Cycling around the world

Between 1894 and 1895 Annie Londonderry cycled around the world – the first woman to do so.

Annie Londonderry, portrait with bicycle
Studio Tourne, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The bicycle was a surprising tool in the rise of 19th century feminism. Affordable and portable, it allowed women to move out of the private sphere and into the public, to be free to go where they wanted in a way that was not previously possible. Bicycles created social mobility through literal mobility.

Equal rights postcard with bicycles
LSE Library, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

It was in this context that Annie Londonderry – actual name Annie Cohen Kopchovsky – rode into view. In 1895 she undertook an epic journey: she was going to cycle around the world in fifteen months.

Now, I should clarify one thing right away. She did not literally cycle all the way across the world – no-one achieved a true cycling circumnavigation until a century later (depending on how you define a “true” circumnavigation). But she did travel around the world with her bicycle, and cycled for an enormous stretch of it.

The story was that she did this to satisfy a bet, but it’s more likely that it was a publicity stunt (much like the effort to get a block of ice from the Arctic to the Equator). Kopchovsky cycled under the name Londonderry to advertise a spring water company of the same name. Her bicycles were supplied free of charge by the manufacturers.

The journey itself was a funny one. She set out from Boston with a change of clothes and a gun, and got as far as Chicago before realising that it was perhaps not the best plan to head for the west coast around winter (just ask the Donner Party). So she turned around and cycled back the way she came, as far as New York City. There, she boarded a ship for France. Kopchovsky cycled across France down to the Mediterranean. For the rest of the trip she mainly travelled by sea, coming ashore at points across the MIddle East and Asia to do some more cycling.

Alexandria, Ottoman Jerusalem, Aden, Colombo, Singapore, Saigon, Hong Kong, Nagasaki, and then back to the United States. Kopchovsky cycled from San Francisco to Los Angeles, into Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, through the Midwest to Chicago, and then into to Boston to complete her journey. The whole trip – including the back-and-forth at the start – took a total of fifteen months.

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