Breuning was honored by Montana Ambassadors for shining a spotlight on the state of Montana.[21]

Health history and habits[edit]

In 1960, age 64, Breuning was diagnosed with colon cancer. It was successfully treated and the cancer did not return. Breuning did not have any other health issues until he broke his hip at the age of 108. He spent eight days in the hospital and was totally healed in 21 days.[22] In November 2007 at the age of 111, Breuning was fitted with hearing aids. The week before his 113th birthday, in September 2009, Breuning fell and bruised his scalp, but was otherwise unhurt.[23] Breuning was in excellent health, walking unaided and refusing to use the elevator to reach his second floor apartment until he broke his hip.[24] Breuning began to slow down physically in his last year, requiring first a walker and then a motor scooter to get around, although his mental state was undiminished to the end.

Breuning attributed much of his longevity to his diet. Shortly after his wife died, Breuning started eating out at restaurants. Eventually, he stopped eating out, but continued eating two meals a day. He ate a big breakfast and a hearty lunch but skipped an evening meal, snacking on fruit instead. Breuning drank much water through the day plus a cup-and-a-half of coffee with breakfast and one cup with lunch. He got up every day at 6:15 am and had breakfast at 7:30 am. He then took a stroll around The Rainbow for exercise and could then be found sitting in the lobby chatting with fellow residents and his many visitors. Breuning would retire to his room in mid-afternoon to listen to radio and when his vision allowed him, read the newspaper and his many letters received from people from all over the world.[citation needed]

Overall, Breuning was in good health almost all of his life. His weight was around the same for the last 50 years of his life, 125–130 pounds (57–59 kg). Because Breuning was 5 feet 8 inches (1.73 m), his body mass index was around 19.[25][26] For years Breuning took a baby aspirin every day, but he eventually gave that up, stating that he didn't need it; from there on he took no medication.[27] Breuning believed another key to his longevity was keeping his mind and body active, not retiring until the age of 99. He performed daily calisthenics almost to the end. His final years he could not read well because his eyesight was badly impaired by cataracts, but he kept himself occupied mentally by listening to the radio.


In an interview with the Associated Press in autumn 2010, Breuning stated that he had no fear or rejection of change—especially death. "We're all going to die. Some people are scared of dying. Never be afraid to die. Because you're born to die," he said.[28]

On March 31, 2011, Breuning was hospitalized in Great Falls for an unspecified illness. Brian Schweitzer visited him in the hospital on April 6 and 8, 2011.[29][30] He died peacefully in his sleep at 3:30 pm local time on April 14, 2011.[31] At the time of his death, he was the third-oldest living person in the world, and the oldest male. After his death, he was succeeded as the world's oldest living man by Japanese man Jiroemon Kimura, who later also became the oldest man ever as well as the first man to become 116 years old, and still the only one as of 2020.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Twelfth Census of the United States, United States Census, 1900; Melrose, Stearns, Minnesota; roll T623 792, page 16A, line 33. Retrieved on July 25, 2009.
  2. ^ "World's oldest man marks 114th birthday in US". September 21, 2010. Retrieved November 26, 2011.
  3. ^ "Breuning's brood fondly recalls world's oldest man". April 25, 2011. Retrieved November 26, 2011.
  4. ^ "Great Falls Tribune tribute site". April 14, 2011. Retrieved November 26, 2011.
  5. ^ "Railroad Retiree is Nation's Oldest Living Man". January 8, 2009. Archived from the original on September 27, 2011. Retrieved November 26, 2011.
  6. ^ [1][dead link]
  7. ^ Hartman, Steve (September 21, 2009). "Oldest Man's 113th Birthday". CBS. Retrieved April 13, 2010.
  8. ^ "Breuning's untold chapters: Oldest man had second wife". April 24, 2011. Retrieved November 26, 2011.
  9. ^ "World's Oldest Man is a Brother". Masons of California. Archived from the original on October 30, 2016. Retrieved April 15, 2011.
  10. ^ "Oldest Man in North America is also Oldest Shriner". Atlanta, Georgia: YAARAB Shrine of Atlanta. Archived from the original on June 25, 2011. Retrieved April 15, 2011.
  11. ^ a b Man, 112, says secret to long life is being activeArchived January 1, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Tribune Staff. "125 Montana Newsmakers: Walter Breuning". Great Falls Tribune. Retrieved August 28, 2011.
  13. ^ rloznak (September 28, 2009). "Walter Breuning at 110-years-old". YouTube. Retrieved November 26, 2011.
  14. ^ "108-Year-Old Man Starts Smoking Again". redOrbit. September 27, 2004. Retrieved November 26, 2011.
  15. ^ CBS (September 21, 2009). "CBS-interview". Retrieved November 26, 2011.
  16. ^ "Utah psychiatrist researching what makes supercentenarians tick". KSL-TV. September 7, 2010. Retrieved November 26, 2011.
  17. ^ "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer". February 16, 2009. Retrieved November 26, 2011.
  18. ^ "America's Oldest Man Keeps Rolling". CBS News. April 24, 2009. Retrieved November 26, 2011.
  19. ^ "Revisiting the Most Senior of Sr. Citizens". September 21, 2009. Retrieved November 26, 2011.
  20. ^ Andy Cummings, Trains (magazine), For BNSF a new coal shipper, December 2009, p. 9
  21. ^ [2][dead link]
  22. ^ "Oldest Man in North America is also Oldest Shriner". YAARAB Shrine. January 15, 2009. Archived from the original on August 29, 2011. Retrieved November 26, 2011.
  23. ^ "Walter Breuning - World's Oldest Man Celebrates His 113th Birthday - Photo - LIFE". September 21, 2009. Archived from the original on June 10, 2011. Retrieved February 3, 2018.
  24. ^ "Montana's centenarians hard to find – Census 2000 – Communities". July 8, 2011. Retrieved November 26, 2011.
  25. ^ "Survival Skills: World's Oldest Man". April 14, 2011. Retrieved November 26, 2011.
  26. ^ George, Sydne (September 24, 2009). "Two-meal diet aids in oldest man's longevity". Retrieved November 26, 2011.
  27. ^ "Transcripts » Show". PRX. Archived from the original on March 21, 2012. Retrieved November 26, 2011.
  28. ^ Walter Breuning, world's oldest man, dies in Montana at age 114Archived April 29, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  29. ^ "Governor praises his hospitalized friend, Walter Breuning". April 8, 2011. Archived from the original on April 19, 2011. Retrieved November 26, 2011.
  30. ^ "Gov. Schweitzer shares Walter Breuning stories". April 15, 2011. Archived from the original on April 20, 2011. Retrieved April 21, 2011.
  31. ^ Tribune Staff (April 15, 2011). "Rest in Peace, Walter Breuning, World's Oldest Living Man". Great Falls Tribune. Retrieved August 28, 2011.

External links[edit]