March 23, 1895: Annie Londonderry, the First Woman to Circumnavigate the World by Bike, Returns to the United States
Long before there were social media influencers and female athletes with mega-sponsors, there was Annie Cohen Kopchovsky, a.k.a. Annie Londonderry. Her history-making quest to circle the globe on bicycle began with a wager between two rich Boston businessmen. When Annie made good on that bet, the 24-year-old Jewish immigrant, wife and mother of three children proved that women could conquer the world on two wheels — and on their own terms.
Widely viewed as a publicity stunt, Kopchovsky’s challenge was to travel the world by bicycle in fifteen months. (The feat had already been accomplished by a man, Thomas Stevens, nearly a decade earlier.) The catch: Kopchovsky also had to earn $5,000 along the way. Amazingly, Kopchovksy had never even hopped onto a bicycle when she agreed to the stunt. But she had a canny understanding of self-promotion and, on her own, scored the first of many “sponsors” to finance the trip: $100 from the Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company. As a part of the deal, she switched her last name to Londonderry. (Talk about product integration!) Kopchovsky became, in effect, a billboard-in-motion, sporting advertising banners as she pedaled her way around the globe.
Widely viewed as a publicity stunt, Kopchovsky’s challenge was to travel the world by bicycle in fifteen months.
Traveling with only a small bag and a pearl-handled revolver, Londonderry embarked west from her hometown of Boston. But it took her months to get as far as Chicago. So she ditched her heavy ladies’ bike for a lighter men’s bike, and donned a more comfortable bloomer outfit. Annie called a do-over, reset the clock and started making her way back east. When she arrived in New York, she set sail for France, and then cycled to Marseille. She made her way through Egypt to Southeast Asia to China to Japan. Although she biked her fair share of miles along the way, Annie also took steamboats and railroads, when necessary. Thanks to her vivacious personality, Annie became a media sensation, spinning tall tales about her backstory and travels to reporters. She spoke of dodging bullets and hunting Bengal tigers, all while biking through India and China, even though she was on a boat most of the time.
But she had a canny understanding of self-promotion and, on her own, scored the first of many “sponsors” to finance the trip: $100 from the Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company. As a part of the deal, she switched her last name to Londonderry.
Though she returned stateside in March of 1895, she finally completed her trip several months later, on September 24. By then a celebrity, Annie moved her family to New York City, so she could write a sensational column for The New York World under the byline, “The New Woman.” In her first story, she chronicled her international cycling trip and began with a bold declaration: “I am a journalist and ‘a new woman’ if that term means that I believe I can do anything that any man can do.”