On this Day:

On Jun e 27, 1894 American Annie Londonderry [Annie Kopchovsky] sets out from Boston to become first woman to bicycle around the world (she completes her journey in September 1895).

Annie Cohen Kopchovsky (1870 – 11 November 1947), known as Annie Londonderry, was a Jewish Latvian immigrant to the United States who in 1894–95 became the first woman to bicycle around the world. After having completed her travel, she built a media career around engagement with popular conception of what it was to be female.

The wager

The inspiration for betting (or falsely claiming there was a bet) on a bicycle journey around the world likely came from a former Harvard student E. C. Pfeiffer. Under the pseudonym Paul Jones, he started bicycling in mid-February 1894 claiming to be attempting a trip around the world in one year on a $5,000 wager. Two weeks later, the bet was revealed to be fake. Later in 1894, two rich Boston men allegedly wagered $20,000 against $10,000 that no woman could travel around the world by bicycle in 15 months and earn $5000. It is doubtful there was ever a wager. The alleged bettors were never named.

Londonderry’s great-grand nephew and author of the authoritative history of her journey, Peter Zheutlin, has stated that “It’s virtually certain, for example, that she concocted the wager story to sensationalize her trip”. If Annie’s gambit was a stunt, one person stood to benefit: Colonel Albert Pope, the owner of Pope Manufacturing Company of Boston and Hartford, which produced, among many other things, Columbia bicycles. His senior salesman at Columbia’s main store in Boston delivered one of their models for the start of the journey. The choice of a woman was an obvious extension of previous exploits. In 1887 Thomas Stevens had become the first person to bicycle around the world. Moreover, the bicycle craze of the 1890s was providing women with an independent method of transportation and fomenting an evolution in women’s clothing, from full skirts and heavy material to bloomers that allow for more mobility and freedom of movement.

Annie Kopchovsky was a highly unlikely choice for the completion of this wager, starting with her name, which identified her as a Jew in a city and country where anti-Semitism was widespread. She lacked the experience, never having ridden a bicycle until a few days before her trip, and had a slight build, only 5 foot 3, about 100 pounds. In addition, she was a married woman and a mother of three children, ages five, three, and two.

Sponsorships were crucial to financing the enterprise and the publicity surrounding it. Her 42-pound Columbia women’s bike carried a placard attached to the rear wheel that advertised New Hampshire’s Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company, for which the company paid her $100 and she in turn agreed to go by the name “Annie Londonderry” for the duration of her trip.

Setting out

On June 27, 1894, at about 11 o’clock in the morning, Londonderry set off from the Massachusetts State House on Beacon Hill. The 24-year-old wore a long skirt, corset and high collar and carried with her a change of clothes and a pearl-handled pistol. On her route to Chicago, she chose cycling routes published in tour books by the League of American Wheelmen. These tour books contained distances, road conditions, landmarks, places to eat, and hotels that offered cyclist discounts, and provided company as many other cyclists rode the same routes. With good weather and roads, she was able to average between eight and ten miles per day.

When she arrived in Chicago on September 24, she had lost 20 pounds and the desire to continue. Winter was coming, and she realized she could not make it across the mountains to San Francisco before snow started to fall. Prior to leaving Chicago to ride home to Boston, she met with Sterling Cycle Works, whose offices and factory were located on Carroll Avenue.

Europe and Asia

With the change in dress and bicycle, Londonderry was determined to complete her world trip, even though she only had eleven months to make it back to Chicago. She followed her route back to New York City, and on November 24, 1894, she boarded the French liner La Touraine, destined for Le Havre on France’s north coast. She arrived on December 3 and became wrapped up in bureaucracy. Her bike was confiscated by custom officials, her money was taken, and the French press wrote insulting articles about her appearance. She managed to free herself and rode from Paris to Marseille. Despite being held up by bad weather, she arrived in two weeks by cycling and train with one foot bandaged and propped up on her handlebars due to an injury on the road.

Londonderry left Marseille on the 413-foot steamship Sydney with only eight months to get back to Chicago. The wager did not dictate a minimum cycling distance, so she sailed from place to place, completing day-trips at each stop along the way. She visited many places, including Alexandria, Colombo, Singapore, Saigon, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Nagasaki and Kobe.

Return to the United States

On March 9, 1895, Londonderry sailed from Yokohama, Japan, and reached the Golden Gate in San Francisco on March 23. She rode to Los Angeles, through Arizona and New Mexico and on to El Paso. At one point, she and another cyclist were almost killed by a runaway horse and wagon. They received minor injuries, yet she claimed that she had been knocked out and taken to a hospital in Stockton where she coughed up blood for two days. In fact, she had given a lecture in Mozart Hall in Stockton the evening after the accident.

The Southern Pacific Railway tracks offered many benefits to cyclists traveling across southern California and Arizona, and Londonderry took advantage of them. Riders could follow service roads made of hard packed dirt and stop at shelters for train crews, where they could get a meal and a bath. Some presume she rode the train across parts of the desert, though she claims to have declined rides from passing train crews. From El Paso, she traveled north, leaving Albuquerque on July 20, 1895, bound for Denver, where she arrived on August 12. She rode the train across most of Nebraska because of the muddy roads. Near Gladbrook, Iowa, she broke her wrist when she crashed into a group of pigs and was forced to wear a cast for the remainder of her trip.

On September 12, 1895, Londonderry arrived in Chicago, accompanied by two cyclists she had met in Clinton, Iowa, and collected her $10,000 prize. She had made it around the world fourteen days under allowed time. She was back home in Boston on September 24, arriving fifteen months after she had left. When she published an account of her exploits in the New York World on October 20, 1895, the newspaper headline described it as “the Most Extraordinary Journey Ever Undertaken by a Woman”. Despite criticism that she traveled more “with” a bicycle than on one, she proved a formidable cyclist at impromptu local races en route across America (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

Q. Do you know what’s the hardest part of learning to ride a bike?

A. The pavement.

Second, a Song:

Courtesy of Vox.com and YouTube.com here is:

How bicycles boosted the women’s rights movement

Susan B. Anthony said that the bicycle did “more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.”

The late 19th century inaugurated a period of bicycle mania in the U.S. In 1897 alone over 2 million bicycles were sold, one for about every 30 Americans. Early bicycles were unwieldy and required an enormous amount of strength to operate. But as the technology advanced and chain-powered “safety” bicycles came onto the scene, women flocked to bikes en masse as a new means of exercise and transportation. This new activity required a change in dress since the billowing skirts that were fashionable at the time were unwieldy and problematic. “Bloomers”, or baggy undergarments, were easier to cycle in and became common among women, inciting a political firestorm, enraging men who questioned the decency of women who were challenging norms and donning clothing they viewed as depraved. Bicycles not only gave women a new sense of independence, it also physically broadened their horizons, allowing them expanded mobility without needing to rely on men. These developments contributed to the fight for women’s equality and the passing of the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote, with Susan B. Anthony even going so far as to say that bicycles had “done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.”


Thought for the Day:

“Learn to ride a bicycle. You will not regret it if you live.” – Mark Twain

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Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2022 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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