Jules Verne’s travel classic ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ was an instant sensation the moment it got published at the end of the 19th century. The main reason for this instant success was the fact that three major technological innovations had made – for the first time in history – a touristy circumnavigation around the world possible. Verne’s imaginary journey was therefore by no means impossible anymore and it sparked therefore the imagination of a whole lot of adventure travelers that wanted to make a trip around the world reality. And as a result a unprecedented Round the world travel record race was initiated!
The innovations that sparked the Round The World travel record race
The technological (travel) innovations, combined with Verne’s book, sparked the imagination of the people that anyone could draw up a schedule, buy tickets, take a seat and travel around the world in relative comfort of public transport.
The breakthroughs in transport technology that made this possible were:
- The First Transcontinental Railroad across America (1869)
- The linking of the railways across the Indian subcontinent (1870)
- The opening of the Suez canal (1869)
These innovations were an inspiration for Jules Verne’s book and subsequently – together the book and and the innovations – gave the Western world a mainstream appetite for global travel and exploration. These activities had up to that point been reserved only for the most heroic and hardcore adventurers.
Did Phileas Fogg really travel around the world in 80 days?
The first part of the serial publication of ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ was 21st of December 1872. Interestingly this was the same date as the closing date of the novel as, in the story, Phileas Fogg arrives back in London from his 80 day round the world trip on that exact day.
This meant that the first day people could get their hands on the first part of the book – in which Phileas Fogg sets off on his journey – was the same date as when Fogg arrived back in London in the story.
This very innovative play of dates created a great fuzz and many readers believed that the trip was actually happening at that exact moment.
It clearly didn’t but it was a great marketing stunt for that time.
But what it did was creating a wave of travelers that actually wanted to become the first to complete a round the world trip. Preferably in 80 days or less.
Real Travels around the world in 80 days
Following Towle and d’Anver’s 1873 English translation of the Jules Verne classic many people wanted to literally follow in the footsteps of Fogg’s fictional circumnavigation. It can be seen as a starting point of the real global tourism boom. Never before had it been so easy to travel anywhere in the world.
The translation also sparked a Round the World travel record race where many aspiring travelers wanted to become the first person to travel – like Phileas Fogg – around the world in 80 days or less. Their goal was to cover the same route while rounding the world in as little time as possible. The most famous of those trips were:
Nellie Bly, Around the World in 72 days
In 1889, Nellie Bly, reporter for the newspaper ‘New York World’, undertook to travel around the world in 80 days. It became a highly published and legendary journey that gave Nellie Bly lasting superstar status. She managed to do the journey in 72 days, meeting Jules Verne en route in person in Amiens (France). The book she wrote about that kickass journey ‘Around the World in Seventy-Two Days’ became one of the all time travel book best sellers.
The full story about that journey and her rivalry with Elizabeth Bisland (who undertook the journey at the same time) here.
James Sayre, RTW in 54 days
In 1903 – James Willis Sayre, a Seattle theatre critic and arts promoter set out to break the Round the World Travel Record set by Nellie Bly. He managed to circle the earth, using public transport only, in 54 days, 9 hours, and 42 minutes.
Harry Bensley walked RTW wearing an Iron Mask
1908 – Harry Bensley, on a wager, set out to circumnavigate the world on foot wearing an iron mask. The journey was the result of an extraordinary wager in which Bensley wanted to prove – for the noble sum of £21,000 that a man could walk around the world without being identified. To remain incognito he chose to wear the iron mask of a suit of armour weighing 2kg.
Bensley set off on 1 January 1908 from Trafalgar Square, London, with postcards of himself wearing the mask with which he intended to finance his journey. The latter was one of the conditions stipulated in the wager:
- Bensley was never to be identified;
- He was to walk around the world but first through 169 British cities and towns in a specific order where he was to collect signatures from local residents as proof.
- Bensley was to finance himself, starting off with just GBP 1 and selling picture cards about himself to finance the journey
- He was to complete the journey wearing an iron mask weighing 2 kg (4.5 lb) from a suit of armour;
- He was to push a perambulator (baby carriage) the entire journey;
- Another man was to accompany him to see that he fulfilled the conditions at all times and
Bensley supposedly spent the next 6 and a half years on the road trying to win the wager. However the journey came to an abrupt end in 1914 with the break out of the First World War. Bensley abandoned his journey, enlisted in the army and went to defend his country.
This was the unfortunate end of one of the most kickass journeys ever undertaken.
More Jules Verne inspired trips
Jules Verne’s travel classic has never stopped inspiring people to set out for incredible and original round the world travel record. For more Around the World in 80 Days inspired journeys have a look here.