From the archive

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Around the world: from 80 days to 4 hours and 55 minutes

Since Verne wrote Around the World in 80 days as a challenge (bet) in 1873, it became very popular to travel around the world in record time. The archives of the Dutch Jules Verne Genootschap hold a great number of articles and other objects related to this theme, of which the following reveals a glimpse.

Reporter Nellie Bly improved Verne’s fictitious 80 day record in January 1890. On her trip around the world in 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes and 14 seconds, she visited not only England, Japan, China, Hong Kong, but also the home of Jules Verne, Brindisi, Colombo, and San Francisco. She was also the first woman to travel around the world unaccompanied at all times by a man, and became a role model for women everywhere. Source: Wikipedia on Nellie Bly.

Her record was broken later that same year by the colourful shipping magnate George Francis Train, while Verne’s book saw its 8th edition in The Netherlands. Train’s first trip around the world in 1870 was likely the inspiration for Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. The new record became 67 days, 12 hours and 3 minutes. Source: Wikipedia on George Francis Train.

The gradual improvement of infrastructure around the world enabled the establishment of a whole series of new records. These developments inspired Dutch author Jan Feith to publish his book Around the world in 40 days in 1908. This new target was reached by Mears in 1913, using trains and steamships.

In The Netherlands, in June 1912 the newspaper De Groene Amsterdammer questioned the usefulness of races around the world, and wondered how much money Phileas Fogg would have saved had he traveled 40 years later.

Illustration: Article from De Groene Amsterdammer
De Groene Amsterdammer, 9 June, 1912

The movie Around the world in 18 days was produced in 1923, starring William Desmond. Its various parts were shown during three consecutive weeks in Cinema Olympia in The Hague in November 1923. A review in Het Vaderland dated October 10th mentions that airplanes were used in this film to reach the target.

Illustration: Article from Het Vaderland
Het Vaderland, 1 November, 1923
Illustration: Article from Het Vaderland
Het Vaderland, 10 November, 1923

The same film was shown in Cinema Hollandia in Amsterdam in February 1924. This cinema did not advertise in the newspapers, but printed its publicity texts for this film on German banknotes, which had become worthless because of the hyperinflation in Germany in 1923-1924. After World War I Germany could not meet the demands for the repair payments imposed by the Versailles treaty and opted for the creation of new money by simply printing new bills. The highest denomination banknote had a value of 50,000 marks in 1922. In 1924 this was 100 billion (hundred thousand milliard) marks.

Illustration: German banknote with publicity for the film Illustration: German banknote with publicity for the film
German banknote of February 1923 with publicity text on its back for the film Around the world in 18 days.

The first circling of the globe by airplane took place in 1924. Many intermediate stops were neede, and the actual time traveled was 371 hours and 11 minutes. A similar expedition, planning to do this in 300 hours crashed in Russia, after it had been announced as follows in the Dutch press:

Illustration: Article from Het Vaderland
Het Vaderland, 26 March, 1924

In 1926, another Dutch newspaper expresses skepticism about such superficial travel, in an article about two Americans planning to circle the globe in exactly 25 days:

Illustration: Article from Het Centrum
Het Centrum, 15 April, 1926

The commemoration of Jules Verne’s 100th birthday in 1928 triggered an epidemic of trips around the world. I refer to the Danish boy scout Palle Huld, who wrote a well-known book about his travel. He is considered by some to be the last overtly Vernian circumnavigator whose goal was competition with, rather than commemoration of Fogg’s fictional record. In that same year the Americans Mears and Collyer managed to break the 25 days barrier:

Illustration: Article from Het Centrum
Het Centrum, 4 August, 1928

A newspaper reports in 1935 that new air connections will soon enable the trip around the world to be made in a fortnight. A comfortable new type of flying boat is being developed. British aviation policies will henceforth include collaboration with America. Phileas Fogg’s itinerary and progress are listed. The paper comments that we now look upon these with pity and wonders whether our great-grand children will have the same feelings when looking at the achievements of today. (De Courant – Het Nieuws van den Dag, 2 December, 1935).

The following table lists further developments of the record. This is based on the recommended website Round-the-World Flights, where much more detail can be found for those interested.

Record trips around the world
1889Nellie Bly7261114
1890George Train67123
1908Jan Feithfiction40
1913Mearstrains, steamships362136
1923Around the world in 18 daysfiction (film)18
1924first flight around the world37111
1926Wells & Evans2814365
1927Costes & LeBrixplane, ship338
1928Mears & Collyer2315213
1929Graf Zeppelin21734
1931Post & Gattyflight81551
1933Postsolo flight7184930
1936Ekinsfastest passenger181145
1938Howard Hughes3191410
1939Clara Adamsfastest passenger1619810
1947Odom & Sallee785556
1947Odomsolo flight73511
1949Gallagher et al.non-stop flight3221
1957Morris et al.non-stop jet flight4519
1962John GlennMercury Atlas capsule45523
1990ConcordeBritish Airways361857
1992ConcordeAir France (westward)1818
1993ConcordeAir France (westward)166
1995ConcordeAir France (eastward)312749
1997Boeing 777Malaysian Airline4159
1999Piccard & JonesBreitling Orbiter ballon192147
Graph: Travel time around the world, from 80 days in 1873 to a few hours today
Graph showing the time required to travel around the world since Vernes publication in 1873. The peaks and troughs in the 1920s are caused by measurements in gross and net travel times. Note that the data from 1990 are for Concorde and Boeing 777 flights. Traveling eastward around the world still lasts twice as long as westward.

Thanks are due to the National Library of the Netherlands (Koninklijke Bibliotheek) and in particular to its website with digitized historical newspapers entitled Historische kranten in beeld.

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