The Pony Express

The Pony Express was founded by William H. Russell, William B. Waddell, and Alexander Majors. The service opened officially on April 3, 1860, when riders left simultaneously from St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California. The first westbound trip was made in 10 days and 7 hours and 45 minutes. The eastbound journey was made in 11 days and 12 hours. The pony riders covered about 250 miles in a 24-hour day.  By comparison, in 1845, it took President James K. Polk six months to have a messaged delivered to the Far West.

Plans for the Pony Express were spurred by the threat of the Civil War and the need for faster communication with the West. The Pony Express consisted of relays of men riding horses carrying saddlebags of mail across a 2000-mile trail. 

Eventually, the Pony Express had more than 100 stations, 80 riders, and between 400 and 500 horses. The route covered roughly followed the Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail and the California Trail.  The express route was extremely hazardous, but only one mail delivery was ever lost. 

The service lasted only 19 months until October 26, 1861, when the completion of the Pacific Telegraph line ended the need for its existence. Although California relied upon news from the Pony Express during the early days of the Civil War, the horse line was never a financial success, leading its founders to bankruptcy. The Pony Express had grossed $90,000 but lost $200,000.

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