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9 trailblazing female explorers

By: Matt Hickman on Oct. 24, 2016, 12:17 p.m.
Annie Taylor with her barrel

Photo: Francis J. Petrie Photograph Collection/Public domain

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Annie Edson Taylor (1838-1921)

Although her passport didn’t see as much action as most of the women on this list, retired schoolteacher Annie Edson Taylor will forever be remembered as a grade A adventurer and a game-changing daredevil.

On her 63rd birthday, Oct. 24, 1901, Taylor stuffed herself inside a mattress-padded oak pickle barrel and sailed over Niagara Falls (Horseshoe Falls, to be exact). Nearly 90 minutes after being set adrift and plunging more than 150 feet, the top of Taylor’s custom-made barrel was sawed off and she emerged unscathed except for a few minor bumps and bruises. On that day, Taylor became the first person, male or female, to ride down Niagara Falls in a barrel. Her first words post-plunge? “No one ought ever do that again. I would sooner walk up to the mouth of a cannon, knowing it was going to blow me to pieces than make another trip over the fall.”

Widowed when her husband was killed in the Civil War, Taylor hoped that her stunt would earn her both fame and financial security after years of hardship. Although Taylor’s ride briefly dominated international headlines, her infamy soon faded. She died, blind and penniless, at 83.