On the morning of November 14, 1889, a reporter for the New York World boarded a steamer and headed across the Atlantic, embarking on a journey of nearly 25,000 miles. Nelly Bly was out to circumnavigate the globe in an attempt to recreate the fictional exploit of Phileas Fogg and perhaps best his time of 80 days.
Nellie Bly was of course a pen-name taken from the Stephen Foster song: her real name was Elixabeth Jane Cochran. And calling her an enterprising reporter is like calling the Blob a wad of chewing gum. She had already made a journalistic splash as an investigative reporter by faking insanity and being committed to an asylum. Her expose of the conditions she endured was published as “Ten Days in a Mad-House.” Her career up to this point had been a constant fight against being relegated to stories about fashion, society and gardening, but this expose caused a sensation and pushed her into the limelight and off the so-called women’s pages for good.
For her journey, Nellie brought with her the dress she was wearing, a sturdy overcoat, several changes of underwear, and toiletries, all tucked into a small travel bag. She carried cash and some gold in a bag tied around her neck. She sailed to England, traveled through France, where she met Jules Verne, author of Around the World in 80 Days – then the Suez Canal, Ceylon, Penang, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan. She traveled primarily by steamship and railroad, the reliability of which caused many delays and setbacks.
Nellie sent short progress reports back to New York by telegraph and longer reports by slow-moving mail. The World hyped her travels with these reports, along with gimmicks such as a “Nellie Bly Guessing Match” in which readers estimated her exact time of arrival for a chance to win a free trip to Europe.
Seventy-two days, six hours, eleven minutes and fourteen seconds after her departure from Hoboken – on January 25, 1890, at 3:51 p.m. – Nellie Bly was back in New York. Her journey was a world record, although the record lasted only a few months before it was broken by a circumnavigation of 67 days.
In 1895, Nellie Bly married millionaire manufacturer Robert Seaman and retired from journalism, becoming the president of the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co., which made steel containers. She died in 1922 at the age of 57, and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1998.
An ignorant person is one who doesn’t know what you have just found out. – Will Rogers