Annie “Londonderry” Cohen Kopchovsky (1870–1947) was the first woman to bicycle around the world. She was a free-thinking young woman, who reinvented herself as the daring “Annie Londonderry” — 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 in a Spring Street tenement. On January 17, 1887, her father died, and two months later, her mother died as well. 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). A few years later, Jacob died of lung infection at age 17.
In 1888, Annie married Simon “Max” Kopchovsky (peddler) at age 18. They had 3 children in the next four years: Bertha Malkie (Mollie), Libbie, and Simon. Annie’s family continued to live in their Spring Street tenement alongside her brother Bennett, his wife Bertha, and their two children. 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
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. Thomas Stevens had completed a similar trip in 1887, becoming the first person to bicycle around the world. Dr. Albert Reeder, a physician with a medical office in Boston’s Square Park, was possibly one of the betting men. 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. One of these bikes was supplied for Annie’s ride. It was delivered to her by Captain Alonzo D. Peck, a senior salesman in Columbia’s main store in Boston and captain of Massachusetts chapter of League of American Wheelmen (L.A.W.).
The inspiration for the bet likely came from a former Harvard student E. C. Pfeiffer. Under the pseudonym Paul Jones, he starting 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.
Annie was a highly unlikely choice for the completion of this wager. 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. Also, she was a Jew in a city where anti-Semitism was common. In addition, she was a married woman and a mother of three children, ages five, three, and two. However, 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 allowing for more mobility and freedom.
On June 27, 1894, at about 11 o’clock in the morning, Annie said her goodbyes at 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. Her bike was a 42-pound Columbia’s women’s bike, and on her back wheel was a placard. New Hampshire’s Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company gave Annie a sponsorship of $100 to carry their placard on her bike as advertisement and to go by the name “Annie Londonderry”  for the duration of her trip. On her route to Chicago, Annie chose cycling routes published in tour books by the League of American Wheelmen (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, Annie was able to average between eight and ten miles per hour.
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 in the Midwest 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 would eventually wear a men’s riding suit.
Europe and Asia
With the change in dress and bicycle, Annie was determined to complete her world trip, even though she only had 11 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, whose destination was Le Havre on France’s north coast. Annie 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.
Annie left Marseille on the 413 foot steamship Sydney with only 8 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 in at each stop along the way. She visited many places, including Alexandria, Colombo, Singapore, Saigon, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Nagasaki and Kobe (for a full list, look below).
United States again
On March 9, 1895, Annie 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, Annie and another cyclist were almost killed by a runaway horse and wagon. They received minor injuries, yet Annie 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 travelling across southern California and Arizona, and Annie 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 Annie 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 towards Cheyenne, Wyoming and then to Denver, where she arrived on August 12. Annie rode the train across most of Nebraska because of the muddy roads. Unfortunately, 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, Annie arrived in Chicago, accompanied by two cyclists she’d met in Clinton, Iowa and collected her $10,000 prize. She had made it around the world 14 days under allowed time. She was back home in Boston on September 24, arriving 15 months after she had left. Her ride was described by the New York World on October 20, 1895, 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.
Annie 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 New Hampshire’s Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company; they 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 of her (often exaggerated) adventures. 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 America, 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, Annie 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.”.
Her fame soon passed and she died in obscurity in 1947. However, in 2007 a great-nephew of Annie's, Peter Zheutlin, published Around the World on Two Wheels: Annie Londonderry's Extraordinary Ride. In 2011, Evalyn Parry premiered her musical play about Londonderry, SPIN, which toured Canada and the US. A documentary film, titled The New Woman - Annie "Londonderry" Kopchovsky was also produced, by Gillian Klempner Willman of Spokeswoman Productions. It premiered in February 2013 at the DC Independent Film Festival, where it won Best Documentary.
[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
- Around the World on Two Wheels: Annie Londonderry's Extraordinary Ride. Citadel. November 1, 2007. ISBN 978-0-8065-2851-9.
- Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (with a Few Flat Tires along the Way). National Geographic Children's.
- 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)
- New York World (newspaper)
- Nellie Bly
- Foulkes, Debbie. "ANNIE KOPCHOVSKY LONDONDERRY (1870? – 1947) Rode A Bicycle Around the World." FORGOTTEN NEWSMAKERS. N.p., 05 Apr. 2010. Web. 21 Sept. 2016. <https://forgottennewsmakers.com/2010/03/09/annie-kopchovsky-londonderry-1870-1947-rode-around-the-world-on-a-bicycle/>.
- Zheutlin, Peter. Around the World on Two Wheels: Annie Londonderry's Extraordinary Ride. New York: Citadel, 2007. Print.
- Macy, Sue, Jennifer Emmett, James Hiscott, Lori Epstein, Marty Ittner, Kate Olesin, Grace Hill, and Lewis R. Bassford. "Fast and Fearless." Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (with a Few Flat Tires along the Way). Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2011. 67-69. Print.
- Jewish Women's Archive. "First woman to cycle the globe begins journey." (Viewed on September 21, 2016) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/jun/25/1894/annie-cohen-kopchovsky>
- Zheutlin, Peter. "Chasing Annie: The Woman Who Changed My Life Was Brave, Cunning, Daring And Free -- And I Never Met Her." Bicycling May 2005: 64-69. Annie Londonderry. Peter Zheultin, 2006. Web. 5 Nov. 2016. <http://www.annielondonderry.com/images/BI05ANNIE.pdf>.
- "Miss Londonderry's Trip Ended." New York Times (1857-1922): 6. Sep 25 1895. ProQuest. Web. 21 Sep. 2016 . http://search.proquest.com/docview/95348601/
- SPIN Website. Accessed October 7, 2013.
- The New Woman - Annie "Londonderry" Kopchovsky, Spokeswoman Productions