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Chloe Effron // Wikimedia Commons (Londonderry), iStock (Background)
Chloe Effron // Wikimedia Commons (Londonderry), iStock (Background)

Annie Londonderry, First Woman to Cycle Around The World

Chloe Effron // Wikimedia Commons (Londonderry), iStock (Background)
Chloe Effron // Wikimedia Commons (Londonderry), iStock (Background)

The grandest accomplishment of bicyclist Annie Londonderry might seem like little more than a peculiar publicity stunt today. But within the context of her time, her trip around the world was downright revolutionary.

On a sunny summer day in Boston, June 25, 1894, Londonderry was readying herself to make history. Five hundred people had gathered around the steps of the Massachusetts State House, eager to see her off on her momentous journey. Londonderry wasn't new to travel: She had already traversed Europe and the Atlantic Ocean to emigrate from Latvia to the United States. Of course, back then she was Annie Cohen. At 18, she'd married Max Kopchovsky, taken his name and within four years borne three of his children. Now at 24, this spirited young woman made a new name for herself as part of a branding deal with Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company. For $100, she agreed to affix a promotional placard to her bike, and to take their brand name as her own as she made her way around the world.  

Cycling had not only hit its peak popularity by the 1890s but also became inextricably tied to early feminism. The bicycle gave women more freedom to go wherever they wanted, whenever they saw fit. It made women feel powerful, strong, and self-reliant, and became the favored conveyance of suffragettes like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who once said: "Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. … I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel." 

Yet not everyone was thrilled by women's interest in autonomy through cycling. Many scorned the new bloomer fashions that made the activity easier. Doctors concocted the condition "bicycle face," which essentially attempted to play on females' supposed vanity in order to dissuade them from riding. The 1895 Literary Digest described this affliction thusly: "Over-exertion, the upright position on the wheel, and the unconscious effort to maintain one's balance tend to produce a wearied and exhausted 'bicycle face' … usually flushed, but sometimes pale, often with lips more or less drawn, and the beginning of dark shadows under the eyes, and always with an expression of weariness."

Londonderry was well aware of the controversy over women cyclists, but this clever wife and mother was more than happy to be a poster girl for the movement, especially if it meant she could make bank. Her trip around the world was no lark—it was a bet, and one masterfully planned to play upon the trends of her time. Though specifics on its origin have been largely lost to time, it's believed two affluent "clubmen" in Boston laid down the challenge. Londonderry had 15 months to not only circle the globe from her bicycle seat, but to earn $5,000 along the way (about $135,000 today). Jules Verne's 1873 novel Around the World in Eighty Days had ignited public interest in such ambitious endeavors. (Nellie Bly—best known for her harrowing reporting from Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island—underwent a similar voyage later, in 1889.) By linking in the controversial bicycling bit, Londonderry concocted a journey that positively captured the world's imagination.

Though our headstrong heroine set out from Boston in a long skirt considered ideal for this Victorian era, she soon swapped to a more functional men's riding suit, which sparked criticisms of impropriety and even some accusations that she was no woman at all. She didn't sweat the outrage, but relished the headlines it scored.

A masterful self-promoter, Londonderry spun wild—and often conflicting—tales to newspapers about her route, and even her background. Over the course of her journey, she'd claimed to be an orphan, an accountant, an affluent heiress, a Harvard medical student, a lawyer, the relative of a congressman, and—perhaps most curiously—the inventor of a new form of stenography. Readers and reporters couldn't get enough, and she soon became an international sensation. Her tall tales of brushes with death, frozen rivers, German royalty, dangerous superstition, and vicious tigers were recounted in newspapers far and wide. This was all part of the savvy businesswoman's plan. Along with the Londonderry spring water placard, she sold more ad space on her bike. But that's not all: Having cultivated controversy and celebrity, she also arranged for paid appearances, and sold promotional photographs of herself to fans eager to be a part of her adventure.

Traveling with a small suitcase that contained a change of clothes and a pearl-handled revolver, she cycled from Boston to New York (after a side trip to Chicago), then sailed to Le Havre, France. From there she cycled south to Marseilles, heading to Alexandria, Colombo, Singapore, Saigon, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, employing a steamship when necessary. By March of 1895, Londonderry and her bike had made it to San Francisco. After returning to Boston on September 24, 1895, the New York World declared her globe-trekking “the most extraordinary journey ever undertaken by a woman.” But she wasn't through yet.

The following month, Londonderry moved her family to New York City, where she channeled her drive and all she'd learned about storytelling and the press into a fresh identity: The New Woman. That was the byline of her column for the New York World, where she wrote: "I am a journalist and 'a new woman,' if that term means that I believe I can do anything that any man can do."

