This Week in History

Around the World in 80 Days…Or Less


Using the popular Jules Verne novel, Around the World in 80 Days, as inspiration, a spitfire investigative journalist by the name of Nellie Bly approached her editors at New York World with a challenge. What was this challenge? Why, she would try to complete an around-the-world trip in 80 days, or, if she could manage it, in fewer.

So began Nellie Bly’s record-breaking journey around the world. In spite of days of delays and other travel complications, she arrived back in New York City in 72 days, 6 hours, and 11 minutes. Her journey was followed with great anticipation: crowds awaited her in Topeka, Kansas, cheers erupted upon her visit to Chicago’s Board of Trade, and fellow travelers in Hong Kong were aware of her pursuit before she even touched down. Even though she was on a deadline, she managed to fit in a visit to Jules Verne at his home in France. Her modes of transportation were as varied – train, ocean liners, carriage, catamaran, and rickshaw – as her destinations – London, Calais, Amiens, Brindisi, the Suez Canal, Aden, Colombo, Hong Kong, Singapore, Canton, Yokohama, San Francisco, Topeka, Chicago, and New York. Even though George Francis Train bested her time by a few short hours just months after her journey, Nellie Bly’s trip was a truly momentous adventure.

With the recession, limited vacation time, and all that, it’s most likely not an option for you to follow in Nellie’s footsteps, however, you can catch some of her spirit in the following ways…

  • Newseum (Washington, D.C.): A 4-D film in the Annenberg Theatre allows you to go undercover with Nellie Bly as she uncovers the horrendous conditions of an insane asylum – the work that made her famous before the around-the-world trip.
  • Musee Jules Verne (Nantes, France): This museum reveals events and items that inspired the great author to write such books as Around the World in 80 Days, and subsequently Ms. Bly’s journey.
  • London Transport Museum (London, UK): London was Nellie’s second stop of her journey. Stop in at this museum for their collection on Victorian Transportation.
  • Sri Lanka National Museum (Colombo, Sri Lanka): Nellie gave enthusiastic accounts of her stay in Colombo, even comparing it to Newport, Rhode Island. Founded in 1877, this museum was around when Nellie passed through and houses art and artifacts that tell the story of the nation’s cultural history.
  • Suez Canal: The Suez Canal opened to shipping in November 1869, just 20 years before Nellie set out. Given its newness, it is no wonder she was so excited to see it when she reached Port Said and Ismailia. The opening of the Suez Canal – as well as the opening of America’s Transcontinental Railroad – revolutionized international trade and transportation. Without these events, Nellie’s journey might not have been possible.
  • Read Nellie’s Book, Around the World in Seventy-Two Days, which recounts her historic trip.

So, with that, real life adventurers and armchair travelers alike, let’s journey forth!

Leave a Reply