In 1873, the French novelist Jules Verne published Around the World in Eighty Days, in which Englishman Phileas Fogg wins a bet that he can circle the world in eighty days. Sixteen years later, intrepid New York World reporter Nellie Bly decided to beat Fogg’s fictional trip, something never done before.
On November 14, 1889, carrying a crocodile gripsack, she boarded the Augusta Victoria and steamed across the Atlantic. Reaching England, she made a quick detour to France to meet Verne himself. “Good luck, Nellie Bly,” he toasted her. Then it was on by mail train to Brendisi, Italy, where she sent a hurried cable to her editors before sailing for the Suez Canal.
The World published daily reports on its feminine Phileas Fogg’s progress. “Can Jules Verne’s great dream be reduced to actual fact?” it asked. The whole country followed the attempt to “girdle the spinning globe.”
Nellie raced on. On the boat to Egypt, two men proposed marriage. In Ceylon she impatiently waited five days for a ship. In Singapore she bought a monkey. En route to Hong Kong, a monsoon filled passengers’ cabins with water. Another storm hit as she steamed across the Pacific. The ship’s crew posted a sign: “For Nellie Bly, We’ll win or die!”
Nearing San Francisco, she heard rumors of a smallpox quarantine onboard ship. She jumped on a tugboat and headed for land. Blizzards had stranded locomotives in the mountains, so she hopped on a train taking a southern route and dashed across the continent.
On January 25, 1890, cannons boomed and crowds cheered as Nellie arrived in Jersey City. She looked at her watch: 72 days 6 hours 11 minutes – she’d beaten Phileas Fogg by a week. “Father Time Outdone!” the World trumpeted. Around the globe, young Nellie Bly became a symbol of the American can-do spirit.