After reading Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in 80 Days in 1889, Elizabeth Cochrane, a female reporter for the New York World who went by the pen name Nellie Bly, claimed she could travel around the world in 75 days.
Nellie Bly began her journey from Jersey City, N.J., on November 14, 1889, and landed in San Francisco on January 21, 1890. She was ahead of the schedule set by Verne’s fictional protagonist Phileas Fogg, but just even with the timeline promised to her editor. Not one to settle for good enough, Bly wanted to beat her editor’s deadline and needed to get to Chicago as quickly as possible in order to do so.
The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe (Santa Fe) Railway provided a special train, the Miss Nellie Bly Special, from San Francisco to Chicago. To ensure a speedy journey, the train had only one sleeping car and one baggage car. Orders were given that the train had right of way over all other traffic and speed limits were suspended.
Crews along the way became interested in the race and changed engines at record speeds. The crew at Needles, Calif., changed engines in one minute and the crew at La Junta, Colo., claimed a record engine-change time of 42 seconds.
Two of the many locomotives used on the trip were Santa Fe 93 and Santa Fe 469. Both were 4-4-0 locomotives, known as “American” types because of their widespread use in North America. Santa Fe 93, built by Manchester Locomotive Works in the 1870s, replaced the previous engine at Williams, Ariz. After several more locomotive changes, Santa Fe 469, built by Schenectady Locomotive Works in 1872, was used from Emporia, Kan. to Kansas City, Mo.
Nellie Bly arrived at Dearborn Station in Chicago on January 24, 1890. The run clocked in at 69 hours for the 2,577 miles from San Francisco to Chicago for an average speed of 37-1/3 miles an hour. The next day, Nellie Bly arrived back at Jersey City, just over 72 days after her departure.
In February 1890, Santa Fe named one of its dining cars “Nellie Bly” after the female reporter who inspired the railroad to set speed records while helping her on her race around the world.
Santa Fe would later become famous for similar races against time, such as the 1905 run of the Scott Special, which completed its run from Los Angeles to Chicago in 44 hours and 54 minutes.