Transcontinental Telegraph Completed and The Pony
On October 24, 1861, the first transcontinental telegraph system was completed by Western Union, making it possible to transmit messages rapidly (by mid-nineteenth-century standards) from coast to coast. This technologi-cal advance, pioneered by inventor Samuel F. B. Morse, heralded the end of the Pony Express. Only two days later, on October 26, the horseback mail service that had previously provided the fastest means of communication between the eastern and western United States officially closed.
The short-lived Pony Express had been established only one and one-half years earlier, in April 1860. Initially a private enterprise under the Central Overland California & Pike’s Peak Express Company, it operated –at its full-est extent–from terminuses at St. Joseph, Missouri, to San Francisco, California, using a continuous relay of the best riders and horses. The nearly 2,000-mile route—running through present-day Kansas, Nebraska, the north-east corner of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California—included vast stretches of rugged terrain once thought impassable in winter.
Pushing the physical limits of man and beast, the Pony Express ran nonstop. During a typical shift, a rider trav-eled 75 to 100 miles, changing horses every 10 to 15 miles at relief stations along the route. Station keepers and stock tenders ensured that changes between horses and riders were synchronized so that no time was wasted. For their dangerous and grueling work riders received between $100 and $125 per month. A few riders with un-usually treacherous routes were paid $150, more than twice the salary of the average station worker.
Summer deliveries averaged ten days, while winter deliveries required twelve to sixteen days, approximately half the time needed by stagecoach. The Express logged its fastest time delivering President Lincoln’s first inaugural address, seven days and seventeen hours.
Some 200 horsemen rode for the Pony Express. Most were in their late teens and early twenties and small in stat-ure. Famous riders included William “Buffalo Bill” Cody and Robert “Pony Bob” Haslam.