The US Postal Service's Pony Express

The 19th century saw the steady growth and flow of the U.S. population, who moved to reside, work and do business in the new territories of Louisiana, California and Oregon. Families, groups and individuals moved along trails in Sante Fe, Oregon and Mormon on wagon trains. The roads were rough and in many cases, dangerous. Many passengers lost their lives through disease, pestilence, hunger and ambushes but it didn't stop the pioneers.

With the discovery of gold in California, people flocked to the colony to prospect. To provide a service to the growing population, a contract for mail delivery was signed by the Post Office with the Pacific Mail Steamship Co. The mail route was tedious in that mail had to be brought by ship to Panama from New York, transferred by rail and delivered by ship to San Francisco. Mail was also sent to California on land through the military who would travel to Santa Fe from Fort Leavenworth and back but even this didn't make the delivery faster.

In an attempt to solve the problem, semi-weekly deliveries were scheduled from Missouri to San Francisco, a 2,800-mile journey. The mail was supposed to reach the postal station in 24 days but it often took several months to get delivered.

The Pony Express
In early 1860, William H. Russell advertised for young men to service the California mail route. Russell had not been successful at getting a contract to carry mail from Missouri to California. The roads were considered difficult because of weather conditions but this didn't stop Russell from organizing what would later become the Pony Express. Russell's company was the Central Overland California and Pike's Peak Express Company. The plan was to build relay stations and deliver mail by horse. The young riders were hired and the Pony Express was born, beginning its operations in 1860. It took a Pony Express Rider to deliver the company's first mail 10 1/2 days, half the time it took the stage service to do the same. It was also the Pony Express who would deliver the inaugural address of Abraham Lincoln in 1861. The time it took to do so? 7 days, 17 hours.

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