This Day in World History
November 14, 1889
Nellie Bly begins record round-the-world trip
At 9:40:30 in the morning of November 14, 1889, an American woman began a trip abroad. It was not just any trip, though: journalist Nellie Bly was out to best the legendary journey of Phileas Fogg, the British gentleman who was the hero of Jules Verne’s bestselling novel, Around the World in Eighty Days. Bly’s whirlwind world trip was heavily promoted by Joseph Pulitzer’s newspaper the New York World.
Born Elizabeth Cochran, the writer who became Nellie Bly became a journalist at 21 when she wrote a letter to the editor of a Pittsburgh paper complaining about his dismissive statements about women in the workplace. Impressed by her writing, he hired her. She gained fame from a series of articles describing corruption and poverty in Mexico, leading the outraged Mexican government to force her to leave the country. Working for Pulitzer’s World, she had herself committed to an insane asylum and then wrote a searing exposé of horrible conditions there. The articles prompted a government investigation.
Bly proposed the round-the-world trip in 1888, but the World demurred initially at having a woman make the journey. Once she left, though, the paper covered the story to the hilt, even running a contest to have viewers guess her return date. Almost a million entries were received. Using steamships and sampans, trains and rickshaws, horses and burros, Bly made rapid time—although she did stop in Paris to meet Verne and his wife. She finished her journey 72 days, 6 hours, and some minutes after her departure. She described the scene: “The station was packed with thousands of people, and the moment I landed on the platform, one yell went up from them, and the cannons at the Battery and Fort Greene boomed out the news of my arrival.”