It happened back in 1894-5: A woman who was born to a Jewish family in Riga, Latvia and immigrated to the United States as a child learned that one businessman in Boston had bet another $20,000 to $10,000 that a woman would not be able to travel by bicycle around the world. Annie Cohen Kopchovsky, a married woman and the mother of three children under the age of 6, accepted the challenge -- and won $10,000 for her family, as well as fame for a time, by proving the doubting businessman wrong.
The bet itself was a byproduct of the “around the world” craze of the late 19th century. Beginning with the famous book by Jules Verne, Around the World in 80 Days, and fueled by rapid advances in transportation, the theme continued with a 72-day trip around the world made by 25-year-old Elizabeth Cochrane in 1889. Cochrane, a reporter for the New York World who was also known as Nellie Bly, in turn inspired the board game “Round the World with Nellie Bly” which was released in 1890.
But back to Ms. Kopchovsky, to whom we’ll refer as “Annie Londonderry” because she met part of the terms of the bet by accepting a sponsorship from The Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company. To collect on the money, she had to not only make the trip in 15 months or less, but also raise $5,000 along the way, which she did by advertising various products and getting paid to pose for photos in her various stops.
Annie had never ridden a bicycle before, but she learned quickly. She started out from Boston, traveling with a change of clothing and her pearl-handled revolver, and rode down to New York and then on to Chicago. In Chicago, she exchanged her 42-pound ladies’ bike for a 21-pound men’s bike and began wearing pants, albeit pants that looked like a skirt.
4 Popular Early 20th Century Singers Who Are All but Forgotten NowFour Popular Early 20th Century Singers Who Are All but Forgotten Now
Even though many years -- even decades -- have passed since their heyday, we have all heard of singers such as Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, etc. But there are some other singers from the early part of the 20th century who were once household names, but have faded into utter obscurity.
The first singer we’ll mention is Billy Murray (1877-1954). He was one of the most popular singers of the early decades of the 1900s, best known for his records because he actually made records for almost every label at that time. Some of his most popular songs were “Nelly Kelly I Love You” and “The Little Ford Rambled Right Along.”
Ruth Etting (1897-1978) was an actress / singer who was quite well known in the 20s and 30s, so much so that she was once nicknamed "America's Radio Sweetheart" and "America's Sweetheart of Song." Her signature songs were “Ten Cents a Dance” (a song about “taxi dancers,” or women who were paid to dance with men), “Shine On, Harvest Moon” and “Love Me or Leave Me.” In a 1934 poll done by Radio Stars magazine, Etting was voted the 3rd most popular female singer. She is also known for her tragic love life and complicated life story, which was told in the 1955 film “Love Me or Leave Me” featuring Doris Day playing the part of Ruth Etting and James Cagney playing her gangster husband.
Another singer who was a huge part of the flapper culture in the 1920s is Helen Kane (1904-1966). She’s most known for her song “I Wanna Be Loved By You” -- and if that sounds familiar, it’s because Kane was very likely the model for the cartoon character Betty Boop. She wasn’t flattered by this similarity, though, and in 1932 she filed a lawsuit against Paramount and Max Fleischer, the creators of Betty Boop, but she lost. After the flapper fad was over, Helen Kane started rapidly losing popularity. (But her cartoon counterpart lives on and is still a pinup girl, as evidenced by this 2017 Betty Boop wall calendar!).
Here's Helen performing "Dangerous Nan McGrew":
And here is a side by side comparison of Helen with Betty Boop:
The last singer on our list of sadly forgotten stars is Annette Hanshaw (1901-1985). She was one of the most popular singers of the 1930s. In a 1934 poll by Radio Stars magazine, she was voted the most popular female singer. Hanshaw’s singing style was jazz, and her nickname was “The Personality Girl” because of her singing style which was part ingenue, part flapper. Her trademark was saying “That’s all” in a cheerful voice at the end of many of her recordings. In a 1978 interview with Jack Cullen, she said, “As a matter of fact, I disliked all of my records intensely. I was most unhappy when they were released. I just often cried because I thought they were so poor, mostly because of my work, but a great deal, I suppose, because of the recording.”
Every one of these singers was once as much of a familiar name as Taylor Swift is now, but their fame is long gone. Fortunately, we have their audio and video recordings to remind us of what once was and give us a glimpse into the pop culture of the past!