FedEx (circa 1860)

It was the FedEx of 1860.  It was called “The Pony Express.”   

Two centuries ago, it would take weeks for the United States Post Office (started in 1775 with Benjamin Franklin as the first Postmaster General) to deliver the mail.  Going cross country?  It might take months. . . . .

The need for a fast mail route was prompted by California’s soaring population, commercial prominence and statehood in 1850.  Delivering the mail – with more speed – became essential.  In 1859, three men in the freight business opened a mail route that became known as the Central Overland California & Pikes Peak Express Company.  On April 3, 1860, the operation began — literally running mail on horseback from St. Joseph, MO to Sacramento.  The company set up 157 stations – roughly 5 to 25 miles apart – on the 1,900 mile journey.  The operation became known as “The Pony Express.”  Each of the 120 riders (all – under 19 years of age and weighing less than 125 pounds) was presented with an inscribed Bible and required to sign an oath.  No profanity, no intoxicating liquors, no fighting, and commitment to honesty, duty and God.    

The riders would gallop day and night — changing horses every 10 to 15 miles and passing the 20 pound mail pouch (called a “mochila”) to a new rider every 75 to 100 miles.  The Pony Express worked well.  For a few months. 

But as with all things, time caught up.  The transcontinental railroad opened, telegraph lines soon connnected east and west – and the Civil War began in April 1861.  In October 1861, the Pony Express made its last delivery.  There’s not much left of the Pony Express save for a few stations (the Hollenberg Station in Hanover, KS is the only one remaining in its original location).  And there are Pony Express stamps and envelope cancellations.  Got one?  They’re worth mucho.