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Today in History - January 25

Globe Trotting

On January 25, 1890, police cleared a path through a cheering crowd for reporter Nellie Bly as she stepped off a train in New York just 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes, and 14 seconds after setting sail east to prove she could circle the globe in less than 80 days.

In the early hours of a smoky morning as we sat reading in the cabin of a ferry, a sudden shriek from our whistle, followed by a succession of piercing toots brought us to our feet to see what disaster was pending, when behold, close at hand lay the Japan steamer, Oceanic, with a tug at her side receiving on board a small piece of woman-hood which then sped away for the Oakland mole, where a special train awaited the arrival of Nelly [sic] Bly.

Susie Champney Clark, The Round Trip from the Hub to the Golden Gate (1890), Part 13, page 84. California As I Saw It: First-Person Narratives of California’s Early Years, 1849-1900

View from Harbor Approach, Hong Kong, William Henry Jackson, photographer, 1895. Around the World in the 1890s: Photographs from the World’s Transportation Commissions, 1894-1896

Bly, born Elizabeth Cochrane, challenged the fictional record of Phileas T. Fogg, hero of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, at the suggestion of her employer, the New York World. As Bly traveled via ship, train, jinricksha, sampan, horse, and burro, the World carried daily articles about her journey and offered a trip to Europe to the person who could come closest to guessing her finish time. The paper received nearly 1,000,000 entries and circulation boomed.

No stranger to fame, the daring Miss Bly had already made a name for herself by exposing the deplorable conditions of an insane asylum on New York’s Blackwell’s Island. Bly researched the story by feigning insanity and having herself committed for ten days. Her exposé on the asylum and later reports on slum life brought about needed reforms and helped pave the way for women in journalism.

Ladies Riding Elephant, India, William Henry Jackson, photographer, 1895. Around the World in the 1890s: Photographs from the World’s Transportation Commissions, 1894-1896

Four years after Nellie Bly’s sensational journey, railroad publicist Joseph Gladding Pangborn organized the World’s Transportation Commission to gather information about foreign transportation systems for the Field Columbian Museum in Chicago. In addition to Pangborn, the Commission included a railroad engineer, a graphic artist, and photographer William Henry Jackson. The American Memory collection Around the World in the 1890s: Photographs from the World’s Transportation Commissions, 1894-1896 contains some 900 images from the Commission’s three-year odyssey.

Digitized images from the World’s Transportation Commission Photograph Collection were reproduced from 584 lantern slides and from 297 silver gelatin prints made by the Library of Congress from the original film negatives. Lantern slides, which are glass, positive transparencies, are the forerunner of today’s color slides. To make the lantern slides look more realistic, their creators colored them by hand with dyes and paints.

World Transportation Commission, Inside Private Railway Car, China, William Henry Jackson, photographer, 1895. Around the World in the 1890s: Photographs from the World’s Transportation Commissions, 1894-1896

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