On April 14, 1860, the Westbound Pony Express delivered its first mail pouch to San Francisco, California. The Pony Express used a relay horseback system to deliver mail quickly across the county, essentially connecting the developing California with the eastern side of America.
The Pony Express, a relatively short-lived system, began on April 3, 1860 and continued to operate until October of 1861. The discovery of gold in California had prompted the state’s rapid development, but communication between California and the states on the eastern side of the country was slow – stagecoaches took weeks at a time to deliver mail. A better, faster system was needed.
William Russell, Alexander Majors, and William Waddell, owners of the Russell, Majors & Waddell shipping company, came up with a solution. They reasoned that single riders mounted on horseback could travel more quickly than a stagecoach, improving the mail delivery system. The three men founded the Pony Express, hiring 120 riders and buying 400 horses to create a relay system across the county.
Russell, Majors, and Waddell proposed that the Pony Express could deliver the mail from one side of the country to the other in ten days. Such speedy delivery was unheard of at the time, and the men’s claim was met with public disbelief. Still, the Pony Express founders believed in the system they had established, and searched for the shortest, most direct paths across the country for the Express riders to take.
Through the relay system, a rider galloped a horse for ten to fifteen miles, arriving at one of the more than 150 Pony Express relay stations. At each station, the rider would trade in his horse for a new, fresh horse, transfer the mail pouch, and then begin galloping again. At the end of a rider’s shift, the rider would hand the mail pouch off to another rider, who would continue across the country with the mail.
Pony Express riders faced harsh conditions. They rode long hours – sometimes as many as 20 hours at a time – in all weather and braved undeveloped areas alone. Robbery was always a possibility, and riders were instructed that the mail pouch was of utmost importance – they should do anything necessary to defend it.
The first mail run of the Pony Express traveled from St. Joseph, Missouri to St. Joseph and Sacramento, California. The first rider left Missouri on April 3, 1860, and the first mail pouch was delivered to St. Joseph, California on April 14. A subsequent mail pouch arrived in Sacramento a few hours later, proving that the Pony Express could deliver mail across the country in only ten days.
To learn more about the Pony Express, visit the Pony Express National Museum’s website.
Image Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pony_Express