History of the Pony

Most young guns are amazed to learn that the epic mail service called the ‘Pony Express’ operated for only about 18 months. From April 3rd 1860 to about October 24th 1861, riders raced across the American West, delivering the mail from St. Joseph Missouri to Sacramento California (and vice versa) in just 10 days – a feat previously considered impossible. In the midst of the beginning of the Civil War, The Pony helped unite the continent until the Continental Telegraph linked both coasts. Day and night, in good and bad weather, through hostile territories- the courageous young riders made sure that the mail went through at all costs, and their story has captured the world’s imagination to this day.

America expanded faster than any empire in history. The British colonies revolted in 1776, and by 1860 electricity had been domesticated and began to hum in every sizeable metropolis in the country. With the Missouri River acting as a de facto boundary between the tamed and wild lands of the continent, Saint Joseph Missouri was literally the edge of civilization. Communication to California at the time relied on steam ships traveling around the horn of South America or traversing the newly dug, diseased Panama Canal, each trip taking 2-4 months. A faster method of communication was clearly necessary to keep the West connected, but the completion of the telegraph was still at least a year away…

Enter The Pony Express. The 2,000 mile mail relay was conceived and executed within 3 wild months. Founders William H. Russell, Alexander Majors, and William B. Waddell, owners of the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company, committed to accomplishing what the U.S. Government at the time could not do – connect the territories that now reached coast to coast; the California gold rush and Oregon and Mormon emigration explosion had solidified American dominance of the continent, now it was up to these entrepreneurs to connect them, make them all part of something whole.

The Pony Express connected the coasts in 10 days – the fastest delivery ever was recorded at 7 days 13 hours, carrying newly elected President Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address. The riders selected were reportedly as young as 11 years old, and were excellent horsemen. Fearlessly, they traveled the trail day and night, rain, snow, or shine. Representing the best of what Americans can be, and the ruggedness and ‘can do’ spirit that made this country strong, the Pony Express lives on in our hearts and imaginations today as one of the greatest enterprises in our history.

    Illustrated Map of the Pony Express Route in 1860, By William Henry Jackson   (Courtesy the Library of Congress)

Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum


* The Pony Express route typically took ten days.

* Number of riders: 190

* Salary: $100 per month.

* Male riders had to weigh less than 125 lbs.

* Youngest rider: According to legend, “Bronco Charlie” Miller was 11 years old when he rode for the Pony Express.

* Riders Changed: Every 75 to 100 miles.

* Horses Changed: Every 10 to 15 miles at Relay Station.

* Speed of Rider: Average 10 miles per hour.

* Route: The 1,966-mile trail ran from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California, through Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California.

* Quickest Run: Carrying President Lincoln’s Inaugural Address, the riders traveled the route in 7 days and 13 hours.

* Total Miles Logged: In its 18-month lifespan, Pony Express riders rode approximately 650,000 miles.

* Cost of Mail: $5.00 per ½ ounce at first. Later the price was lowered to $1.00 per ½ ounce

  • Pony Express Poster
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  • Pony Express Post Mark