You think we have snail mail today. In 1845 it took President James K. Polk six months to get a letter from Washington D.C. to California. With the Gold Rush of the 1840's and 50's the need for faster mail delivery to the left coast became an ever increasing priority. In 1855 Congress even appropriated $30,000 to investigate using camels to carry the mail from Texas to California.

St. Joseph, Missouri was the westernmost terminus for railroad and telegraph. Mail leaving St Joe took a long southwestern route (2800 miles) to reach California - other routes were considered impractical because of the high, often snow blocked, passes in the Rocky Mountains. The southwestern route took 24 days to get mail from St Joe to San Francisco. In 1860 William H. Russell of the freighting firm of Russell, Majors & Waddell proposed to open a more northern and direct route and created the Pony Express.

The route Russell settled on was 1840 miles in length -- from St Joe to Sacramento, California. Upon arrival in Sacramento the mail was placed on a steamer and continued down the Sacramento River to San Francisco for a total of 1966 miles. This route traversed only two states! - Missouri and California. The areas between them were all territories, including the current states of Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, and Kansas.

On March 31, 1860, the first Pony Express mail left the east coast by train bound for St. Joseph. On April 3rd it continued its westward way by horse from St Joe. Simultaneously, eastbound mail was leaving San Francisco. 10 days later both sets of mail arrived at their destinations - a revolution in communications for the country.

The Pony Express was only used for 19 months. It ended operation when the transcontinental telegraph was completed. But the Pony Express proved that a central route could be used by the railroads to completely cross the country. Less than a decade later the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific rails would meet at Promontory, Utah, to form the USA's first transcontinental railroad.


The first westbound rider is believed to be Johnny Fry.
The first eastbound rider was James Randall.
The original cost to send a letter was $5.
There were 157 stations anywhere from 5 to 20 miles apart on the route.
Individual riders rode about 75 miles per day before being replaced.
Horses were changed at each relay station.
The fastest time recorded was 7 days 19 hours.
For more than you'll ever want to know about the Pony Express see:

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