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.
The Round Trip from the Hub to the Golden Gate, by Susie Champney Clark. Boston, Lee and Shepard, Publishers; New York, Charles T. Dillingham, 1890. p. 84+. California As I Saw It: First-Person Narratives of California’s Early Years, 1849 to 1900. General Collections
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.
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 World’s Transportation Commission collection 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.
- Use Nellie Bly: A Resource Guide to identify additional materials in the Library of Congress collections associated with Bly. This guide also includes a select bibliography and a curated list of external websites focusing on Bly.
- Browse the World’s Transporation Commission Subject Index to see all manner of early transportation, including boats, carriages, wheelbarrows, and sleds. Or, select a country from the Trip Itinerary to retrace the commission’s journey.
- The Library of Congress Country Studies provide online information about 101 countries and regions, including many of those visited by Bly and the World’s Transportation Commission. Search the series on a country name, or browse the Table of Contents to learn more about a place of your choice.
- For more on pioneering female journalists, visit Women Come to the Front, the Library’s online exhibition of eight women journalists, photographers, and broadcasters who documented the events of World War II at home and abroad.
- Search Chronicling America, a collection of historic American newspapers, to find articles about Nellie Bly’s journey as well as her own reporting after her return. Start with Nellie Bly: Topics in Chronicling America to view a selection of articles and searching tips. A search on World’s Transportation Commission will result in some articles about the work of the commission as they travelled the world.
- Search the following sheet music collections on the term travel for tunes such as “Jordan is a Hard Road to Travel,” and “A Word for the Traveling Man.” Search on the name of a nation or continent for tunes like “Poppy-Time in Old JapanExternal,” “France, Dear France, Forever!,” and “Australia March.”