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Postal History: Pony Express

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Author: Emil Drkusic
Date: 05/01/2022

Pony Express is a very important part of the USA postal history. In the today’s article, we’ll take a look at some most important facts we should know.

Who founded Pony Express and why?

William H. Russell, Alexander Majors, and William B. Waddell were well-known in the transportation business at the time. The idea was to introduce a new service that would significantly cut the mail delivery time between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. They invested really a lot in this project, but the investment hasn’t paid off and finally ruined them financially.

Pony Express Rider 1869 stamp

United States

Pony Express Rider

1869/03/20

Denomination: 2 cents

The idea was to establish a system of stations which would allow riders to change horses and pass mail to other riders. Fresh horses and riders allowed mail to travel almost without any stops and cut the delivery time from around 25 days to around 8 days. And they succeeded in establishing such a network.

“Neither rain, or snow, nor death of night, can keep us from our duty.” - the motto of the Pony Express riders

1860 and the first ride

Pony Express was 1966-miles long route with a network that included around 150 stations across the West with stations being 10 miles apart from each other. At each station, a rider would take off his specially designed mail bags off one horse and place the on the fresh one. This would happen approximately 7 to 10 times during each ride, so one rider would cover from 70 to 100 miles in one ride. With an average speed of 10 miles per hour that would be 7 to 10 hours needed to cover that distance.

“Excitement was plentiful during my two years' service as a Pony Express rider.” - Buffalo Bill (William “Buffalo Bill” Cody claims to have been a rider for the Pony Express around the Julesburg, Colorado area.)

All of that required a large number of riders, around 400 horses and 200 station masters and everything needed to be set up before the first ride. Talking about horses, they actually were not ponies at all but mostly half-breed California mustangs.

“The first trip of the Pony Express was made in ten days - an average of two hundred miles a day. But we soon began stretching our riders and making better time.” - Buffalo Bill

Pony Express Centennial Celebration 1960 stamp

United States

Pony Express Centennial Celebration

1960/07/19

Denomination: 4 cents

And the first ride happened on April 3, 1860, from St. Joseph, Missouri. Johnny Fry started the journey towards California carrying 49 letters in his bag. On the other side, Harry Roff started his ride from Sacramento, but in the opposite direction.

“The Gold Rush and the Pony Express made Sacramento a substantial place in terms of enterprise.” - Wayne Thiebaud

1861 and the last ride

Pony Express was really popular and that often led to belief that it lasted for a much longer time than it actually did. The whole story ended in 1861, after less than 19 months of operating. There were two most important reasons for that and each of them alone would also led to abandoning the project.

The first one was of a financial nature. The company lost 30 USD for every transported letter (it charged 5 USD for a half ounce of mail). That was really a lot of money in these years.

Pony Express 80th Anniversary 1940 stamp

United States

Pony Express 80th Anniversary

1940/04/03

Denomination: 3 cents

The second one was technology. Telegraph connected the west coast of the continent to the east coast by 24 October 1861. You can’t go faster and cheaper than it and so that was the end for the Pony Express.

“Trying to get more learning out of the present system is like trying to get the Pony Express to compete with the telegraph by breeding faster ponies.” - Edward Fiske

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