What was the Pony Express?

Pony_Express_Map_William_Henry_JacksonThe Pony Express began in April 1860, its modest objective to beat the slower and less frequent stagecoach mail deliveries and prove that a single, transcontinental mail system could actually work. In both these respects, it proved a resounding success, albeit only for a while.

Pony Express was the idea of a group of businessmen, including Alexander Majors who acquired the 400 horses that were required to run it. The route began in St Joseph, Missouri and ended in Sacramento, California nearly 2,000 miles away. Along the way it took in Fort Bridger, Salt Lake City, Carson City and the Sierra Nevada hills. In addition to their precious mail, riders carried a water sack, bible, gun and a horn in order to alert the next rider. For a while, Pony Express was the fastest way to communicate messages over distance, reducing the mail times between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to around ten days. This new speed proved critical in the Civil War, particularly by providing rapid communication between the Union strongholds of California and Washington.

Unfortunately, technology was moving even faster and within months the transcontinental telegraph had reached Salt Lake City, creating an East/West communication link no pony could match. Pony Express closed a mere two days later in October 1861.