Annie Cohen Kopchovsky (1870–1947), known as Annie Londonderry, was a Latvian immigrant to the United States who in 1894–95 became the first woman to bicycle around the world. She was a free-thinking woman, who reinvented herself under her pseudonym as an entrepreneur, athlete, and globetrotter.
Early life and marriage
Annie Cohen was born in Latvia to Levi (Leib) and Beatrice (Basha) Cohen. She had two older siblings, Sarah and Bennett. Her family moved to the United States in 1875 and she became a citizen as a child, only four or five years old. They settled in Boston and lived in a tenement on Spring Street. On January 17, 1887, her father died, and her mother died two months later. Her older sister Sarah was already married and living in Maine, leaving Annie (age 17) and her brother Bennett (age 20) to take care of their younger siblings Jacob and Rosa (ages 10 and 8 or 9 at the time, respectively). Annie and Bennett both soon married, and brought their spouses to share their Spring Street home.
In 1888 Annie Cohen married Simon "Max" Kopchovsky, a peddler. They had three children in the next four years: Bertha Malkie (Mollie), Libbie, and Simon. Her brother Bennett married Bertha, and they had two children. Her brother Jacob died of a lung infection at age 17. Max, a devout Orthodox Jew, attended synagogue and studied the Torah, while Annie sold advertising space for several daily Boston newspapers.
Trip around the world
The inspiration for betting 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, his plan was revealed to be fake. Later in 1894, two rich Boston men wagered $20,000 against $10,000 that no woman could travel around the world by bicycle in 15 months and earn $5000. Dr. Albert Reeder, a physician with a medical office in Boston's Park Square, was possibly one of the bettors. The other was likely 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.
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 L.A.W. 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. The company offered to sponsor her trip and gave her an ivory and gold men's Expert Model E Light Roadster with the words "The Sterling" painted on the frame. It had a single gear, no freewheel mechanism, and no brake, but it was 20 pounds lighter than her Columbia. She also switched from a dress to bloomers, and eventually wore a men's riding suit.
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 and 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 Bridge 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.
Londonderry was a brilliant saleswoman and an exceptional storyteller, raising all of the money and attracting the media attention necessary for her trip to be a success. Her main income was from selling advertising space on her bike and person, hanging ribbons and signs for products ranging from bicycle tires to perfume. Her first sponsor was the Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company of New Hampshire, which paid her $100 to carry a placard on her bike with its company name and to use the name "Annie Londonderry" throughout her trip. In Chicago, she received sponsorship from Sterling Cycle Company for promotion of its products when she swapped her bulky Columbia for the faster and lighter Sterling Roadster.
During her travels, she gave lectures about her adventures, often exaggerating her exploits. These enthralled the media and boosted her popularity. For instance, in France she described herself as an orphan, wealthy heiress, a Harvard medical student, the inventor of a new method of stenography, and the niece of a U.S. senator. While in the United States, she told stories about hunting tigers in India with German royalty and getting sent to a Japanese prison with a bullet wound. She also gave cycling demonstrations and sold promotional photos of herself, souvenir pins, and autographs. After the trip, she accepted an offer to write about her adventures as the "New Woman" and moved her family to New York City to continue her journalism career. The article began "I am a journalist and a 'new woman,' if that term means that I believe I can do anything that any man can do."
Londonderry died in obscurity in 1947. In 2007 Peter Zheutlin, her great-nephew, published Around the World on Two Wheels: Annie Londonderry's Extraordinary Ride. In 2011, Evalyn Parry premiered SPIN, her bicycle-themed performance piece that includes a song about Londonderry ("The Ballad of Annie Londonderry"), and presented it on tour in Canada and the US. Gillian Klempner Willman of Spokeswoman Productions wrote, directed, produced a 26-minute documentary film titled The New Woman - Annie "Londonderry" Kopchovsky. It premiered in February 2013 at the DC Independent Film Festival, where it won the award for Best Documentary.
Timeline of the trip
Her trip proceeded according to this timeline: [No dates specified for cities except for those given below]
- June 25, 1894 - Boston, Massachusetts
- September 24, 1894 - Chicago, Illinois
- Same route back to New York City
- November 24, 1894 - New York City, New York
- December 3, 1894 - Le Havre, France
- March 9, 1895 - Nagasaki and Yokohama, Japan
- March 23, 1895 - San Francisco, California
- Stockton, California
- San Jose, California
- San Luis Obispo, California
- Santa Barbara, California
- Los Angeles, California
- San Bernardino, California
- Riverside, California
- Indio, California
- Yuma, Arizona
- Phoenix, Arizona
- Tucson, Arizona
- Deming, New Mexico
- El Paso, Texas
- Albuquerque, New Mexico
- Santa Fe, New Mexico
- Las Vegas, New Mexico
- Raton, New Mexico
- Raton Pass
- Trinidad, Colorado
- La Junta, Colorado
- Colorado Springs, Colorado
- August 12, 1895 - Denver, Colorado
- September 12, 1895 - Chicago, Illinois
- September 24, 1895 - Boston, Massachusetts
- Elizabeth Robins Pennell, who wrote of her cycling tours around Europe in the 1880s
- Around the world cycling record and Cycling records
- Frances Willard (suffragist)
- Thomas Stevens (cyclist)
- Nellie Bly
- Laura Dekker
- Foulkes, Debbie (April 5, 2010). "Annie Kopchovsky Londonderry (1870? – 1947) Rode A Bicycle Around the World". Forgotten Newsmakers. Retrieved September 21, 2016.
- Zheutlin, Peter (2007). Around the World on Two Wheels: Annie Londonderry's Extraordinary Ride. New York: Citadel.
- Macy, Sue (2011). Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (with a Few Flat Tires along the Way). Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Children's Books. pp. 67–69.
- "A Woman to Rival Paul Jones" (PDF). New York Times. February 25, 1894. Retrieved December 13, 2016.
- "First woman to cycle the globe begins journey". Jewish Women's Archive. Retrieved September 21, 2016.
- Zheutlin, Peter. "Chasing Annie: The Woman Who Changed My Life Was Brave, Cunning, Daring And Free -- And I Never Met Her" (PDF). Bicycling (May 2005): 64–69.
- "Miss Londonderry's Trip Ended" (PDF). New York Times. September 25, 1895. Retrieved December 12, 2016.
- "SPIN". Evalyn Parry. Retrieved October 7, 2013.
- Nestruck, J. Kelly (March 17, 2011). "Spin: An ode to two-wheeling in time for spring". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved December 13, 2016.
- Burnett III, James H. (May 20, 2013). "Bike-themed festival kicks off with Boston woman's tale". Boston Globe. Retrieved December 12, 2016.
- Zheutlin, Peter (August 28, 2016). "Backstory: Chasing Annie Londonderry". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved December 13, 2016.
- Zheutlin, Peter (August 29, 2016). "Backstory: Retracing Annie Londonderry's Victorian odyssey". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved December 13, 2016.