Today In History: The Pony Express Takes Its First Ride
Today in 1860, Pony Express undertook its first ever courier trip. Well, two trips. A relay team departed from St. Joseph, Missouri at the same time as another relay team departed from Sacramento, California, to meet in the middle.
The packet of mail was delivered through Pony Express relay to Sacramento on April 13, after travelling over 1,800 miles over the course of ten days. The eastbound mail packet was delivered to St. Joseph on April 15.
The Pony Express is a very famous part of American history. Curious, considering how briefly the program was actually in operation and the fact that it was not particularly money efficient. Without it, though, we would not have the modern postal system we currently use. Before the Express, mail traveled from coast to coast via ship or stagecoach, usually taking months to reach its recipients.
Three freight magnates, William H. Russell, Alexander Majors and William Bradford Waddell, were the architects of the Pony Express. They built 150 relay stations across the country along the Express’s route.
Riders were paid $25 a week to carry twenty pound loads of mail for 75-100 mile intervals. In order to maximize speed, they switched horses every ten to fifteen miles. Among the Express’s alumni is “Buffalo Bill” Cody, who rode for the Pony Express when he was fourteen. Cody was a scout for the Union during the Civil War, and later made himself famous with his wild-west stage show.
The Pony Express hoped to secure a contract with the government, but it remained a private, and expensive, enterprise. It cost $5 per half-ounce shipped, a serious amount of money for the time. The advent of telegraphs in 1861 put the business to bed.