Annie Londonderry's feat was a challenge on many fronts: navigation, physical endurance, mental fortitude, and entrepreneurial creativity. This zany publicity stunt not only earned her the world's eye, but also proved the capabilities of a woman on her own in the world. Not long after writing about her journey, she retired from the reporter grind to focus on raising her family. And despite all the headlines she'd made, she faded into obscurity. That is, until 2007, when her great nephew Peter Zheutlin reminded us all about this remarkable woman with the book Around the World on Two Wheels: Annie Londonderry's Extraordinary Ride.

Annie "Londonderry" Kopchovsky passed away in 1947, having successfully traveled the world on her own terms. 

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Courtesy of CURIOUS GEORGE is a production of Imagine, WGBH, and Universal. Curious George and related characters, created by Margret and H.A. Rey, are copyrighted and trademarked by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company and using under license. Licensed by UNIVERSAL STUDIOS LICENSING LLC. Television series: (c) 2015 Universal Studios. All rights reserved.
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How a Makeshift Bicycle Saved Curious George From the Nazis
Courtesy of CURIOUS GEORGE is a production of Imagine, WGBH, and Universal. Curious George and related characters, created by Margret and H.A. Rey, are copyrighted and trademarked by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company and using under license. Licensed by UNIVERSAL STUDIOS LICENSING LLC. Television series: (c) 2015 Universal Studios. All rights reserved.
Courtesy of CURIOUS GEORGE is a production of Imagine, WGBH, and Universal. Curious George and related characters, created by Margret and H.A. Rey, are copyrighted and trademarked by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company and using under license. Licensed by UNIVERSAL STUDIOS LICENSING LLC. Television series: (c) 2015 Universal Studios. All rights reserved.

Curious George, the beloved star of children’s literature, might not exist if not for an empty bicycle shop and a handy artist.

As a new video from Great Big Story explains, the cartoon monkey was the brainchild of Hans and Margret Rey, a Jewish-German couple who lived in Rio de Janeiro in the 1930s. The two pet monkeys that the writer/illustrator duo kept there soon became the inspiration for a character they called Fifi: an impish, inquisitive monkey.

The Reys later moved to Paris, but when the Nazis invaded France, they were forced to flee, taking their manuscripts with them. When they tried to make their escape, though, they discovered that no more trains were leaving the city.

The desperate couple located a bicycle store, only to find no available bikes. Making do with what was available, Hans Rey used spare parts to jerry-rig two makeshift bikes to carry them—and the story of the monkey who would later become Curious George—to Lisbon, Portugal, where a ship to New York awaited them.

Hear the amazing true story of the Reys' journey (and learn how Fifi evolved into the George we know today) by watching the video below.

[h/t Great Big Story]

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The Netherlands Is Paving Its Roads With Recycled Toilet Paper
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There are plenty of bike lanes in the notoriously pro-cycling country that is the Netherlands, but only one is made of toilet paper. In the country's northwest province of Friesland, a 0.6-mile bike path connecting two towns is the first to be paved with recycled toilet paper, according to CityLab.

The TP helps maintain traction on slippery roads, as one expert told CityLab. The recycled toilet paper is used to add cellulose into open-graded asphalt friction course (OGFC), a type of water-permeable blacktop. This type of paving material is better at draining water, an especially important characteristic for surfaces in the Netherlands, where flood control is a necessary precaution. The cellulose helps stabilize the mixture that makes up the asphalt, known as OGAF. The recycling technology used to build the bike lane was developed by the Dutch consultants KNN and the wastewater tech company CirTec.

Two men stand on a paving machine in front of an asphalt bike lane.

There are plenty of materials that contain cellulose, but paving roads is a pretty good use for the one type of recycled cellulose that can’t be incorporated into a lot of other products: the kind that comes into regular contact with poop.

The recycled toilet paper in this case is collected during wastewater processing, where it’s separated out from all that excrement and then sterilized, bleached, and dried for reuse. People tend to not want to come in contact with things that have touched poop, though, so no amount of sterilization makes it OK to turn the product into recycled napkins or other paper products. But since toilet paper is typically a source of high-quality cellulose fibers (from wood chips or recycled paper), it would be a shame to waste it. Hence the pavement, which is mixed at such high temperatures that the manufacturing process would kill off any remaining pathogens that might possibly lurk within the post-treatment TP.

Friesland’s toilet paper asphalt has been around for about a year now, and according to CityLab writer Tiffany R. Jansen, it looks almost identical to the rest of the bike path. The toilet paper-laced asphalt has since been used to pave a parking lot and a dyke in the region, too.

As long as we’re wiping our butts with paper, we might as well recycle the results. Yes, toilet paper grows on trees, but that doesn’t mean we should waste it. Though the cellulose from the toilet paper only makes up about 5 percent of the pavement mixture with this technology, it’s still a good way to make a dent in city waste. Until everyone gets on the bidet train, that is.

[h/t CityLab]

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