Structural maintenance of chromosomes (SMC) complexes play critical roles in chromosome dynamics in virtually all organisms, but how they function remains poorly understood. In the bacterium Bacillus subtilis, SMC-condensin complexes are topologically loaded at centromeric sites adjacent to the replication origin. Here we provide evidence that these ring-shaped assemblies tether the left and right chromosome arms together while traveling from the origin to the terminus (>2 megabases) at rates >50 kilobases per minute. Condensin movement scales linearly with time, providing evidence for an active transport mechanism. These data support a model in which SMC complexes function by processively enlarging DNA loops. Loop formation followed by processive enlargement provides a mechanism by which condensin complexes compact and resolve sister chromatids in mitosis and by which cohesin generates topologically associating domains during interphase.