Annie Londonderry - First Lady to Ride around the World
In the last article we discussed the origins of bikepacking which date all the way back to the early days of the bicycle, in this issue we will follow the plucky Annie ‘Londonderry’ Kopchovsky’s solo journey around the world with her bike.
Who was Annie Londonderry?
Annie ‘Londonderry’ Kopchovsky was a Jewish Latvian immigrant who moved to the United States with her family as a child. Annie, then Cohen, married Max Kopchovsky, an Orthodox Jew and had three children with him while working selling advertising space for several newspapers.
It is alleged that there was a bet between two rich Boston men that no woman could cycle around the world in less than 15 months and this was the inspiration for her journey. However, the two men were never named and it is believed that this was a fictitious wager to generate excitement for the journey so as to help raise funds for it. Columbia bicycles provided the petite Annie, weighing 45 kgs, a bicycle weighing 19 kgs, for the ride. She managed to find further sponsorship through through the Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company and as at this time there was widespread anti-Semitism in the US (and her surname immediately identified her as Jewish), she agreed to ride as Annie Londonderry for her trip as well as having their advertising board attached to her back wheel and they gave her the sum of $100 in return.
Around the world
The 24-year-old Annie, who had never ridden a bicycle until a few days before, set off on the 27th June 1894 wearing a long skirt, corset and high collar, she took a spare change of clothes and a pearl-handled pistol with her. The start of the journey to Chicago had good roads and she managed to average about 15 km per day and by the time she arrived in Chicago she had lost nearly 10 kgs and the will to continue. As winter was coming she realised she could not make it across the mountains to San Francisco before it started to snow, so she decided she would have to journey home instead. Just before heading home she met with Sterling Cycle Works who offered to sponsor her trip and gave her a Sterling fixed gear bike that was 10 kgs lighter than the Columbia she had been riding. At this point she also switched to riding in bloomers instead of the long skirt and later simply rode in a men’s riding outfit.
At this point Annie only had 11 months to complete her trip, but she had a renewed desire to do so. She continued to New York City and on 24 November 1894, boarded a liner destined for the Northern shore of France, arriving on 3 December. She was unfortunately not welcomed to France, on arrival, her bike was confiscated and her money taken and the Press wrote derogatory articles on her attire. When she managed to get everything straightened out and back on the road she managed to cover the distance from Paris to Marseille in two weeks, by bike and train, despite poor weather and an injury, meaning she had to ride with one foot bandaged and resting on her handlebars. From Marseille, Annie boarded a ship which took her to many different places, including Alexandria, Colombo, Singapore, Saigon, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Nagasaki and Kobe. As there was no required minimum distance she had to ride on her trip, and her time was running very short, she would hop off in each place and go for a day-trip before setting sail for the next place. She finally set sail from Japan on the 9th March 1895 and landed in San Francisco on the 23rd March.
On route from San Francisco to El Paso, through Arizona and New Mexico, Annie was nearly killed by a runaway horse and cart. She sustained only minor injuries but used it to draw more attention to her trip, claiming she was out cold and taken to hospital where she was coughing up blood for two days after the accident, whereas she was in fact giving a lecture the same evening. She travelled North from El Paso, leaving Albuquerque on the 20th July, arriving in Denver on the 12th August. From here she had to take a train to avoid the muddy roads, but was able to ride again in Iowa. Here she had a nasty fall resulting in a broken wrist after crashing into a herd of pigs and had to complete her journey with a cast.
Annie finally rolled into Chicago on the 12th September 1895, 14 days shy of her deadline, to claim her $10 000 prize. Despite some criticism that she had travelled more with a bike than on it, she was able to prove she was a formidable cyclist in a few impromptu races in America and the newspapers described her trip as “the Most Extraordinary Journey Ever Undertaken by a Women”.
The Trail’s End Bicycle Museum is being extended and it will feature a display dedicated to the role that the bicycle played in the emancipation of women and the changes in their fashion, so make sure you don’t miss it.