Bicycling Beginnings- Annie Londonderry

It wasn’t long after the advent of the bicycle that people began to see how far they could take it. One of the most notable was Annie Londonderry, a woman that cycled around the world. It should be noted, however, that she did so with the help of several boats.

Annie Londonderry, likely about the age when she completed her ride.

Annie Londonderry, likely about the age when she completed her ride.

Born Annie Cohen Kopchovsky in modern day Latvia in 1870, her parents made the journey to America when Annie was still a young girl. Though she undoubtedly had some kind of childhood, the way that she spent it is largely unknown. Most likely because it was not noteworthy. But what she did later in life was.

For a bet with some fellow members of a club in Boston, Annie dropped her life and took off on an expedition around the world. She had 15 months to circumvent the globe to win $5,000 dollars, which must have been quite the chunk of change as she happily left her husband and three young children to chase the cash.

She started in New York City and made it out to Chicago, where she decided to make some costume changes. The women’s bike she had ridden so far wasn’t stable enough, so she traded it for a men’s model. Also, her skirts were inhibiting her riding ability, so she traded those in for several pairs of Bloomers. Despite riding almost 800 miles, Annie changed her mind about which direction around the globe she wanted to go and pedaled back to New York to catch a boat to Europe. Possibly due to winter weather, though it may have been something else entirely. Perhaps she was worried she forgot to lock her door in Boston and needed to swing back to check.

Londonderry Lithia plant in the late 1800s. The company that helped sponsor Annie's around the world journey.

Londonderry Lithia plant in the late 1800s. The company that helped sponsor Annie’s around the world journey.

It is important to note that every news article written about her is not under her birth name, or even her married one, but instead the name of the company that sponsored her trip. Much like companies today will name sporting stadiums after themselves, it seems that back in the late 1800s, people would take on company’s names in a similar fashion. Londonderry Lithia Spring Water sponsored Annie Kopchovsky, so her name became Annie Londonderry. Not only did she change her name, but she rode the duration of her trip while sporting a placard on her bicycle. For changing her name and lugging about an advertising billboard, she was given $100.

She did make it around the world in 15 months, a feat described by the New York World as “the most extraordinary journey ever undertaken by a woman.” Traveling through Europe, the Middle East, and using boats to get to Singapore and across the Pacific, she was criticized as having traveled more “with” a bike than on it. Still, she deserved the fame she received upon her return, though that fame quickly dissipated and she passed away in obscurity in 1947. So it goes.