The History Of The Pony Express

by Lesley Sampson Freelance Writer

The American Pony Express is synonymous with bringing a new era of mass communication to the inhabitants of relatively new country, whose transport infrastructure was still far from complete.

The Pony Express has subsequently become a part of the history of the American Wild West, its name conjuring up an image of men on horseback speeding their way across the prairie

Yet remarkably, the company only operated for a year and a half.

The mission - three thousand miles in 10 days

However, like so many ideas which came to play a significant part in people's lives, the Pony Express had very humble beginnings. The brainchild of three men – William H Russell, William B Waddell and Alexander Majors – it had a single, very tightly-focused objective, of delivering mail nearly 2,000 miles across the spine of America, from Missouri to California, within 10 days.

The competition at the time had to travel a much longer route, by sea, while the only overland equivalents were the stagecoaches, which would take the best part of a month to cover half the distance of Russell, Waddell and Majors' trial.

An advertisement was placed for suitably athletic people to take charge of the horses to be used, asking for "young, skinny, wiry fellows, not over 20 [who were] expert riders and willing to risk their lives for the job."

Making the epic journey more manageable

Perhaps surprisingly, there was a string of applicants who professed to show the required commitment. But after the company had recruited the riders, in 1860, among themselves they decided that a relay system would offer the quickest means of getting mail from one side of the country to the other.

As a result, 190 relay stations were established, with riders heading out from their home station to collect mail from the nearest one, and then returning with the mail, before handing it over to their colleague covering the next stretch of the route.

The need for an express mail delivery service spanning the width of this vast country had become apparent as a result of three significant events of the 1840s – the movement of thousands of people westwards along the Orgeon Trail early in the decade, the exodus of the Mormons to Utah in 1847, and most importantly, the beginning of the Gold Rush in 1849.

Widening the net

Within a few months of the inauguration of the Pony Express route, there was a wide realisation that such an east-to-west service could open up vast areas of the country to trade with other regions.

Just 10 weeks after the Pony Express began running, the US Congress authorised a bill giving the go-ahead for funding to be provided for the building of a telegraph line across the width of the country, from the Missouri River to the Pacific coast.

Two companies were set up to oversee the introduction of a telegraph line, and its completion, on October 26 1861, coincided with the ending of the Pony Express service, although another month passed before the last letters were carried by this means.

Lasting legacy

Much of the original Pony Express route has since been built over or obstructed, but as railways, roads and aircraft have superseded the use of horses, the establishment of the first trans-national network for the delivery of mail has spawned a huge amount of development, in the name of making it easier to send letters and parcels across the entire expanse of the United States.

That we have reached the stage when using FedEx courier services from Parcel2Go to reach all parts of the country shows how the Pony Express paved the way for the development of long-distance delivery services not just here, but the world over.

About Lesley Sampson Freshman   Freelance Writer

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Joined APSense since, February 1st, 2013, From Manchester, United Kingdom.

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