In the late 19th and early 20th century, the “travel around the world” craze was raging, kickstarted by the Jules Verne novel “Around the World in Eighty Days”. As the wealthy threw wagers to see who could circumnavigate the world, there was one true story that stood out above the others: that of “Annie Londonderry”. Born “Annie Cohen” in what is now Latvia, Londonderry was a 24 year-old wife and mother of three in Boston when she took up the journey in 1894. According to the legend, it all started when she heard two men in a bar talking about how women couldn’t ride bikes as far as men could. Annie, who had never before ridden a bike, offered to prove them wrong, and made a wager that she could circle the globe by bike in 15 months and earn $5,000 on the way. Over the years, many different parts of the story were made up and/or embellished, but even the true story paints Londonderry as an amazing woman. Here are some facts about this incredible story, based off an article I found on the blog “Adventure Journal”:
There’s no denying that Londonderry circumnavigated the world with a bicycle, but the circumstances surrounding the trip remain murky. This event occurred when bikes were taking off in the US, allowing people to travel more easily and explore neighborhoods outside of their own. It’s possible that the whole backstory was developed by Columbia Bicycles, or maybe Annie herself. Yet regardless of how it came about, Londonderry turned out to be a savvy self-promoter; her nickname came from a sponsorship she took with the water company Londonderry Lithia.
Cheered on by a crowd, Londonderry first rode out of Boston in June of 1894 with nothing but a change of clothes and a revolver. To make money, she set up speaking engagements, sell photos and offer to endorse products. While Londonderry had to spend a large amount of time on boats while cycling around the world, she ended up pedalling thousands of miles in-between ocean travel. After embarking on a steamship to Europe, she went from France to North Africa and Arabia, then to Sri Lanka, Singapore and Pacific Rim before taking a ship to San Francisco. She then went across the US until she got back to Boston.
Londonderry’s trip was a mixed bag; she was mugged, run over and mocked and chastised for attire that was viewed as “unfeminine”. Yet as any woman traveling alone around the world in an era that many lived and died in the same place their great great grandfathers had, she was regarded as the epitome of courage. Even nowadays, riding around the world on a bicycle without money, little riding experience and no support system is an amazing feat. Yet that didn’t stop Londonderry from embellishing and outright lying about her experiences, with wild tales of gunfights, tiger hunts and encounters with war criminals. Yet there’s still plenty of evidence to chart much of her experience. Ultimately, however, her fame was fleeting, and after an unsuccessful stab at journalism, Londonderry died some 50 years later in obscurity.
Regardless of how Londonderry’s experience went, she was a truly remarkable woman, who took the idea of bike freedom and bringing it to a whole new level. Despite plenty of discouragement (men thought she was incapable of succeeding, and many women thought she was too audacious), she was able to succeed. If you’d like to learn more about this amazing story, you can click here!