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Great Adventures: Annie Londonderry

Pat Kinsella follows the tyre tracks of a bloomer-wearing biker girl who completed a surprise cycling circumnavigation of the world – but was she pedalling the planet or peddling a myth?

“The most extraordinary journey ever undertaken by a woman”

The New York World’s description of Annie Londonderry’s planet- pedalling achievement


In 1894, in an apparent bid to resolve a betabout the ability of women to match men in feats of physical endurance, a 24-yearold woman set off to make history by circumnavigating the planet on a bicycle, carrying little more than a change of underwear and a pearl-handled revolver.

The Jules Verne–like venture shocked and outraged those who held fast to Victorian values in the sunset years of the 19th century, not least because Miss Annie Londonderry – as she called herself – soon dispensed with traditional women’s cycling attire (cumbersome long skirts) and began biking in bloomers.

Starchy onlookers’ eyebrows arched even higher, and detractors set their expectations yet lower, when they discovered Miss Londonderry was actually Mrs Annie Cohen Kopchovsky, a married woman with three young children. Little about this adventure was quite as it seemed, however, least of all its main character. Annie had an interesting approach to the truth, and throughout the course of her extraordinary escapade she never let facts stick in the spokes of a good story.

But she did blaze a trail around the world with a bicycle, and her antics enthralled an international audience at the time, which makes it all the more surprising that memory of her mission evaporated from the public consciousness so quickly, until being recently reinvigorated.


Between steam-powered transport, the rollout of railway tracks across the world and the opening of the Suez Canal, the globe had significantly shrunk by the second half of the 19th century, and a swathe of round-the-planet records were set following the 1873 publication of Jules Verne’s adventure novel Around the World in Eighty Days.

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About BBC History Revealed Magazine

Find out how close the King of England came to conquering medieval France, as we take a look at the Hundred Years' War. Was bad weather really to blame for the English defeat? Elsewhere, uncover the shocking true story of the Nazi spies who managed to infiltrate New York, and meet the man who inspired The Mummy villain, Imhotep. Plus, don't miss out on the FREE pull-out magazine inside, which investigates the 50 greatest mysteries in history - from the Stonehenge to the Princes in the Tower.