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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Happy Birthday Pony Express

One story I do not think I have ever shared with you is that my father was a rural mail carrier and on Saturday mornings we would travel with him to deliver mail. I remember having lots of fun on these Saturdays. But realize that if had not been for the creation of the Pony Express the days of mail may not have been here at all.

On April 3, 1860, the first Pony Express mail, traveling by horse and rider relay teams, simultaneously left St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California.  On April 13th, 10 days later, the westbound rider and mail packet completed the approximately 1,800 mile journey and arrived in Sacramento.  He beat the eastbound packet's arrival in St. Joseph by 2 days and set the new standard for speedy mail delivery.  The Pony Express was short-lived and unprofitable, but it captured America's imagination and helped win federal aid for a more economical overland postal system.  While the Pony Express was active it contributed to the economy of the towns on its route, serving the mail service needs of the American West in the days before the telegraph or an efficient transcontinental railroad.  It debuted at a time before radios and telephones, when California, which achieved statehood in 1850, was still very cut off from the eastern part of the country.  Letters that were sent from New York to the West Coast traveled by ship, which usually took at least a month, or by stagecoach on the Butterfield Express overland route.  This took from three weeks to many months to arrive.  When compared to the snail's pace of the ship or stagecoach methods, the Pony Express' average delivery time of 10 days seemed really fast! 

The Pony Express Company was the brainchild of William H. Russell, William Bradford Waddell and Alexander Majors, owners of a freight business.  It  was set up with over 150 relay stations along a pioneer trail across what are now the states of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California.  Riders were paid about $25 each week and carried loads up to about 20 pounds of mail.  Every 75 to 100 miles riders changed, horses were switched out every 10-15 miles.  Among the riders was the legendary frontiersman and showman, William "Buffalo Bill" Cody (1846-1917).  It is said that he signed on with the Pony Express when he was 14 years old.  The company's riders set their fastest time with Lincoln's inaugural address, which was delivered in just less than eight days.  The initial cost of Pony Express delivery was $5 for every 1/2 oz of mail.  The company began as a private enterprise and the owners had hoped to gain a profitable delivery contract from the US Government, but it never happened.  With the start of the first transcontinental telegraph line in October of 1861, the Pony Express stopped operating.  The legend however, of the lone Pony Express rider galloping across the Old West frontier to deliver the mail, lives on today.  So cool!  Happy Birthday Pony Express Company. 

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