In 1888 Bly suggested to her editor at the New York World that she take a trip around the world, attempting to turn the fictional Around the World in Eighty Days into fact for the first time. A year later, at 9:40 a.m. on November 14, 1889, and with two days’ notice, she boarded the Augusta Victoria, a steamer of the Hamburg America Line, and began her 40,070 kilometer journey.
She took with her the dress she was wearing, a sturdy overcoat, several changes of underwear, and a small travel bag carrying her toiletry essentials. She carried most of her money (£200 in English bank notes and gold, as well as some American currency) in a bag tied around her neck.
The New York newspaper Cosmopolitan sponsored its own reporter, Elizabeth Bisland, to beat the time of both Phileas Fogg and Bly. Bisland would travel the opposite way around the world, starting on the same day as Bly took off. To sustain interest in the story, the World organized a “Nellie Bly Guessing Match” in which readers were asked to estimate Bly’s arrival time to the second, with the Grand Prize consisting at first of a free trip to Europe and, later on, spending money for the trip.
During her travels around the world, Bly went through England, France (where she met Jules Verne in Amiens), Brindisi, the Suez Canal, Colombo (Ceylon), the Straits Settlements of Penang and Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan. The development of efficient submarine cable networks and the electric telegraph allowed Bly to send short progress reports, although longer dispatches had to travel by regular post and thus were often delayed by several weeks.
Bly travelled using steamships and the existing railroad systems, which caused occasional setbacks, particularly on the Asian leg of her race. During these stops, she visited a leper colony in Chinaand, in Singapore, she bought a monkey.
From The New Yorker: “Nellie Bly’s Lessons in Writing What You Want To”
When she returned to New York, seventy-two days after she set off, Bly was welcomed with ten celebratory gunshots from Battery Park and another ten from Fort Greene Park. Bly’s later years were as varied as her youth: she married an elder industrialist, retired from journalism to run his steel company, went bankrupt, returned to writing, reported from the front lines of Austria during the First World War, started an advice column, and arranged adoptions for American orphans. Bly died, of pneumonia, at the age of fifty-seven, and was buried in the Bronx.