Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman, pen name Nellie Bly (May 5, 1864 – January 27, 1922), was one of, if not the first investigative journalists in the United States.
Cochrane was born in Cochran’s Mills, Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh, which her father Judge Cochrane founded. She was one of fifteen children born to her father and his two wives. When she was fifteen, he died intestate, leaving the family with little money. Her journalistic career began after Erasmus Wilson published an article “The Quiet Observer” in his Pittsburgh Dispatch, denouncing women in the workforce. Cochrane, calling herself the “Lonely Orphan Girl,” angrily responded that there needed to be a wider definition of a “woman’s sphere,” especially for those who had to support their families. Editor George Madden ran a notice asking the “Orphan Girl” to contact him, and he gave her a job. She joined the staff, signing her articles “Nellie Bly.”
She earned $5 per week, writing a “women’s column” for the Pittsburgh Dispatch on home, gardening, society, child-rearing and other similar topics. Eventually, she began to write about more serious issues, including investigating how divorce affected women. In time, her journalistic talents earned her $25,000 per year.
She soon moved to New York to pursue other subjects and freelanced for several months. Then she wrote a piece on the difficulty of female reporters had finding work in New York, in which she interviewed the great editors of the time. This led to her first assignment with the New York World, where Joseph Pulitzer had begun what became known as “new journalism.” He wanted Bly to pretend to be insane to get committed to the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s (now Roosevelt) Island. Bly stayed there for ten days and wrote a two-part series in October 1887 about the horrendous conditions. This was the beginning of a decades of “stunt” reporting, a predecessor to investigative journalism. This genre allowed women to demonstrate that they could also be reporters, and they became the first women to enter mainstream journalism in the twentieth century.
Bly went on to investigate employment agencies for domestic servants, the baby-buying trade and corruption in the New York legislature. But her biggest feat was yet to come. In November 1889, Bly began the journey that would cement her fame. She beat the fictional record of Jules Verne’s Phineas Fogg, in his novel Around the World in 80 Days when she made the trip in 72 days 6 hours 11 minutes. She chronicled her journey in New York World. But when she was not rewarded for her efforts, Bly quit and accepted a three-year contract for N.L Munro’s New York Family Story Paper writing serial fiction. This proved unsuccessful and she returned to the World in 1893, interviewing Emma Goldman and Eugene V. Debs, and covering stories such as the march of Jacob Coxey’s Army on Washington and the Pullman strike in Chicago.
She left the World a for the last time in 1895 and after a short time at the Chicago Times-Herald, she married Robert Livingston Seaman who was more than forty years older. The marriage lasted nine years until Seaman died. During that time, Bly took over his iron enamel-ware firm, the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co. and patented, manufactured, and marketed the steel barrel in the United States. While Bly was hopeless at finances and eventually lost the company, the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co. gave its employees health benefits and provided recreational facilities.
To earn some money, Bly went to Vienna in August 1914 where she stayed until 1919, writing for the New York Evening Journal from the Russian and Serbian fronts. After the war, she returned to New York and wrote for the Evening Journal, running an advice column. Her most celebrated work was placing illegitimate children in good homes and campaigning for seamen who were having trouble finding work.
Bly died of pneumonia in 1922 at 57.
Her experiences are chronicled in her many books, including: Six Months in Mexico (1886), Ten Days in a Madhouse (1887), The Mystery of Central Park (1889), and Nellie Bly’s Book: Around the World in Seventy-two Days (1890).
In 2018, the Newseum opened its “Nellie Bly: The Virtual Reality Experience” which tracks Bly from Egypt to Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, San Francisco and her adventures, including a snowstorm in Singapore that nearly impeded her progress. The exhibit provides background on Bly’s previous reporting and chronicles accomplishments in the women’s rights movement.
This is the Newseum’s second exhibit on Bly. The first was a 4-D introductory film (now playing only in 2-D), which recounts the undercover operation in 1887.
On January 25, 1881, Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell founded the world’s first telephone company, the Oriental Telephone Company. Though he was credited with inventing the first telephone, the United States Congress recognized in 2002 that it was Antonio Meucci, an Italian immigrant, who invented the telephone. He began developing the talking telegraph, or telephone in 1849. In 1871, he filed a caveat (announcing an invention), but could not review his caveat. On June 11, 2002, the Unite States House of Representatives passed a Resolution honoring Meucci’s work.
Thirty-four years after founding the Oriental Telephone Company, on January 25, 1915, Alexander Graham Bell made the first transcontinental telephone call, from New York City to San Francisco, more than 4,023 kilometers (2,500 miles) away.
When Bell made the call to Watson, his former assistant, he was asked to re-enact the first conversation they had on March 10, 1876, when Bell said, “Mr. Watson, come here, I want you.” However, there is some discrepancy as to whether Bell said, “Watson, come here, I want you,” or “Come here, I need you.” Though that might be a fiction, as Bell had just spilled battery acid on himself before summoning Watson. This time Watson replied, “It would take me a week now.”