These webpages have recounted the exploits of the riders of the 1895 New York Times Tri-State Relay Race more than a few times. As that event unfolded in June 1895, Annie “Londonderry” Kopchovsky, a young mother of three children, was just three months from completing her goal of bicycling around the world – a remarkable achievement she supposedly undertook on a wager between two wealthy Boston club men.
Seemingly impossible conditions imposed on the bet was that she start penniless, not accept handouts, earn $5,000 along the way, and complete the journey in fifteen months.
Mrs. Kopchovsky financed her adventure with income earned through product endorsements, by displaying advertising banners on herself and on her bike, by giving riding demonstrations, selling photos and souvenirs, and by making personal appearances.
Not far into her trip, newspapers dubbed her Annie “Londonderry,” a sobriquet earned when she started to display a placard for the Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company on her bike as a promotion.
It would be generous to say that she was given to tall-tales and embellishment in telling of her exploits. In interviews and later writings the natural entrepreneur and master of self-promotion constantly reinvented her own back story and told sensational tales of hunting Bengal tigers with a German prince, close calls with encountering highwaymen in France, and of time spent in a Japanese prison. She may have even fabricated her claim that a wager inspired her.
Periodicals of the era chronicled her adventures much as they followed the travels of Nellie Bly in her successful attempt in 1889, to break the record of Phileas Fogg, the fictional character from Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days.
Annie completed her circumnavigation in just under fifteen months.
But unlike the her globe-trotting counterpart Nellie Bly, the exploits of Annie Cohen Kopchovsky, which advanced women’s bicycling in the United States and made her one of the most celebrated women the 1890s, were largely forgotten until author Peter Zheutlin penned Around the World on Two Wheels in 2007.
Since then, Londonderry’s remarkable story has been the subject of dozens of blogs, magazine articles, a 2011 musical play by Evalyn Parry called SPIN, and a 2013 documentary film produced by Gillian Klempner Willman titled The New Woman – Annie “Londonderry” Kopchovsky.
In 2006, filmmaker Gillian Klempner Willman sought to recreate the leg of Annie’s 1894 trip from New York City to Boston with the help of Gary Sanderson, antique bicycle enthusiast and current editor American Bicyclist Magazine, and others.
Ms. Willman’s described Mr. Sanderson’s contribution in her April 15, 2006 blog entry.
The Society is most fortunate to have Gary Sanderson appear with his c.1895 Indian Racer at the Historic Riverton Century and 3-Mile Community Ride Ceremony on June 11.
Rob Gusky, originator of the June 11 event reports that at least six women athletes have registered to ride at eventbrite.com.
Carlos Rogers’ Historic Riverton Criterium on June 12 features a Women’s Cat 1/2/3 event that promises a $500 purse, neutral support, beauty and haircare gift baskets for the top 3 places, and cash primes!
When you watch those women athletes next weekend remember the debt owed to the legacy of Annie Londonderry which has helped make their participation possible.
And make some noise with those cowbells. – JMc
Not to know what happened before you were born is to be a child forever. – Marcus Tullius Cicero, 106 BC – 43 BC