Elizabeth Bisland

Elizabeth Bisland

Elizabeth Bisland Wetmore (February 11, 1861 – January 6, 1929) was an American journalist and author, perhaps best known for her 1889–1890 race around the world against Nellie Bly, which drew worldwide attention.

In November 1889, the New York World announced that it was sending its reporter Nellie Bly around the world, in a bid to beat Phileas Fogg’s fictitious 80-day journey in Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in Eighty Days. Catching wind of this publicity stunt, John Brisben Walker, who had just purchased the three-year-old and still-fledging Cosmopolitan, decided to dispatch Bisland on her own journey. Six hours after being recruited, Bisland departed westward from New York. Meanwhile, Bly left on a steamer headed to Europe, both on the same day—November 14, 1889. The journeys were keenly followed by the public, though Bly, sponsored by the more sensationalistic and popular New York World (which mainly ignored Bisland), appeared to get more attention than Bisland and the genteel Cosmopolitan, which only published monthly.

Bly, racing against the 80-day benchmark, was unaware of her competition until she reached Hong Kong on December 25. There, an official of the Occidental & Oriental Steamship Company told her that she would be beaten, stating that Bisland had passed through three days prior.

Ultimately, however, Bly triumphed over Bisland. Critically, while in England, Bisland was told (and apparently believed) she had missed her intended ride, the swift German steamer Ems leaving from Southampton, even though her publisher had bribed the shipping company to delay its departure. It is unknown whether she was intentionally deceived. She was thus forced to catch the slow-going Bothnia on January 18, departing from Queenstown (Cobh), Ireland, ensuring that Bly would prevail. Bly, meanwhile, raced across America on a specially chartered train to complete her journey and arrived at her final destination point in New Jersey on January 25, 1890, at 3:51 p.m., for a total travel time of 72 days, 6 hours and 11 minutes (precise time was kept, as the World advertised a contest to guess the exact moment she would arrive). Bisland’s ship did not arrive in New York until January 30, so she completed her trip in 761⁄2 days, also ahead of Fogg’s fictional record.

Bisland wrote a series of articles for the Cosmopolitan on her journey, subsequently published as a book, In Seven Stages: A Flying Trip Around The World (1891).

Photo: wikipedia

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